250 million kids around the world cannot read, write or do basic math. Most of these kids are in rural schools that lack electricity and internet. Building computer labs in schools, and training large numbers of teachers, is very expensive. Large-scale rural education development and technology initiatives have failed because they do not provide long-term teacher training and support, nor do they address the long-term costs of operating a computer lab.
TabLab partner schools receive long-term support from a teacher trainer, a professional development curriculum, and a mobile tablet lab. The technology can be used offline and even off-the-grid, meaning even the most rural schools can now access thousands of educational resources.
We also adapt our rural education development strategies to suit the needs of the individual school. This ensures that schools shift to innovative student-centered learning. With TabLab, teachers and administrators are the principal agents of change, and we use student data to measure our impact. Our mission is to partner with rural schools to transform teaching and learning. Our vision is to create a global network of TabLab schools that revolutionizes rural education.
Transformed Schools. Teachers start using the rural education development program’s technology for traditional learning and, over time, transition to student-centered approaches such as Project-Based Learning. During a 6-month pilot in Costa Rica, students showed gains in reading, writing and a 29 percent increase in the comprehension of complex concepts.
What components make up TabLab?
A local teacher trainer works with each school for two years. Our partner schools have committed leaders and hard-working teachers who are willing to put time and resources into TabLab. We work to understand the school’s most basic challenges in reading and math solve them with support of the local community. The teacher trainers use their two-year tenure to help teachers integrate student-centered forms of teaching, such as Project-Based Learning, into the classroom experience. The tablets are tools to help make this transformation happen. After the teacher trainer leaves, all TabLab equipment stays at each school.
The TabLab box and all the equipment can be wheeled between classrooms. This allows the students to learn anywhere, not only in the confines of a computer lab. Portability allows for TabLab sharing between nearby schools. For instance, in Tanzania one TabLab spends time each week at a secondary school and a nearby primary school. The TabLab box can be can be taken home each night by our lead teachers or school leaders. Removing the equipment from school when no one is there is the best possible security solution to prevent theft.
Each TabLab is designed to withstand extreme conditions, such as cold, heat, humidity and dust. We start with a shock- and humidity-proof plastic box with foam interior slots provided by CPD Industries. We use the high quality and durable Apple Mini iPad 2s and protect each tablet with a Defender Series Otterbox case. At night we place silicate canisters inside the plastic box in order to prevent condensation – therefore eliminating the need for expensive air conditioning systems in tropical climates.
Many of our partner schools lack the electricity and network infrastructure of the developed world. Internet, when available, is often unreliable or insufficient in our schools, sometimes even in the United States. TabLab’s suite of offline content (Khan Academy Lite, etc.) and apps (Geogebra, etc.) are designed to work without internet if necessary. Studies have shown that the Digital Divide (those with internet, and those without) follows the Electrical Divide (those with electricity, and those without). The tablets and the BRCK can be charged with a solar panel, and our mini iPad 2’s can generally run 4-6 hours per charge.
Another big issue of traditional computer labs is IT support. Tablets typically have fewer problems with viruses than PC laptops. But the cloud-controlled configuration of TabLab allows us to fix problems, or load new software, to both the iPads and the BRCK device. When remote support is required, our TabLab Trainers bring the equipment to a place with a suitable Wi-Fi connection so we can log in and get to work.
Our TabLab is configured to work in the K-12 school environment. But we have had numerous organizations approach us with different ideas of how to use TabLab. These have included large non-profit organizations that thought TabLab could serve as an excellent mobile computer lab to travel along with a rural healthcare clinic in Africa. Another organization was interested in exploring TabLab as a tool for empowering women around the world to tell their stories via digital media.