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The fun way to learn

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This creative initiative from Namibia uses the appeal of comics to teach children and teachers the basics of computer usage.

Paromita Pain

SAY `comics' and the instinctive response would be to smile indulgently, such is the association of gentle, and sometimes rollicking, fun with comics.

But SchoolNet Namibia, a non-profit provider of Internet service, hardware and training to the nation's schools, saw more than fun in comics. It saw a tool to help learn IT.

To encourage both students and teachers to explore the digital world, SchoolNet Namibia, in association with software developer Direq International, comic-media production house Strika Entertainment and The Namibian Youth Paper, came up with the concept of a comic strip that tells of the various ways computers and the Internet can change lives.

Called Hai Ti!, which in the Osiwambo languages means `listen up', it sounds a lot like `IT.' This project came third in the Community Engagement Category for the 2005 World Summit Youth Award.

Learning made easier

"Our numerous letters, manuals and trainers have not been very effective in bringing teachers into the computer lab. So we decided to build a character-based drama around the SchoolNet team and teachers and learners at a remote rural school in Namibia," says the executive director, Joris Komen, on http://www.schoolnet.na/

haiti/intro.html

SchoolNet Namibia has set up computer labs in many schools. The stories of the Hai Ti! Comics centre on these labs. Based on the experiences of the young SchoolNet teachers, the narrative is typically school-situation based.

A student good at debates learns to use the Net to find more information. He is shy and unable to reach out to his peers. Computer classes bring him closer to his schoolmates. A chance breaking down of a window with a football and the students stumble onto a room full of unused computers that they realise can be a gateway to another world. Obviously a poster on the wall of the room has the number of SchoolNet personnel who can be called upon to help.

There are sequences showing the School.Net people addressing the fears of the teachers who are eagerly asking if it is easy to learn computers, over the heads of excited students who want to know if they are Internet-connected.

Like the student good at debates, the other students are also taught to surf the Net and cull useful information. Interwoven within the storyline are computer basics: using shortcut keys for simple actions such as cutting and pasting text. The dialogue is simple and incorporates computer usage ideas. The concept of having these labs is also spread around, thereby providing information to interested schools to have their own labs.

The student keen on debates wins the competition and explains the role played by the SchoolNet Namibia representatives.

As one disgruntled teacher walks out of the class (http://www.schoolnet.na/haiti/page10.html), saying she has to call her son in America, the facilitator gently explains about e-mail and how it is a more effective way to stay in touch. The pages have information boxes on the sides with explanatory notes. Important fundamentals such as searching for information effectively through search engines are supplemented with simple notes on copyright and what its infringement may imply. Sections have been devoted to finding particular software also. Changing trends haven't been ignored and newer ideas such as blogs too have been described.

The glossary at http://www.schoolnet.na/haiti/glossary.html is a useful introduction to the whole idea. The glossary states, `Hai Ti Comics will occasionally use words, expressions and acronyms which may be strange or new to you; either because you're not familiar with Information and Communication Technologies or because you're not familar with Namibia, it's culture or its Free and Open Source (FOSS) movement!"

For example, `CucaShop', which features in the launch edition of Hai Ti! Means `Shebeen' (an Irish word!) an unlicensed house selling alcoholic liquor.

"The first story interweaves the tale of a football fan who learns that the Internet can be a better source for sports than the `CucaShop.'

Available at http://www.schoolnet.na/haiti/cover.html, this set is the first publication of its kind to be published under international Creative Commons rules in Namibia.

A full colour sequence, the colour pages may take a while to open but the printouts, even if in black and white, look good with the images printing clearly without the least traces of graininess.

The drawings are colourful and simple enough for even a child to replicate. They are done up artistically, and special attention has been paid to make sure that the paint used is not garish or distracting.

paromita@thehindu.co.in

Picture sourced from SchoolNet Namibia (schoolnet.na/haiti/page2.html)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 30, 2006)
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