How Webex by Cisco Helped Break Down Distance Learning Barriers in Kenya
Cisco instructor Allan is a true role model. His spirit and positive can-do attitude are inspiring, and the impact his work has had on education in Kenya during the lockdown cannot be overstated. He is the definition of a #FutureVoice in education. Read more about his story below.
Few things in life are more satisfying than seeing a person grasp a new concept for the first time. As an educator, one of my biggest motivations is helping people learn. But, more than that, I want people to discover new technology. Technology has helped tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. Ironically, technology can even help make learning about technology even easier.
That potential to change the world is what first drew me to technology in school. While there were many subjects I found interesting, I always gravitated to my technology classes. That is why, after undergraduate school, I attended Kenyatta University and trained through their Cisco Academy. As I studied, I could see the potential for my newfound knowledge, and I told the teacher I thought I could make the class even better. He challenged me to get certified as a Cisco trainer so I could teach others and share my enthusiasm for the field with new students.
I should mention that at my university, there were very few courses related to IT. So at that time, we were truly pioneers in East Africa. Most of the students were taking courses related to education, business administration, or other fields. I’ve been a Cisco trainer for five years, and I am still one of the few certified trainers in Kenya. That means I spend my time having a direct impact on people by exposing them to exciting new concepts.
Expanding Access to Cisco Academy
Learning Cisco solutions means you’re joining a community. The more I understood these powerful tools, the more I wanted to serve as an ambassador to spread the good news. That passion is why I won two awards at Kenyatta University for great instruction.
Over the years, I also remained in contact with Cisco employees. I am continually impressed by the dedication and customer-friendly approach of Cisco’s staff. In my experience, their products are eagerly matched by the high-quality client experience. When I got the chance to work with Cisco to expand the Cisco Academies, I was thrilled.
Cisco's Eastern Central African office contacted me to train more than 25 people to provide instruction in other areas of the country. Thanks to the time I spent with those potential trainers, several new academies have opened in the coastal and western regions. This project then grew beyond academy instructors as we began training public servants throughout Kenya.
Employees at all levels of government learned topics like CCNA, DevNet Associate, Cybersecurity, CyberOps Associate, and more. For many of these professionals, this was their first real exposure to IT topics, and we were opening their eyes to the potential of technology. But of course, as much as IT is about advocacy, it’s also about putting out fires. Eventually, Cisco came to me with a problem.
Connecting Over Distances During the Pandemic
When the world was thrown into turmoil in 2020, Kenya was not immune. Aside from the health aspects of fighting the global pandemic, the social isolation made life more difficult for many people. The pandemic presented educators specifically with the tremendous challenge of adapting the education system for long-distance instruction.
In the years leading up to 2020, an ISP called Liquid Telecom served the IT needs of several education communities in Kenya. Whenever there was a problem with internet reliability, Liquid Telecom would help the local elementary and secondary educators get back up and running. In the case of network downtime, Liquid Telecom would send a technician to the school to personally address the issue. In some cases, this distance was as much as 500 kilometers.
Truthfully, the situation was becoming unmanageable. Sending a technician hundreds of kilometers for a problem cost the company money and valuable time. However, there simply weren't enough qualified employees to service every city in the country. The pandemic made the existing problem much worse.
Cisco came to me with an idea: What if they could train teachers to do basic network troubleshooting? As one of the few qualified Cisco trainers in my part of Kenya, they asked if I could lead this instruction. They wanted someone who understood Cisco networking solutions, but also knew the specific challenges and culture of the communities. As a true believer in the power of technology, I jumped at the chance to empower teachers to help themselves.
Like almost everything in 2020, the pandemic made the project more complicated than it would’ve been otherwise. First, there were severe restrictions on movement. The government continually made adjustments to open or close communities based on viral outbreaks. Curfews also seriously limited the amount of time we had each day for travel and instruction. Even when we could meet in person, social distancing requirements meant we couldn't be close to each other.
Under normal circumstances, we might have decided to postpone the training until conditions were better. But the pandemic made educational institutions even more reliant on internet services and therefore more vulnerable if they were to have an IT issue. It would also be more difficult to get technicians into a community within a reasonable time. We had no choice but to provide the instruction now—and I had the idea to use Webex by Cisco for the training.
Choosing the Best Video Conferencing Solution
I’m no stranger to video conferencing solutions. However, nothing is comparable to Webex. From the voice and video quality to the features, it doesn’t have a match in the market.
In a matter of days, we got everything set up to begin introducing teachers to Cisco networking solutions. Many of them had used video conferencing equipment in the past but had not been exposed to Webex. I created a meeting and sent all of the teachers a link via email. Most of them found it simple enough to get going, and even the teachers who required assistance to set up hardware quickly figured things out. From there, the technology faded into the background, and they could focus on learning.
Compared to other options, Webex had several features that enhanced the learning experience. Sharing my screen gave everyone crystal-clear instruction. Compare this to in-person learning, where some learners might struggle to see the screen at the front of the class. I have Cisco switches in my home, so I could use them as props to ensure the teachers understood the concepts. I also loved that the chat function let me answer questions on the spot. Adding extra clarity on troublesome topics was helpful.
Webex’s recording function was a huge advantage as well. Anyone who missed the class could go back and watch the instruction at their own schedule. Others could make notes during the meeting and re-listen to important topics later. The recording feature provided tremendous flexibility to teachers.
The Possibilities of Distance Learning
Webex made distance learning easy, even during the pandemic. I was able to help teachers all over the country learn the basics of network troubleshooting. That helped them to provide continuous web-based instruction to their students, so that children could have a consistent learning experience.
I think the biggest testament to the performance of Webex is the number of teachers that used it for breakout sessions with each other and with their own students. What started as a tool to talk about networking became a way to enhance long-distance education. Several teachers told me that Webex was the most powerful tool they have ever learned to use.
For me, Webex opens up possibilities for distance learning. The future of education is promising. Products like Webex will increase access to education by removing barriers like geographical location, economic status, and disabilities. For those in Kenya, it means they'll acquire the necessary skills to thrive in the workplace.
I have reached more people in the past year than in my five previous years of teaching. I'm excited to be part of Cisco's Future Voices program, because I strive to be the change I wish to see in the world. Now, I have another tool in my toolbox and am more inspired than ever to teach the wonders of technology, wherever my students are.