Saturday, 6 December 2008

Getting ComPart to Angola

Lately we started the important step to expand the ComPart training sessions to our partners in the South. As you might have read in this blog, a couple of weeks ago two colleagues from Euforic were in Ouagadougo training participants of a Seminar on education; last week I was in São Paulo to introduce ComPart to the participants of a seminar on Land and water rights; and this week I was in Luanda to “train” staff of several partner organisations in Angola. It is really great we have now come to this stage because in the end ComPart is meant for communication and learning with and among partners, is it is very important that they know how to use the tools.

Certainly here in Angola it is clear that the (good) use of Internet communication tools can be very helpful. Transport is very expensive and difficult to organise and normal telephone quite costly. So the felt need for good and cheap means of communication is evident. Although very much in the Angolan way only after some reminders and at the last moment, 22 staff of about 14 partner organisations subscribed to the training. Nearly all of them attended all three days. Luckily enough, my colleague Arie Jongejan managed to hire a “ICT-lab” with 30 PC’s connected to Internet just one day before the training started., which is quite an achievement under these circumstances. So everything was prepared as well as possible.

The training itself went well, although it was not always easy. Far more than twice, in the middle of a presentation or explanation an energy cut forced an unwelcome pause. I really admired the patience of the participants and their ability to come back with their attention (although at some moments it was clear we all felt real frustration). As one of the most expressed needs was to have an alternative for the expensive telephone (mobiles) Skype was one of the tools I explained right after the general presentation. Perhaps that was a mistake, because all the time afterwards one could hear the well known sounds of skype calls, and thus the internet connection slowed down nearly all the time (I must admit also because one or two participants were downloading videos). In general the Internet connection was OK, but sometimes and especially the last day really very very slow. It took about 3 minutes to load a page and often resulting in the so well know notice that the page could not be loaded at all because of a time out. To say the least, that makes it difficult to explain and practice!

Most time was spent on the explanation and practice with wiki’s and blogs, but we also worked on Dgroups, Skype, Feeds, RSS, iGoogle and other tools. Participants were really enthused and regularly it was difficult to get them to have a break and even lunch. Several times they were also teasing each other by messing up each other’s pages or posts. So we also had fun ;-).

However by the way they were working and the questions they asked it also became clear that part of the participants had great difficulty to really understand what Internet is, e.g. understanding that saving a text on your own computer is something different than saving a wiki page or a post. So I had to spend quite some time on explaining the very basics. And I must admit sometimes I had quite a hard time because I felt I didn’t always manage to explain them in an understandable way. Fortunately also some participants helped each other (levels of understanding varied much), so for most, in the end, much became more or less clear. At least they said they learnt much and made some concrete plans to work with the tools within their work for the Education for All and the Hiv/Aids programmes and other activities.

As for future training activities for expanding ComPart to the South some main lessons learnt are:

  • Training should really start at a very basic level;

  • Whenever possible try to do separate trainings for “beginners” with ICT and the “advanced” users (e.g. it was impossible to explain the embedding of videos and presentations, even though it was an explicit question of a few participants);

  • It is necessary to have enough time for personal attention (explanation) so their must be at least one trainer for at the most 12 (?) participants;

  • Certainly at the start of the introduction of ComPart it would be better to have a couple of training sessions every one or two months than one longer one. Anyhow follow-up sessions should be planed from the beginning;

  • It is important to involve local trainers because they know the wording used in the different countries (Brazilians and Angolans both speak Portuguese but some ICT terms are very different and cause confusion);

  • Connectivity of course is also an issue. Although it is always needed to take low connectivity for users into account, whenever possible the training sessions should take place in a venue with as good as possible connection (interruptions make it really difficult to maintain attention and keep the training somewhat inspiring).

    Luanda airport, 6 December 2008
    Maarten Boers


compartuser said...

Hello Maarten,

Unluckely, bad connectivity and even regular energy cuts are the daily work conditions these people are working in. And outside the capital, it is even much worse.I was just in Congo, where in some places it takes half an hour to open the yahoo acount (try to make them open a gmail - not evident as they know yahoo the best), so people are not very interested to check their mailbox. Does ICCO have some partners working on lobbying the government to improve infrastructure on connectivity? It would be nice to get them 'compart' their experiences.

Many greetings
ATOL Belgium

Anonymous said...

hi maarten

Such a familiar experience, both the connectivity problems and the energy of the participants - and the power of the Internet to distract people in a training session !

Three points

1. We need to think harder about tools that work offline, and only need occasional connectivity for updates.

2. What you say underlines the importance of the surveys we are planning to do in regions. They will help us with segementing partners for training, so that those with more experience can take on coaching and mentoring roles.

3. 12 is a large number for a group with one person doing basic training, which needs a lot of one2one coaching and support.