LIBERIA REPORT #1 - SEPT. 8, 2015

It’s late tonight, but I wanted to give you a quick update. Yesterday and today we were at Juarzon Central High School and had a wonderful kick-off to our Sinoe County pilot. Whylie Christian Academy joined the Juarzon students for the computer training and NWEA MAP testing. These are two of the three schools we’re using as control groups (i.e. students who will not be using KA-Lite). Of the 44 9th and 12th graders, only one had ever used a computer before. We taught them the basics of computer navigation, and today they successfully took the MAP reading and math tests using the 20 notebook lab that Leon configured.

Every day has been a challenge with the rainy season road conditions. Our 200 mile trip to Greenville took 13 hours. Here you see one of the many treacherous places where our 4x4 vehicles needed help getting through. The past two days we have driven 2½ hours each way to cover the 50 miles from Greenville to Juarzon.

The reception we received by the Juarzon and Whylie students and teachers have made it all worthwhile. They were so appreciative that we visited their remote town to bring them these computer resources. Here are teachers using the computer for the very first time.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #2 - SEPT. 10, 2015

It was pouring rain at 8:30 am yesterday when we arrived at the Sinoe Multilateral High School for the pilot kick-off with the Greenville principals and teachers. It took a couple hours for everyone to get there (many by motorcycle!), but by 11:30 we were able to start the program.

While the 25-30 participants were still arriving, we showed several teachers how to connect up to the RACHEL Library on their cell phones. It was fun to see their excitement at this wealth of resources, all delivered from the tiny RACHEL server. The libraries in these schools are woefully inadequate, so RACHEL is a gold mine to them.

Mr. Malaya Cheyard, the County Education Officer (CEO), was deeply appreciative of what we are bringing to his county. At the 5:00 pm closing ceremony, he is giving his heart-felt thanks to the IEL team.

At 8:00 pm we were interviewed on the Voice of Sinoe radio station. This is the only radio station in the county and has wide reach. Here you see Dr. Eric Kellerer explaining his role in leading the external assessment of the Samuel Morris Scholars Program.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #3 - SEPT. 12, 2015

On Thursday we spent the morning at the Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) school where we held the successful three-day workshop back in 2014. GVL has become a strong partner of IEL and has been key to the success we are experiencing. Here you see the GVL 6th graders taking the Arithmetic & Pre-Algebra Diagnostic Test that we use as one of our assessment measures. They will take this same test again in January, and a third time in June.

It has been great fun to teach these students how to navigate the computer. We installed a game-like program called GCompris that teaches them to click, double-click, and drag. These are the computer skills required to take the NWEA MAP assessment. GVL is one of the few places in Sinoe County that has internet access, and Leon and Alex successfully uploaded the MAP results from Tuesday’s testing at the Juarzon and Whylie schools. This was a big milestone for us, as we had not been able to test this process prior to leaving the U.S.

Due to the 14 years of civil war, Ebola, and other challenges, many of the students are much older. 12th graders can be as old as 30, and 9th graders are often 17 or 18 years old. But they are hungry to learn, and we are grateful that we can bring this opportunity to them.

This last picture needs no explanation. This is the local filling station where our three 4x4 jeeps gas up each morning.

Thank you for your prayers. Every day has been a blessing, and we’re looking forward to our time today at the St. Joseph Catholic High School and the St. Paul Episcopal High School. There is great excitement in Greenville. It will be the only town in the country where every high school can boast that it has a modern computer lab.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #4 - SEPT. 13, 2015

Yesterday (Saturday) was a very full day. Here is the classroom we used at St. Joseph Catholic High School to set up our 20 testing notebooks. We duct taped the laptops to the desks to prevent them from falling. I couldn’t help but notice the math test that remained on the board from the previous semester. These schools have no textbooks to issue their students. All content is delivered via the teacher from the chalkboard.

We cranked up our small 1500 watt generator (these schools have no electricity) and set up the projector to display on a blank wall. Using three classrooms, we rotated 129 9th and 12th grade students through registration, diagnostic testing, a survey, telling of the Samuel Morris story with 3Cs emphasis, and basic computer training. We were all quite exhausted by lunch time. Here you see Dr. Charles Kirkpatrick sharing his story with 40 12th graders who filled the classroom.

One of the computer activities students are enjoying is the scales. They practice their mouse skills by dragging weights up to balance the scales.

