Computer Skills For Managers

A volunteer in Kitui (a little further down and to the right than Tala on my map of Kenya) invited me to visit this weekend. That’s why I’ve been so quiet since then.

Skipped out of Tala friday lunch-time to meet Vini and Dawn in Nairobi and get on the road to Kitui to arrive before dark. Met Dawn but Vini was in some sort of timewarp meeting in Nairobi. We finally left Nairobi at 6-ish which is the time I was expecting to arrive in Kitui (we’re advised against traveling on Matatus after dark).

The journey was enough fun by itself: we were stopped and searched twice by Kenya Police — Matatu hijacks are common and they searched us, in the middle of the bush, with an electric metal detector, looking for handguns. Then we almost ran over the body of something which was apparently a person, lying in the road. The driver expertly swirved us onto the shoulder (we seemed to be going at a fair lick, despite the regulations regarding speed governors) and we started to back up to investigate. Then the passengers took control and shouted for us to go on. Nobody wants to be mugged in a matatu in the middle of the night and who knows what that body was doing there.

Arrived in Kitui around 10pm.

Started the next day early: Vini works with three polytechnics in Kitui and had asked me to give a training course to them using the computer laboratory of a fourth poly in the town. I can’t even begin to communicate to you what polys are like in Kenya. Not like Leicester Poly — where I got my first degree from — thats for sure. A poly with computers is almost unheard of.

I planned the course on the matatu journey on fridya night as Vini explained what she wanted to achieve. The main objective seemed to be that the trainees — managers of the polytechnics — should get past their fear of computers as strange alien things.

I set up the room with all the PCs running Word. Disabled Office Assistant Annoying Paperclip Man and turned off Auto-completion (did Micro$oft design this package specifically to be difficult to teach to beginners?). The machine by the door was nominated as the “Guestbook”. Signing the guestbook is a big deal in Kenya so I knew I could get them to write their names there, even if they had never typed a key before. And they hadn’t. Watching what happened at the door where I left them to struggle and write their names as they arrived, I learned a lot about my class and where I had to begin from with them. I replanned the calss in my head as the regular computer teacher offered them advice on using the space bar to separate words, or using shift to get upper case letters.

Somehow, though, by a great team effort from myself, Vini and the regular computer teacher at that polytechnic, and by cutting a lot of corners (e.g. not making the guys open word to start work, but just putting it there for them to type into) we managed to get all the participants to prepare their own certificates, which Vini printed for them and I signed. Certificates are an even bigger deal out here than guestbooks. Its so important to have a certificate from every course. This course was entitled Computer Skills for Managers and signed by a certain doctor of science (I decided to add PhD to my post-nominal attributions on the certificates as titles are another big deal here). But the managers were more impressed to learn what CEng stands for. Never mind that I’m (almost) a doctor, their certificates were signed by an Engineer!

But the biggest triumph of the day was clearly that they had taken home with them certificates that they knew they had prepared themselves. A clear sense of acheivement for many of them and, when I met them on the Monday, many were still chuffed to bits about it. One lady had visited Vini on sunday talking about where she coudl get more computer training (to improve her chances of getting a job) and another gentleman had shown his certificate to his computer-trained daughter who disbelieved him when he said he had made it himself.

During that busy saturday I somehow managed to re-capture something of the joy of teaching that has been sadly lacking from my pedagogical activities at Holy Rosary College.

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