June 13, 2012
|Rwandan children make their way to the Duha Complex School, a couple of miles up a hill on a dirt road.|
“When you’re a teacher, you tend to want to help people learn.” That’s the explanation Associate Professor of Education Scott Hewit gives when asked why he’s made four trips to the Duha Complex School in rural Rwanda since 2010. As the education coordinator for the Rwanda Education Assistance Project (REAP), Hewit has been helping teachers and administrators deliver a quality education to the 3,000 students who eagerly arrive each day.
It all started in 2009 when Hewit was contacted by Ed Ballen, the founder of REAP. “He knew I had been working in education in Liberia and had a passion for supporting educational efforts in Africa,” Hewit recalled. “So he invited me to go along on a trip to visit the school and see what I might be able to contribute to his mission.”
Hewit came back from that summer 2010 adventure fully committed to the cause. "For me, it came down to an opportunity to help families who want a better future for their children and their country. When I realized how hungry they were to learn, it was easy to make that commitment."
Integrating Technology in Rural Education
|Scott Hewit with a primary school teacher, Godelive Tumushimyimana, with whom he co-taught a class.
Since then, Hewit has made three more trips to Rwanda, each time supporting the teachers by training them in computer skills and building a computer lab.
“The main focus of my work has been in two areas: helping teachers integrate computers into their teaching; and providing laptops for the computer lab through the Rollins Laptop Project.” Through this project, Hewit collects unwanted laptops from Rollins students, faculty, and staff. Acceptable laptops are then digitally cleaned and updated by the IT department. Hewit brings them with him to Rwanda each time he visits and so far he has delivered 14 working laptops.
This June, Hewit will personally deliver nine additional laptops to Duha Complex School. On this trip, he will be joined by one of his graduate students, Abby Bragg ’06, who will be bringing dozens of culturally neutral children’s books and toys with her to give to the students.
Engaging Campus Colleagues
In addition, Hewitt will be joined by Professor of Psychology Sharon Carnahan, who will be assessing the status of the nursery school, developing relationships with the teachers, and building partnerships so that she can continue to work with the school in the future. "On my first trip to Rwanda in 2010, I worked with young adult survivors of the genocide, and was able to just observe in several preschools," notes Carnahan. "On this trip, I can travel with professional educators and learn about the best ways to help a rural school be successful."
Hewit will be assessing the effectiveness of the teacher-training program he launched in 2011, which gave the 40 primary and secondary teachers at the school the opportunity to learn Microsoft Office software.
"Helping these teachers and students learn is an adventure I couldn’t pass up."
He’ll also be working with additional education volunteers from the U.S. to share instructional strategies with the teachers. For three weeks, the team will be demonstrating a lesson flow model and then co-instructing with the teachers to cement the model into the classroom.
“At the end of the visit, we want to make sure they all understand it and that we’re all moving towards our goal of having better learning outcomes for the students,” said Hewit.
Learning as Much as Teaching
One thing Hewit makes crystal clear is that he and his REAP colleagues don’t arrive in Rwanda with an “all-knowing” attitude. “We try to go over knowing nothing, rather than acting like we have all the answers,” he said. “We are there to watch, listen, ask questions, and find out what they need. And we are there to build relationship on a one-to-one level with teachers and administrators.”
That’s one mission Hewit has been very successful at fulfilling. This little rural town with its cold showers and limited resources has become something of a second home to Hewit. He stays in contact with his Rwandan colleagues via email when he’s back at Rollins, and he’s greeted with big hugs and smiles when he arrives in Rwanda each time.
“Our goal, which is a five to ten year commitment, is to create a sustainable model for rural education across the country,” Hewit said. “It is very gratifying work. Helping these teachers and students learn is an adventure I couldn’t pass up. How many people get to do something like this?”