Expanding horizons in Lesotho

 

a guest post about a promising “Computer Lab in the Sky”.

(this is a guest post by Miriam Hodgkins, with only some minimal reformatting from me. Click on all captions for larger images)

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Computer Lab in the Sky is a solar-powered computer lab in rural Lesotho. Our goal is to teach typing and basic computer literacy to the youth of this mountain community, thereby expanding horizons and improving job opportunities. In a world of scary headlines and depressing news articles, this project is a small spot of positivity and inspiration.

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The Solar Company Lesotho installing our solar panels.

My name is Miriam Hodgkins, and I founded this computer lab at Masaleng High School in May, 2019. We hired a local company out of Maseru to install our panels, batteries, inverter, converter, wiring, and outlets. They did a thoroughly good job. I also purchased three refurbished laptops in the capitol and my grandmother donated a fourth. With that, I started teaching Grades 11 and 12. None of the eight students in Grade 11 or seven students in Grade 12 had ever handled a computer before, so we had to start with how turn on the machines, move the mouse around, and select icons on the desktop.

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Grade 11 at work in the Computer Lab.

After they became more comfortable with those basics I introduced a program called Typing Master. Using this program and the free open source program Tux Typing, my fifteen students learned to type. It was fairly slow going because students had to share the four laptops. I could teach groups of up to eight. Plus, anytime they bumped the touchpad and activated something unfamiliar they required help. I calmly explained everything to them, allowing them to resolve their own errors instead of hastily clicking for them.

I interspersed some other common programs with the typing lessons: Paint and Microsoft Office. We also spent a week learning how to transfer files from an external drive onto the computers and back, create folders, and move files from one place to another. They especially enjoyed learning how to change the desktop background.

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One student's artistic efforts using Paint.

“Not a teacher”

I have a confession to make: I’m not a computer teacher. Which is why the school is prioritizing hiring a new computer teacher, trained in the local curriculum, for the next academic year. My goal all along has always been to provide the school and community with the tools they would need to launch a formal computer course. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, of course, but the truth is Computer Lab in the Sky could be so much more impactful with a truly knowledgeable teacher driving it.

However, my role is far from complete.

Getting serious. With your help

As I mentioned, we only have four laptops at this point in time. In November, I launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds to purchase ten more refurbished laptops, a printer, accessories, and educational software. With these acquisitions, the computer lab will be fully operational!

Please check out our campaign to view videos featuring inspired testimony from teachers and students about how the computer lab has impacted them as individuals and as a community:

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Adult Education class at Computer Lab in the Sky. The student on the far right is using my personal laptop.

First impacts

Computer Lab in the Sky is the only place within a vast radius where people can learn computer literacy. We’ve been teaching Adult Education classes during school holidays and these have been well attended by recent high school graduates and drop-outs who are struggling to find a job in Lesotho’s rough economy. Though my own range and understanding is limited, this project has had respectable impact: Masaleng High School recently graduated its first-ever computer literate class!

The community is incredibly proud of them. The computer lab is also likely to attract more students to attend Masaleng High School in the future. This project is uncomplicated, positive, and of course solar-powered! I can’t wait to see how it all plays out!

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Grade 12 before their graduation.

I’d like to invite you to check out our website, Facebook page and Instagram, containing more info and photos of Computer Lab in the Sky and the community at large!

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