How social networks train social skills
Allan Kakinda, 23, graduated from Makerere University, Uganda, in 2010. Interested in digital technologies from an early age, he now works with the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN). iEARN is a platform enabling students and teachers to collaborate online on projects dealing with real-life problems worldwide. Allan spoke to eLA about his work and explained why he thinks technologies can make a real difference to young African people.
eLA: Allan, you are very enthusiastic about using digital technologies for learning and collaborating. How were you introduced to ICTs?
Allan Kakinda: I started using ICTs actively during high school at Namilyango College (Uganda), when my computer studies teacher introduced us to iEARN. We started working with the Global Teenager Project, where we would talk with students in The Netherlands about each other’s cultures and school life. This made me more enthusiastic about using digital technologies for both learning and collaborating with other students around the world and has driven me to participate in a number of other online projects even beyond iEARN.
eLA: Could you give us two or three examples of online collaboration projects in which you and other African people have been involved? Why did you choose them? What were the results?
Allan Kakinda: Over the years I have participated in a number of exciting global collaboration projects within iEARN. These include, for example, the “Finding Solutions to Hunger” project (formerly Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger), where participants research and discuss the root causes of hunger and poverty in the world, share experiences from their own countries and take meaningful action to help create a more just and sustainable world.
I learnt a lot about the hunger and poverty situations in other countries and was really surprised that there were hunger problems even in developed countries like the USA. In class, we discussed several solutions that could help reduce hunger. While at school, we were able to partner with the school’s student council to help collect money and material things to donate to students in North Uganda after the war.
Another example is the YouthCaN Environmental Project, where students have created an online peer network to undertake and share environmental work locally and around the world. I actively took part in YouthCaN activities while in New York, such as hikes, beach clean-ups and tree planting. These made me appreciate the environment and I got to see some of the little things I could get involved in to save the environment.
eLA: What fascinates you most about collaborating online?
Allan Kakinda: I am really fascinated by mutually respectful and meaningful interaction with young people and teachers from different countries, working on projects that seek to address real-life challenges in different parts of the world. It is great to share experiences and learn about diverse cultures and, of course, to get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures. These projects also improve one’s ICT skills and make participants more aware of community-related issues.
eLA: You say that iEARN projects empower students “with skills necessary for survival in the 21st century”. What skills are these?
Allan Kakinda: Some of these skills include cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity, the ability to work in a team and to collaborate. On a broader level, young adults need to learn how to solve problems and take on social responsibility. All these skills are crucial and necessary for the students’ survival in the world as global citizens.
However, kids can improve their oral and written communication and listening skills as well as boost their creativity while they work online. Media literacy is definitely an issue as well; working with digital media requires critical thinking and information literacy, i.e. an ability to realise the need for certain information, identify possible sources, search, analyse its authenticity, correctness and relevancy, repackage the information in the most appropriate format and then share it.
eLA: From a youth perspective, can you give us examples of how ICTs are best used to promote young people’s employability and entrepreneurship in Africa? What needs to be done in Africa, what are the barriers?
Allan Kakinda: In order to use ICTs to promote young people’s employability and entrepreneurship in Africa, we need to help young people to acquire ICT literacy and entrepreneurial skills, equip them with technical skills in ICT and provide access to ICT employment and entrepreneurial opportunities with a specific focus on bridging the ICT gender gap. The availability of ICT infrastructures such as computers is also a big challenge that needs to be looked into.
There are several specific examples I could share with you. One of them is an online social entrepreneurship course I just completed this February, “Aids for Smiles”, which makes use of social media such as Facebook and Blogger to equip young adults with project management, leadership, team building and social entrepreneurial skills. They also improve their ICT skills while using platforms for business purposes which they would otherwise only use in private.
Several young people have cyber cafes set up to provide secretarial and internet services such as typing, scanning, printing and faxing of documents and surfing the internet.
There are also several call centres set up to provide mobile phone services, such as phone calls and mobile money (i.e. sending and receiving money through mobile phones).
eLA: The internet offers great opportunities for sharing knowledge and collaborating, but there are also dangers, especially for young and vulnerable adults. Cyber mobbing, pornography and violence are just some of the downsides we are confronted with when using the World Wide Web. As a teacher, how you deal with these issues?
Allan Kakinda: Dealing with students who work with online projects using the internet is really challenging, especially given the above risks. Cyber mobbing is not a really big issue here in Uganda, but pornography is a big problem and some schools are even hesitant to allow their students to do any online work as they fear students will just be surfing for pornography.
I think the major reason why students and some teachers fall prey to such vices is because schools provide them with computers and access to the internet and then fail to provide any activities for students beyond the internet. It is therefore important to engage students in online collaborative projects such as iEARN Projects that provide a safe environment for young people to interact with each other and not just learn about the world but also interact with the world. So once these students have meaningful work to do on the internet, they will not even have time for such vices.
eLA: You have just returned from an internship at the USA iEARN chapter. How did you benefit from your stay, what did you take home from the experience personally, and what did you share with peers and colleagues in Uganda?
Allan Kakinda: The six months I spent in New York were some of the most exciting months of my life, both socially and professionally.
Professionally, it was really exciting working for a global organisation such as iEARN USA; working with very friendly and skilled people, specifically helping to update content on the iEARN collaboration centre, which was really exciting – especially because I had been using it for the past few years and I was now one of the people in charge of it!
I was helping to conduct workshops and webinars with US teachers on how to integrate iEARN projects into their classrooms, as well as helping with the coordination of the Adobe Youth Voices project in the iEARN member countries.
I learnt a lot about working and coordinating projects, the use of social media and different online tools such as Elluminate Live and Moodle. I really enjoyed working in global teams.
Personally, it was very rewarding living and experiencing life in a major city like New York. There was a lot to learn, for example adapting to transportation systems like the subway, which is not common in Uganda, map reading, which is essential to survival in a big city, and of course experiencing new weather seasons such as the winter, fall and autumn.
Allan Kakinda will present Introduction to Global Collaboration: iEARN as part of the session A Critical Gaze at Technology: Access and Collaborative Learning Models in African Schools on Thursday, May 26, 2011 from 14:30 – 16:00.