After a full morning at St. Joseph’s, we ate a quick lunch, and then drove the few blocks to St. Paul’s Episcopal High School where we repeated the activities and training with their 9th and 12th graders. We are focusing on these two grades because these are the years in which Liberian students take their West Africa Examinations (WAEC). We believe KA-Lite will prepare them to pass the math portion of these critical exams.

We will attend church this morning at the United Methodist Church, and then rest. This week’s schedule will be heavy as we re-visit all the schools to give the NWEA MAP Reading and Mathematics assessments and to continue training students and teachers in using KA-Lite.

We are looking forward to Tuesday evening at St. Paul’s church, where we are scheduling a 7:00 pm showing of the Samuel Morris animated video. The event is being announced on the radio, and we hope to have a good crowd.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #5 - SEPT. 15, 2015

Yesterday was a much needed day of rest. We worshipped at the First United Methodist Church of Greenville, established in 1840 by freed American slaves who came from Mississippi. This beautiful building was constructed in 1963, and is one of the many grand but fading structures on the main boulevard in town, named Mississippi Street.

Our IEL team was invited to participate in the service. Charles read the scripture, Elijah introduced the team, and Leon led in a pastoral prayer. Eric is an ordained minister, and was asked to preach. He delivered a powerful message from the book of Nehemiah, calling the people of Greenville to rebuild their city as the Jews returning from exile rebuilt the fallen walls of Jerusalem.

Pray that the dear people of this once thriving community will find the strength and courage to “rebuild their walls.” By uniting together with God’s grace, the water tower could be repaired to once again deliver water to every home in the city. Electricity could be restored, schools painted, trash picked up, and streets beautified. Commerce could once again thrive.

While we were at church, our two gifted drivers replaced the differential on the vehicle whose four-wheel drive had not been working. With their set of simple tools they removed the mud-caked unit for a replacement that had been delivered from Monrovia.

Today we begin our final week in the five Greenville area schools. We will be at the Sinoe Multilateral High School in the morning and St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in the afternoon. These are the two biggest schools. Pray that we’ll be able to organize and manage the large numbers of students, and that the technology will continue to work well.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #6 - SEPT. 16, 2015

Yesterday was a full day of testing and training with 170 9th and 12th graders at St. Joseph Catholic High School. It required all of our skills in organization and “crowd control” to pull this off.  Here you see the students standing for their opening exercises in the school yard.

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With the basic training we gave them, the students were able to comfortably navigate the MAP tests.
However, it was sobering to see their math scores. There was very little difference between the 9th and 12th graders, with nearly all scoring at the 3rd-5th grade level. With KA-Lite, we believe many of these students will be able to catch up over the course of the year.

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In addition to the MAP testing, we rotated five groups of 26 students through their new 13-laptop computer lab, introducing them to KA-Lite. I taught the first two sessions, with their three young math teachers following closely. By the third session, Shadrach (pictured in yellow), began giving some of the instructions. By the fourth session, I turned over the entire class to him and he did a beautiful job. I could see that the students understood his “Liberian English” better than my American English. The picture on the right shows the three teachers working together, creating new accounts in the KA-Lite system.

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At 7:00 pm, we showed the Samuel Morris animated video to a packed audience at the St. Paul church. Young and old were captivated by the story. We hope Morris’s faith and love of learning will be an inspiration to these young people who have so much potential.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #7 - SEPT. 17, 2015

Yesterday we experienced our biggest challenges with the technology. At 7:45 am we arrived at the Sinoe Multilateral High School just as the students were being released from their opening exercises.

We were counting on using the school’s large diesel generator to power the 15-laptop KA-Lite lab and our 20-laptop MAP testing room. But they could not get their generator started. We fired up our own small generator and were able to get enough power to the rooms to run the laptops. However, we could not run the projector. So I drew some rough screen shots on the board, and discovered that the “old school” approached worked quite well.

All was going well with the MAP testing, and then the server failed. Leon tried everything he could think of, but he could not get it to restart. We brought with us a spare server, and Leon was just about ready to swap servers when he thought of one more thing. I don’t know the details, but he copied over some database files and the server restarted! Fortunately, MAP saves all the student work, so they were able to pick up where they left off.

In the KA-Lite lab where I was teaching, the computers began locking up when more than five students opened the same exercise. We had experienced this issue the day before at St. Joseph. Then midway through the afternoon, a critical database error appeared on several student screens and we realized the server had crashed. We had not been able to fully test the capacity of our small RACHEL-Pi servers before leaving the US, and we thought that the system had overloaded or that we had run out of memory. We restarted the server, and the lab came back to life!

