Teaching Computers without Computers in Zambia

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

International Vision Organization (IVO) is a Canadian not-for-profit providing community aid and eye health care to developing areas. In 2017, we completed our first mission in Zimba, Zambia, which included 3 focuses: eye surgery/clinic, climate change lessons and tree planting, and a computer workshop. We will be returning to Zimba in July 2019 for our next mission.


The following tells our story, a glimpse into our work in climate change and technology, from the perspective of Katie and Stephen, two IVO volunteers (edited for clarity).


Climate Change:

Climate change is affecting the entire country with the onset of erratic rain patterns. This is mostly attributed to deforestation, and the rate is ever increasing. Further intensifying the issue is the practice of tree cutting without a recognized need to re-plant, as well as a lack of understanding of the link between deforestation and climate change. Lumber is used for making timber and charcoal, the main energy source for heating and cooking, and there are few to no alternative energy options.


The erratic rain patterns have led to flooding, drought, and severe rainfall over the past few seasons. Flooding and drought have not only led to food insecurity for the nation, but also continue to destroy houses, schools, and roads, and increase susceptibility to water-borne diseases.


These issues more prominently affect women, who are a particularly vulnerable group in Zambia. Women are responsible for providing for their family, and climate change issues generally become their burden. Unfortunately, their rights are devalued and their livelihood is driven by the male-dominant society. Despite the shifting society over the past few decades, female inequality is still very prevalent. Deepening the issue is the fact that climate change education is only very recent in school curriculum, and very few people in the area have access to the internet, television, and news.



Working closely with Kocebuka Community Foundation, IVO planned initiatives to address both the issues of deforestation and marginalization of women in hopes to provide the community with the means to tackle local climate change.


IVO held day-long workshops for women’s groups and tree planting in local schools. Many of the women were aware that deforestation and climate change were linked, but had no previous knowledge of how climate change works scientifically. All had been negatively impacted in several aspects, such as walking further distances to retrieve water or pulling their daughters out of school to help with repercussions of flooding and drought. There were eager to learn how they could drive change by re-planting and spreading awareness. Around 60 women completed the workshop and received certificates.


From generous donations, IVO was able to purchase 1,400 fruit trees to donate to 15 schools in Zambia and the area. The trees will not only provide an example of activism to combat local climate change, but also bring in revenue to purchase school supplies from selling the fruit.


- Katie


II. Teaching Computers Without Computers

I always take for granted how powerful the internet is. My efficiency with computers is almost entirely driven from it. Try figuring out how to learn a new program without Google (Hint: it sucks.) Shortcuts, how-to’s, forums and troubleshooting tips are available to us because millions of minds are all connected. If you hand someone a computer without that knowledge, they simply miss the fundamentals. I cannot imagine how one can become an expert in computers without it.


Five years ago, the Zambian government added computer classes to the education system, so the board of education built a computer curriculum for all grades and mandated all schools in the country follow this.


Following this decision, however, the schools were not properly equipped with teaching materials, proper training for the teachers, or computers. As a result, teachers lack the exposure to computers and the knowledge that is vital to teach. Most students fail the exams and many teachers can’t even pass the grade 9 exams. We could only bring so many tablets, which were helpful for the workshop but inadequate for large classroom learning.

IVO’s approach was to educate the teachers and strengthen their foundation around technology, giving them the basic knowledge they need to pass the exams. If the teachers can’t pass the exams, the students won’t. We also taught them fundamentals of how computers operate, answering questions like, How does the internet actually work? And, How can we expand past the basic knowledge of Microsoft Word?


A strong foundation establishes context and helps them grasp why things work the way they do. Help them to identify patterns within technology and continue to explore computers in the future. This foundation is key to them learning independently.


Over five days, a group of 24 teachers travelled from around the region to join IVO for a computer training session. This was the first time anybody with decent knowledge of computers had come to teach, and they were ecstatic.


I've taught computers before, but seldom have I ever had a group of so many pay attention for five straight days, drive through horrible roads to attend, and still smile the whole way through. They cared about their students and had gone to great lengths to help them. We ended with a graduation ceremony, where every teacher received a certificate, a typing sheet, and a tablet. I also typed up 36 pages of notes covering everything I had taught over the week and shared it among the teachers on USB sticks.



I’m very proud of the work we’ve done this trip around education. The teachers were extremely satisfied with the content and its relevance, I found the work to be challenging and rewarding. But most importantly, the students from around the province will have the tools to learn computer skills. And who knows, maybe one day the next Bill Gates or Satya Nadella will come from Zimba? If not, at least they’ll know how to type without a computer.

IVO is a family-based not-for-profit, led by Dr. Peter Huang, an ophthalmologist with over 30 years of experience and two of his children, Katie and Stephen Huang. Katie (author) is completing her MSc Geology. Stephen has a BSc Computer Science and BSc Physics and works as a video game developer. Follow them on Facebook @InternationalVIsionOrganization.