The Vodafone Foundation and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme
In an effort to promote technology uptake in primary and secondary schools across Fiji, and simultaneously build career skills among both teachers and students, the Vodaphone ATH Fiji Foundation is promoting, supporting, and enabling schools across the country to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Programme.
At present, there are 100 schools in Fiji participating in this program, which promotes civic values such as social service, team building, local entrepreneurship and professional skill-development. Thirty-six additional schools have been approved for participation in the program starting in 2013. There are 970 primary and 178 secondary schools in Fiji. At present, 75 of the 178 secondary schools have Internet connectivity. The Ministry of Education aims to connect 25 more schools in December 2012 and has a target of providing connectivity to all schools across the country by the end of 2013. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing this endeavor will be providing both computer technology and Internet connectivity to the schools currently without electricity.
With assistance from adult Leaders (these are teachers who receive training from the Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE’s) London-based staff during school holidays), student-participants in the DofE program select and set objectives in each of the following areas: volunteering/community service, physical activity, practical and social skills-building, and expedition/travel. One example of such a project carried out in Fiji was the planting of new mangrove trees to attempt to ameliorate an ecologically fragile situation.
Participants are required to submit information quarterly on the projects they’ve undertaken and the progress made toward their enumerated goals. The submission of these quarterly updates from Fiji takes place online, which necessitates access to technology and Internet connectivity for schools and participants. In locations where students’ skills-development in information and communications technology (ICT) cannot be taken for granted, such as in Fiji, the DofE program helps foster incentivization for developing these skills.
Students are not required to participate in the DofE program at their school, but on average, approximately 30 per school opt in to the program. The program itself is designed to be self-sustaining, once up and running, as activities that will help fund-raise the modest sums required to run the program can be integrated in to the proposed professionalization efforts and undertakings.
In additional ICT-in-the-schools efforts, Fiji’s Ministry of Education is currently developing curriculum for using computers in the curricular subjects. Grades 3-through-7 have computer instruction as a required course, and the Ministry of Education is working to provide the necessary hardware to all the schools. In terms of Internet connectivity, the Ministry is currently relying on the Internet Service Providers, like Vodaphone, to provide connectivity to the schools. Presently, there is Internet connectivity available in all major towns across Fiji, so students in need of an Internet connection can make the journey to town if this is not too difficult for them. However, the Ministry is still addressing the challenge of rural, isolated, or Island schools that might not have easy access to Internet connectivity—or, even more importantly, to electricity, as mentioned above.
For their part, the Vodaphone Foundation is also providing both programs and ongoing capacity-skills building to their partners, which includes the schools. They have developed an m-health program for the Fijian islands, which, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is being taught in the schools (in addition to reaching 40,000 people per day through SMS messages with health-related tips).
Islanders are facing a ramping up in the incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver ailments, many of which can be attributed to the increase in the amount of processed foods rather recently introduced into the Islanders’ diets. The aim for this particular project is to target the young, not only so that they will convey what they learn in this program to their parents and get a jump-start in life on understanding that what they eat and drink contributes to their overall health, but also to train these students to utilize computers and the Internet, and thereby develop their ICT skills, as part and parcel of the program, given its digitized and online content.
The pictures included with this story are from a visit to Beqa Island Secondary School, which recently had been approved to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Program.