But there was still the issue of the exercises. We dismissed the last group of students at 5:00 and gathered in the lab to do some troubleshooting. We rebooted all the laptops. One by one we opened the Basic Addition exercise, and sure enough – the first five computers worked fine, but starting with the sixth computer they would all freeze up. It was Alex who came through with the solution. He suggested pressing the F5 (refresh) key. Within minutes we had all 15 laptops simultaneously running the exercise set, and we all breathed a sigh of relief as another critical issue had been resolved.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #8 - SEPT. 18, 2015

Our mission is nearly accomplished. All four Greenville high schools now have modern computer labs running the best in educational software. Over 600 students have learned to operate the computers and have taken the math assessments. The teachers have been trained. We left with them progress tracking forms, quiz booklets, Samuel Morris 3Cs lessons, instruction sheets, and signage for their labs. Alex worked with each principal in creating a KA-Lite afterschool and Saturday lab schedule.

The schools were responsible to provide their own computer lab furniture, designed for two students per station. Below you see the new labs at Harrison Grigsby Methodist School and St. Paul Episcopal School. Both of these labs can comfortably accommodate 24 students. They are powered by the generators we provided.

This morning we will finish up with the 5th and 6th graders at the GVL Elementary School (where Alex is vice principal). GVL has internet access, and in the afternoon we will upload the NWEA MAP assessment data, as well as data from the KA-Lite RACHEL servers. This evening at 8:00 we will have a second interview on the Voice of Sinoe radio station.

Early tomorrow morning Leon, Eric, and I will begin the journey back to Monrovia. We’ve heard that the roads have further deteriorated due to heavy rains, so please pray for our trip. Monday morning we meet with the Ministry of Education to give a report on the Sinoe pilot. In the afternoon we will revisit United Methodist University (UMU) for follow-up KA-Lite training with their remedial math class. On Tuesday we fly back to the US. Charles is already on a plane heading home, as he had some commitments requiring him to leave early.

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #9 - SEPT. 19, 2015

It was a long 14-hour journey, but at 8:00 pm we pulled into the Ala Lagune Hotel in Monrovia. Two hours into the trip the front drive shaft broke and we lost our 4-wheel drive. Joseph, our driver/mechanic, skillfully navigated each of the dozen or so critical stretches. Here the road was blocked by two trucks stuck in the mud. Somehow Joseph was able to slide our vehicle alongside the white truck and we made it down the hill.

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We got seriously stuck three times. Leon is surveying the situation, realizing we’re in a major predicament.

It took a UN Hummer (operated by a squad of Chinese!) to pull us out.

We meet this morning at 9:00 with the Ministry of Education, and then we’ll spend the rest of the day at United Methodist University doing some further training with the students and instructors in the KA-Lite lab we set up for them two weeks ago. Thanks for praying!

Gary Friesen


LIBERIA REPORT #10 - SEPT. 22, 2015

We had a good meeting with the Ministry of Education (MOE), reporting on the program launch in Sinoe County and discussing next steps. From left to right are Dr. Albert Coleman, Senior Advisor, Ms. Madia Mensah, Executive Director for Curriculum, Mr. Advertus Wright, Assistant Minister for Teacher Education, and Dr. Romelle Horton, Deputy Minister for Instruction.

As we met with this team of gifted educators (newly appointed by the President in April), we sensed the burden they carry as they strive to restore Liberia’s broken educational system. We believe our program can help in addressing some of their priorities. This is IEL’s third meeting with the MOE, and we sense the partnership strengthening with each engagement.

At United Methodist University (UMU) we met for several hours in their new computer lab with a small, but focused group of teachers and students. You see the synergy that can happen in this type of collaborative learning environment: teacher helping student, student helping student, and visiting professor helping student. Pictured to the right are Mr. Harris and Miss Evelyn. This UMU math instructor and volunteer teaching assistant “get it.” Over the past two weeks they have begun to experience first-hand the benefits of personalized computer-based learning. Their efforts will lead UMU in a successful implementation of the KA-Lite mathematics program.

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This report wraps up a rewarding three week venture with wonderful people in this beautiful but challenging environment. It will take time. Change may not be evident within a month or even a year, but we believe a new Liberia will emerge within the coming decade as administrators and teachers throughout the country embrace educational innovation coupled with essential character training. IEL desires to come alongside Liberian leaders to see this vision become a reality. May God grant His favor.

Gary Friesen