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Computing without Computers

Computing without Computers

When we first started out, DFC was primarily in the hardware/software business. Since then, we have moved to include networks, security, and bespoke business solutions. I see DFC’s trajectory as a metaphor for the development of computing at large. Time was, you got the unit first (whether out-of-the-box or DIY) and then futzed around figuring things out and building muscle memory. In short, in the chicken or egg metaphor, the egg of hardware came first, before the chicken of skills.
 
In today’s modern and connected world, having computing skills are taken for granted — but what happens if you’ve never even seen a computer? Ghanaian information and communications technology teacher Richard Appiah Akoto is subverting the binary: successfully teaching his students how to use a computer, without a single computer to practice on.
 
The mother of Mr Akoto’s invention is the fact that public schools in Ghana lack the significant resources of private schools. His enthusiastic Facebook posts about his work went viral last month, and the BBC has produced a video of his teaching in action. In it, he replicates the standard working screen of Microsoft Word with chalk and a ruler on a blackboard, then guides his students step-by-step through its processes by pointing at each function. He also explains how to use a mouse, and a keyboard, by drawing them too. Watch the video here.
 
Mr Akoto is dedicated to making sure his students pass the national ICT exam and compete with students in the future workforce from larger cities, and whose schools have computers. His students, like those in a computer-filled lab, still need some wrangling — but mostly due to lack of context for what they’re learning.
 
“It’s sometimes challenging. You will draw, and expect the student to do the same thing, but you go around to inspect it in their books, and they will be doing a different thing,because they are not familiar with the features.” Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9rtFiZ7unw
 
“Definitely those in Accra [Ghana’s capital] will pass the exam because you cannot compare someone who is in front of a computer, who knows what he is doing with the mouse to someone who has not had a feel of a computer mouse before.”
Link: https://qz.com/africa/1217879/a-ghana-teacher-shows-microsoft-windows-on-a-blackboard-is-a-viral-sensation/

Upon hearing Mr Akoto’s story, Microsoft pledged to send his class one computer, gratis. Several other donors have since stepped up to fill the need for as many desktops as possible. While the donated computers will take his students far, I think Mr. Akoto’s ingenuity is the greater gift — showing kids that limits can be dissolved by outside the box thinking.