Donating Computers to Schools

A young acquaintance from Europe visiting a country many miles away sent me an e-mail saying that she was about to set out on a programme to donate computers to schools, and asking my advice. Such enquiries are hard to answer.  On the one hand I want to support such commitment and enthusiasm, but on the other I know just how problematic so many such initiatives have been.

This is how I responded:

There are many initiatives that have been set up to ‘deliver’ computers into schools (and other places), many of which have been unsuccessful. Some of these have used refurbished computers (such as Computer Aid); others have been donated new by NGOs. Invariably, they are ‘given’ by people who know what computers can do – often based on their own experiences – and think that it would be great if less advantaged people could benefit likewise. However, invariably this is not a good use of money and resources. As you can imagine, there is a huge literature on this – but I guess your connectivity may not be that good in terms of wanting to download information!

So, a few key tips are:

  • begin with the teachers and ensure that everything is led by them, and integrated into what and how they teach.
  • much better to contribute to expanding an existing successful initiative, rather than starting up something from scratch
  • don’t try and reinvent the wheel – build on existing experience and good practices
  • ensure that there is effective electricity and connectivity – as well as the money to pay for it
  • ensure that any content is in local languages and integrated with the curriculum
  • ensure that the use of the computers is also about communication and not just content
  • use of computers in schools is far more than just teaching people to learn how to use office skills – so make sure they are really used for education
  • try to ensure that the computers are used 24/7 – by for example running adult training courses in the schools out of hours
  • try to identify how the computers can be used to generate an income, so that the school can then have enough money to buy more and replace the ones that break
  • ensure that there is technical back up and support, so that if minor things go wrong (like a plug being accidentally pulled out), then people can simply fix it
  • do not have a printer (it gets very expensive on paper and ink and usually breaks swiftly)
  • think of using COWS (Computers on Wheels) that can be rolled around from classroom to classroom, rather than having a computer lab
  • if there are only one or two computers, make sure that they do not finish up (unused) in the head teacher’s office
  • build usage of the computers around community needs – involving parents, siblings and the wider community – so that everyone can see their worth
  • if teachers and children have mobile ‘phones, think of building the learning solutions around them, rather than around computers

I wonder how others would have advised my young acquaintance…


Filed under Education, ICT4D

7 responses to “Donating Computers to Schools

  1. My advice is to work in partnership with well established local NGOs like in Kenya or in Chile to ensure that teacher training, curriculum development, technical support and end-of-life recycling is professionally managed.

    Tony Roberts

  2. Don

    Tim, Interesting and useful list I think. Have not done much directly with schools, but from localization and language point of view, thinking that more regarding language could item could be useful – “ensure that any content is in local languages and integrated with the curriculum” is a good start, but there’s more, especially in multilingual societies. Here are some quick thoughts.

    First, where instruction is in one language that is not the native language / mother tongue / local lingua franca, barring non-curriculum related content may condemn students from seeing their home / community language(s) connected with technology during their earliest education with / on computers. This I think is a major problem in much of Africa. Local text content, video, and even localized software and games could at least reside on the donated systems as resources for future use and broadened education.

    Second, will computers donated to a school have a dual use for the community, such as in adult basic education in the evenings? I have not heard of such a thing, but if it did it would probably have implications for content and language(s).

    Third, an often overlooked issue is provision of fonts and input methods (keyboard layouts, virtual keyboards) for the extended-Latin or non-Latin scripts used in the orthographies of many languages in the community but outside of the classroom. Lack of fonts may mean that whatever relevant content in these languages that may be added later (assuming it was not initially) may not display properly. Lack of input method (or methods, since there may be options where there is no standard) of course would limit creation in these languages. This may not be as much an issue in Asia, where such issues do get attention, than it is in Africa.

    This is quick but I hope it raises some useful points.

    • unwin

      Thanks Don.

      Indeed helpful – and there are some good examples of developing fonts as you say particularly in Asia

      Much appreciated for this added detail


  3. This is really good thing to start with if we want more kids to be interested in computer schools.

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