Tanzanian girls complete their computer lessons in one of the spaces donated by the Catholic diocese
In a sparse classroom in the mountainous city of Iringa in central Tanzania, Sunita Lodwig met with a group of high school students and teachers for three months in 2016. Her visit, to provide basic computer and Internet instruction, was conducted through a program organized by Global Research, a Sarasota-based nonprofit dedicated to improving computer literacy in Tanzania.
Lodwig teaches information technology at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, where faculty are encouraged to engage in service that enables them to think globally and act locally to serve the community. Such work aligns with the mission of USF World, which provides resources that empower the university community to function as global leaders and stewards and creates opportunities for the exchange of people and ideas that promote intercultural competence and appreciation.
Lodwig learned about the program in 2008 after meeting Global Outreach founder and
retired IBM executive Stan Muessle, who said a lack of computers and Internet access
was hampering development in the East African nation. Global Outreach responded by
donating computers and creating a digital library of educational materials to support
schools lacking broadband access.
One year later, Lodwig led a three-person team to Iringa to teach computer literacy to teachers and principals. She has since helped create a server-based platform to provide content from TED talks, Wikipedia, the Khan Academy and other educational resources.
In 2016, she returned during a sabbatical as part of a new initiative by Global Outreach to provide computer and Internet training to teenage girls. On each visit, she works with approximately 100 students.
Girls in Tanzania often are discouraged from advancing in education because of long-held social and cultural norms. Many fail to graduate or progress beyond high school. Young women seldom attend college.
With support from local government and education officials, Global Outreach administers several programs promoting computer literacy, including “Windows to Knowledge” (for high school students), “We Are the Hope of Iringa” (for middle school students) and a “Train the Trainer” program, in which Lodwig participated in 2009.
Global Outreach has a memorandum of agreement with Tanzanian education officials at the regional and district levels, including the district commissioner for Iringa, the equivalent of a state governor in the United States, who has a vision of making Iringa a major knowledge and technology center.
Along with increasing computer literacy, students access two databases of donated educational materials designed to help them explore math, history, science and other subjects. While entrance to Tanzanian universities is based on entrance exam scores, the “Windows to Knowledge” program provides a self-paced learning environment to prepare them for the exams. Government and education officials have approved the program’s expansion to include more than 10,000 students from 20 secondary schools.
“We Are the Hope of Iringa” operates weekdays and on weekends in two multipurpose rooms donated by the Catholic diocese. A bank of computers linked to servers provides access to the donated educational materials, while another bank of Internet-ready computers provides a glimpse into the outside world, enabling students to access news about politics and current events.
Although the program is coeducational, there is a strong focus on girls. Students are encouraged to research historical events and people, and they prepare and lead classroom presentations to strengthen communication, critical thinking and diplomacy skills and encourage group discussion.
“This program exposes the girls to so many different women leaders, women in science, women in the arts, women entrepreneurs,” Lodwig said. “Many of them become role models to the girls.”
Beyond advancing their education, Lodwig hopes the program inspires students to become self-reliant and independent thinkers.
“I can see that the girls are more self-assured and growing in confidence,” Lodwig said. “They’re overcoming their shyness and, more importantly, they’re learning to help each other and to learn from each other. They’re natural learners.”
In 2019, Lodwig received a grant from USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy that will be used to purchase learning materials and food for the students and to compensate two interns from the University of Iringa who provide instructional support. She hopes to return soon to resume her work, and she believes Global Outreach’s programs have the growth potential to serve students from across Tanzania if they are introduced at the national level.
“The children are so grateful,” she said. “You should see how excited they become and the curiosity they have for computers. It’s just amazing.”