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A Random Email – An invitation to Teach and Tour in Uganda That Changed Dr. Joanne Clemente’s Life

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Posted March 26, 2014 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Charity ~ 2,534 views

     

mini-Dr. Clemente teaching

A Random Email — Almost 5 years ago, a random email came across Dr. Joanne Clemente’s desk and it started her on a humanitarian journey that has continued into the present. It was an invitation to Teach and Tour in Uganda. So with a colleague, she ventured into the unknown, eager to share her knowledge and experience. Her background being in educational technology, she thought about how to best bring low-cost technology to the primary school students in Uganda. Having learned of the one laptop per child movement, she decided this was a good fit. After all, there are thousands of volunteers bringing these machines all over the world to developing countries.

Traveling to Uganda for the first time was an eye-opening experience. She found that what is so readily available in the US is virtually impossible to find in Uganda, especially in the rural areas. The people, though, were warm and welcoming. It took a while to get the lay of the land, especially the educational system. Different from the US, primary school teachers are not trained at university, rather at teachers centers so it became necessary to meet officials at all levels of the educational system to get their support.

Though what she does is more of a grass-roots movement, it is important that the Ministry of Education is aware of the pilot that she started in Jinja, Uganda. Making this small deployment succeed is another matter. With erratic electricity, expensive internet connections, missing equipment, and teachers on strike seeking better wages, hurdles constantly present themselves. Each year, it is a learning experience but progress is being made. She established a US Foundation, a 501(c ) 3 charity called Ventures for Good Foundation, (http://www.venturesforgood.org )which can obtain public support through fund-raising efforts underway. See also below.

The goal of this project is to empower teachers and students with lessons that require research, critical thinking and problem solving. After all, the future leaders in Uganda are in school right now. How can we empower them to take on the big issues, the infrastructure, the transportation issues, the communication issues if we do not put the problems in their hands to solve and give them the confidence and tools to conquer them? Education can do this if done properly. Children need the ability to do research, grapple with small then bigger and bigger problems. They need practice from a very young age. As well as lessons for students, Dr. Clemente, as Director of Online Learning at Dominican College in Orangeburg, NY, can empower teachers with distance learning classes if the internet were stable in these pilot locations at 3 primary schools and 2 teacher training institutes in Jinja and Iganga.

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In her words, “In developing countries all over the world, volunteers such as myself, are introducing and deploying hundreds of these amazing XO machines to primary schools.  XO computer is an amazing little machine  that looks deceptively like a toy. Instead, it embodies the tools of learning, creative expression and communication so necessary for today’s effective education. From research to writing, from drawing to animation, from email to browsing, this low-cost machine is transformative. In a country where pencils are precious, these machines provide pencil, paper, library, telephone and geographic independence to the learners.

Born at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (a very prestigious Ivy League University), the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative has captured the hearts and most importantly, the minds of the world’s high school and college students, as well as professors and professionals in an effort to provide low-cost computers to the children in developing countries. All over the world, adventurous souls are training children, teachers and administrators in the value of a computer that instantly networks within a classroom, fosters collaborative learning, and is capable of communicating with the rest of the world.  How much better is an education, if not only ‘a village educates’, but an international community is enabled to provide the support for children to enter the global economy in their near future!  How much better is an Africa where its students have the education, the connections and the love of learning to pursue their dreams!

As the population grows, so must the efforts, and it should also be noted that empowerment will not be accomplished by one-to-one contact, although that will be part of it. No, empowerment must take on geometric proportions. Our early collaborative efforts have resulted in a plan to disseminate important information, practical advice, and empathetic guidance from the primary school children up to the University levels. It is in primary school where children learn cooperation, conscience, practical skills and where they should learn problem-solving skills in a protected environment. It is here where parents and caregivers are most involved with their young children and could benefit from a curriculum that provides skills and resources for them as well as their children. The essentials of reading and writing are taught but for what purpose? We must infuse the curriculum with empowering skills such as self-advocacy, food security, healthy living and safety issues, enabled through global connectivity. These primary school children then become conduits to the household, providing useful resources and substantive assistance. Parents and caregivers should become aware of the curriculum and encouraged to participate in activities that are self-sustaining. We believe that it is these primary aged children who will assume leadership roles in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we can provide a pathway to empowerment and life-long learning at this level which is the foundation.

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Having said that, deploying the specific technology is not the main objective, rather it is the sharing of resources, the training of teachers and students, and the internet connectedness it can provide to the world at large. It is extremely important that the infrastructure of the internet is provided throughout Uganda as it is in other African countries, to stem the tide of illiteracy and overpopulation, replacing that with knowledge and participation in the global economy. Uganda’s children are, in the foreseeable future, the leaders, entrepreneurs and parents of a new generation. It is essential that we empower these children now, in primary grades, before they drop out. Especially for girls opportunities must become available for them to learn how to develop a career and educate children for it is said that educating a girl is educating a community.”

As Dr. Clemente says, “I started volunteering in Uganda almost 5 years ago to share what I know and to extend good ole American enthusiasm, support and care to the endearing children in Uganda. Please join me in opening the world of knowledge to these children by bringing low-cost, ‘connected’ technology to support their curriculum. They are the future leaders who, with the proper education, can build a future, and become full participants in the global economy. Give them a chance.”

You can help by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign at Indiegogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ventures-for-good . There is a video of her work.

You can contact Dr. Clemente directly at joanne.clemente@venturesforgood.org. She will be in Kampala for the elearning Africa conference (http://www.elearning-africa.com/ ) from May 28 to May 30, 2014 and thereafter in Jinja to monitor this pilot project during the following week.   She welcomes your enthusiasm and whatever support you can provide.


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

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