Hi Dave -
You’re right on with your thoughts here. How you go about introducing RACHEL can have a tremendous positive or negative impact on the success of your program. Every community is different, but some best practices we’ve come to see.
On the Ground
First, it is important to introduce the technology in order of established hierarchies. Demonstrate the device to the headmaster or person in charge and ask him or her to become an advocate. This is critical, as the person in charge should have a clear understanding of the technology before it is presented to his or her subordinates (often teachers). There is a lot of politics in school systems, even very small schools, and no one wants to feel like the people they manage have a better understanding of this new technology.
Second, introduce the technology to teachers as a group before students. When introducing the product to teachers, the goal always has to be how do I make life easier for teachers. Introduce to them the content slowly, and see which teacher or two really see potential for the device in their classroom. An early win is going to be having one or two teachers with a really focused program around RACHEL. Listen to their ideas on how it could help them carefully. Without teacher buy-in, programs do not succeed. Curriculum ideas have to come from local teachers and will change based on which teacher wants to first adopt the system. Growth will come organically in a school if one teacher leads by example.
Third, start small. The initial goal is to set up a pilot class or teaching session within the school. The best introduction is to take things that are costly or a headahce for teachers, and use RACHEL to alleviate issues. The most common example of this is printouts. If you can get one teacher to start using the content upload section instead of paying for, finding, and collecting print-outs, that should be considered a huge win. If you don’t have this win right away, or printouts aren’t digitized already, consider helping them digitize documents with a camera phone. Alternatively, based on feedback in number two above, consider hiding all the content except the one or two content modules that teachers have expressed interest in trying in their classroom. Keep this introduction as simple as possible. Be prepared that teachers may only want to use this as a reference tool for themselves at first. A big concern for teachers is having students understand the technology better than them, it is important they feel comfortable with the technology.
Fourth, be prepared to invest. I can’t understate this enough, if your project does not have a budget for on-the-ground staff or teachers, it is unlikely to succeed. While it seems counter-intuitive that after all the great work and investment you’ve done to get this system in place, more is needed, the fact is, more is needed. The likely first wins will come from after-hours remedial math training. It’s unlikely that teachers are going to immediately integrate RACHEL into their classroom curriculum at first. Teachers who work after-hours are expecting to be paid for their time. This is totally just a reality that is different than many U.S. and Western teachers. Develop a relationship with your key teacher or two, who have expressed a desire to make this work, and find a way to pay them for their work.
Fifth, be available. There are issues that arise, be available to help navigate them. If there is no feedback loop, or desire for ongoing communication, it again is unlikely to have a long-term sustainable program. If you’re taking this to a remote community in a village in the Himalayas and have no way to hear from your advocates on the ground, your chances of success are greatly diminished. Many of our most successful deployments are in areas which internet actually exists, it is just too unreliable, expensive, or slow to integrate into the classroom.
Sixth, be patient. The goals for the first year or two of the program should be that the technology becomes an active piece of valuable equipment. Teachers have ways of doing things that are often fairly rigid from year to year. Deployment and measuring of results for a pilot program is not something that really happens within a year or even two. In our most successful and long-running programs, we began impact evaluations on educational outcomes two and three years after deployment. There are other ways to measure early program success, such as use, student engagement (absenteeism rates), computer literacy, etc. Know what you’re trying to measure and be patient about getting there.
It’s by no means comprehensive, but hopefully as we grow these forums more advice will come in. I’m going to post this in our “Deployments” forum category. We’d like to use these country forums to help you meet other users in Uganda and share local insights. We have dozens of Uganda users.