Saturday, February 9, 2013

New e-learning software helps students to crack ‘hard subjects

Alliance High School students pay attention as chemistry teacher Peter Gichuhi uses the new Smart Learner software to project an illustration on the wall during a lesson. Photo/BILLY MUTAI.

Alliance High School students pay attention as chemistry teacher Peter Gichuhi uses the new Smart Learner software to project an illustration on the wall during a lesson. Photo/BILLY MUTAI.  NATION

By BILLY MUIRURI [email protected]

The teaching of science and mathematics in local schools could become easier after a new software sourced from the United States found its way into Kenyan classrooms.

The software is becoming a close companion to techno-savvy students because of its use of rich graphics to illustrate scientific concepts.

Some schools are now using it in early preparation for national examinations to crack subjects perceived to be difficult.

Some parents have also acquired it for use at home as a remedial teaching aid for students in their weak subjects.

The software, dubbed Smart Learner, uses animated graphics to explain content developed using the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) syllabus.

The content was developed by a team of teachers in Central Kenya before it was processed in the US.

A voice of a teacher reads the content and explains the images and colour illustrations that run concurrently.

Operated on a computer (and a projector for a classroom situation), each topic is introduced, a synopsis given before the virtual teacher gets into the actual content.

The head of the chemistry department at Alliance High School, Mr Peter Gichuhi, says the programme has all the topics recommended in the KIE syllabus.

“The use of coloured images and graphic representations of some abstract concepts aids weak students grasp concepts faster in a fun, relaxed environment,” says Mr Gichuhi.

Done in segments that open as fresh pages for each topic, there is a glossary for difficult terms, references where one can get more information and suggested tips on how to study each topic.

Mr Jackson Muturi, the deputy principal at Nyeri High School and one of the teachers who have assessed the programme, says the audio and virtual impression of content enables learners to easily internalise various concepts.

Mr Muturi says the presentation is quite advanced for modern learning.

“The e-books we use from KIE use diagrams but the new programme uses real images. Since they are in three dimensions, it makes learning easier,” he says.

The principal of the high-cost Pioneer Schools in Maragwa, Mr John Gichengo, says tech-savvy students are finding it easier to use it in their study of sciences.

Mr Gichengo, a mathematics teacher, says the software is the biggest attempt at making teaching of the 8-4-4 system easier and entertaining for learners.

Miss Wilkister Wanjiru, a teacher at Kiburia Girls’ High School in Kirinyaga County, says charts used in schools have a limitation as they use arrows while motion pictures give a clear illustration of real-life images.

A demonstration done to the Sunday Nation recently showed a teacher can play and pause the presentation for him or her to explain concepts.

“Sometimes a teacher may want learners to have a longer view of the images. Pages can also be replayed as the learner wishes,” says Ms Wanjiru.

At the end of each topic, a self-test is given. Another page has answers. The subjects are installed on a learner’s desktop.

According to Mr Gabriel Thumbi, the software developer, it took two-and-a-half years to compile the chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics content for secondary schools.

“We have science and mathematics for primary schools,” says Mr Thumbi. “Motion pictures are key in the whole concept.”

The original idea, Mr Thumbi says, was to use local subject teachers to give local solutions to problems they encountered with students.

“That is why it took long to come up with the graphics,” said Mr Thumbi.

This mode of learning is likely to attract adult learners or those studying privately. School situations will require a laboratory where a projector can be used.

The content is, however, yet to be approved by the Kenya Institute of Education for official use in schools. KIE vets educational materials and recommends those that can be officially used.

The head of KIE’s division of Media and Extension Services, Mr John Kimotho, said some officials at the institute had seen the programme but would not comment about its viability.

“There is a process required for such teaching aids to be accepted for use in public schools. There are several innovations coming up from the private sector and this is one of them,” said Mr Kimotho.

Some teachers have attended demonstration sessions at Techskills High School in Nyahururu on how the software works.

However, Mr Muturi said teachers who choose to use it will need vigorous training in IT as many are not conversant with it.

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