Launch Pads

On the third-largest island in Fiji, 17-year-old Asenaca Sepa dreams of becoming a nurse. Her classmate, Laisenia Kidia, wants to study marine biology. The teens are students at Bucalevu Secondary School on Taveuni Island. Its rich soil and abundant flora have earned it the nickname “the garden island.” Waterfalls and breathtaking sunsets make Taveuni a travel destination, yet besides encounters with tourists, the islanders live in relative isolation. The government is the main employer; most other jobs involve unskilled agricultural labor. Only about 30 percent of students graduate from high school. About 10 percent go to university. Poverty and poor infrastructure limit access to advanced technology.

This lack of technology in schools worried members of the Rotary Club of Taveuni Island, who want to ensure students find employment or go on to college, says club member Geoffrey Amos. “We want them to go into the market with computer skills.”

Working with Auckland University of Technology and the Rotary clubs of Newmarket, Botany East Tamaki, and Ellerslie Sunrise, New Zealand, Taveuni Island Rotarians launched a project to provide 70 computer tablets to Bucalevu Secondary School and nearby Niusawa Methodist High School. They received matching funds from districts 9920 and 9970, and partial funding from a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant. (Matching Grants have since been phased out; learn more about Foundation grants.

Rotary scholar alumna Kelsi Cox, a Canadian who studied in New Zealand, led a team that trained teachers and students how to use the tablets. “These small things hold a world of information, and can take these young people to places far beyond the classroom,” she says.

The teens took to the devices immediately. “It’s like having 100 textbooks,” Sepa says. During the training, the group used a science app to study cell structure. “After looking at the pictures today, and at all the cells and definitions, I get a clear picture of what a cell really is,” she notes. Kidia adds that what he’s learning on the tablet will help prepare him for university.

The devices are preloaded with an array of educational apps, as well as tools for students to record songs and take videos, allowing them to document their lives and culture outside the classroom.

“It’s what they need to empower their community so they can create positive changes for the future,” Cox says. Those changes are already occurring: Amos reports that on 2014 achievement tests, students had higher pass rates than before. They also showed improved computer skills, which will help them continue their education or find jobs.

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