Innovating for Education in Burundi

by Eva Guerda Rodriguez, consultant in charge of the digital drums project, Burundi.

To see Eva’s experience first hand, watch this video. 

On the very day of my arrival from Paris to the capital of Burundi, I found everyone busy preparing a talk on energy poverty that would be delivered at … University Lumière. The one thing I knew about Burundi was about its energy poverty, and I owed it to a clip I had seen on the UNICEF Burundi’s Youtube channel. I decided to attend the talk despite being exhausted.

The challenges that were mentioned caught me off guard. What was being described corresponded to the era of « Fairy electricity » in Europe, during the Belle Époque. My thirteen hours of flight had brought me back to the beginning of the 19th century!

It would take another few weeks for me to understand what this situation of energy poverty really meant, because it also affects the privileged 3% of the population who have access to power – including me. It means keeping as little as possible in the refrigerator, recharging my cell phone whenever the power supply allows me to, and being cautious when using my laptop in order to save as much battery as possible.

A few days later I would understand that there was another issue, linked to education itself. I had been impressed by the huge amount of students per class here – an average of 72! – which forces the schools to work on a double-shift system. I had seen up to six students sharing one single textbook, but little did I know that the books never left school. They were used once in the morning and again in the afternoon, shared by two different classes. How can it be possible to remember what you studied during the day when you can’t even revise after class?

Digital drums address the issue of power, the shortage of material, and also the amount of time that teachers and students can devote to the learning. They also grant a second opportunity to those who have dropped out of school, because they will be put not just in schools but also in youth centres.

My work is to look for open-source teaching materials that will be aggregated in a platform and placed in these small computers. These digital drums enable everyone to go and study after their three hours of class. They offer self-serviced educational materials, as well as an opportunity to use solar-powered computers. At the learning level, they allow everyone to choose whatever subject they want to learn about, and advice is also given on topics such as agriculture, hygiene, and healthcare. The users can listen to the recordings in English or French and work on their pronunciation; they can also exercise their math with self-grading exercises. While doing this, they are also getting some ICT practice.

A few days ago, our team installed the first computers in a pilot centre, located north of Bujumbura. The children were so impatient that they would not let the technicians do their job! We finally had to ask them to leave the room. A teen aged boy speaks of Bill Gates with a tremendous smile brightening his face, another young boy explains he will do research on Wikipedia and a little girl says she will soon be fluent in English.

A girl uses a digital drum in Cibitoke, Bujumbura by UNICEF Burundi/Raquel Fernandez
A girl uses a digital drum in Cibitoke, Bujumbura by UNICEF Burundi/Raquel Fernandez
Children crowd around a digital drum at Centre Meo, Bujumbura by UNICEF Burundi/Raquel Fernandez
Children crowd around a digital drum at Centre Meo, Bujumbura by UNICEF Burundi/Raquel Fernandez

I leave the place overwhelmed by the children’s enthusiasm. This is indeed an exciting solution to energy and schooling time issues, which offers a tailor-made self-serviced education that empowers those who need it most.

To see Eva’s experience first hand, watch this video. 

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