The Nika Project Brings AAC to South Africa

Also in 2013, Dan traveled to a small rural school in Eastern South Africa called Khulani.  This school housed over 300 special needs students from mild to severe disabilities. Most of the students were residential and lived at the school due to how far they lived from the school and the lack of transportation or supports at home to accommodate their needs.  This school was extremely rustic; there were 5 classrooms and the 300 students were separated based on a combination of their age and abilities. With no formal assessment or IEP process in place nor any tools to provide this structure, it was very unclear what the students were learning and how to assess their progress.  This school had no electricity or running water in its classrooms; the only room onsite that allowed for electricity was a small covered area that served as the sleeping room for all of the students.


The mission of this initial project at Khulani was to see if mobile technology tools such as an iPad would work in this rural setting with the same effect that we see in our classrooms in the United States.  Challenges for the Tech for Africa project during this initial year were:

  • Adequate power to charge devices
  • Lack of experience or training on using any tech tools
  • Diverse languages used (over 36 languages are spoken in rural South Africa – Zulu was the main language for this school)
  • Lack of training in Special Ed or Language Development


Results for this 2 week project was incredible.  Dan and his colleague traveled to Khulani with 4 iPads to see the possibilities of utilizing this tool within this limited resource environment.  They used the sleeping room as their teaching space which allowed them to project the images on an available wall. A minimal number of apps were used – everything was recordable so that materials could be made in any language.  Dan and his inter-professional team found that the learning and integration of the technology was immediate and intuitive. By taking pictures of all the materials in the class, they were able to “bring learning to life” and see the potential for this as a larger, more comprehensive intervention.


The following year, a team of 8 professionals returned to Khulani for another visit.  This team consisted of 2 SLPs, 2 Special Day Class teachers, a nurse, a librarian, and two tech professionals.  Khulani had moved down the street to a newer, larger school that now had 15 classes. Over 300 students with mild to severe disabilities were enrolled with 30 teachers.  Limited electricity was available within each classroom.


The team of 8 professionals spent 8 days at Khulani and in that time was able to put an iPad and projector in each of the 15 classrooms.  All of this equipment was refurbished from tools used in the US. Beyond just incorporating these tools, the teachers were trained on how to adapt curriculum to meet the needs of nonverbal students and diverse learners.  Teachers were given digital cameras and refurbished iPhones in order to capture materials digitally for reading, writing, communication, and math.


At Khulani, they took on several other projects during the 8 days of our project.  They created an adapted library where they provided large picture books and printed out icons in both English and Zulu for struggling readers.  They also rebuilt a technology training center with 20 computer stations and overhead projector. This became the training area for not only the staff but surrounding schools that came for training.  At the conclusion of their project, they hosted a training for 5 local special needs schools as well as over 130 government officials throughout the country of South Africa who were curious to see what they were doing.  At this training, they gave away 10 iPads, 20 digital cameras and software to create icons as a part of a drawing for all participants. Results of this project were far beyond their wildest expectations. They saw firsthand the lives of the students and teachers change as now students were able to respond; teachers inherently taught differently by providing questions and time to respond to check for comprehension.  They were notified following this project that the government of South Africa had placed a large order of mobile technology throughout the country.


Components of this project included:

  • Work directly in schools
  • Professional developments for teachers, therapists
  • Training for administrators
  • Service delivery to students
  • Program development


Students impacted: 300 Khulani students; over 1,000 from surrounding SPED schools

Teachers impacted:  30 Khulani teachers; 10 local SPED staff; 130 administrators around the country.

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