January 20, 2023

Why we believe in building safe spaces for learning

Written by:
Yanick Kemayou

Recently a business acquaintance asked my take on a recent Stanford/NBER study showing the limits of EdTech. According to the findings of that study, excessive use of computer-assisted learning can have an adverse effect on learning outcomes and a blended approach of EdTech and traditional learning is optimal. Since I was swamped in some work related to the launch of a new cohort at Kabakoo Academies, I can answer to Tom’s comment only now. Better late than never they say. So Tom, here you go.

At Kabakoo, even if we are a provider of tech education, we are well aware of the pitfalls of the everything-edtech-story. That’s why since our start our model is based on blended learning. The current cohort at our Bamako campus has started just last week, and they already clocked in more than 15 hours of interactive online “class” with Experts-Facilitators and Learning Coaches from different parts of the world. So the learning happens online. But we need a place to make that learning collaborative, experiential, grounded, and hence locally actionable.

At our pilot campus in Bamako, more than 90 percent of the workshops and boot-camps are online-based. But we see learners coming to our physical facilities. Maybe because they need a safe space where they feel empower to learn and grow. Maybe because they need to discuss with their peers. Maybe because they need access to a 3D-printer to prototype a design. Or maybe just because they need a stable internet connection or a reliable power supply. Where should our learners go if we were not providing this? In an economically resource-rich setting, they could go to libraries, co-working spaces, public makerspaces and so on. But can we really assume this to be valid for the majority of African cities? My home city of Bafoussam in Central Africa, for instance, does not have a single public library. Well, to be exact, there is one but it’s near closure for lack of municipal funds. Needless to say they never had an internet connection.

To put it bluntly, in the resource-constrained environments where we operate there is no established physical infrastructure to free ride on.

That’s why our facilities are not organized in classes but look more like a maker-space and a co-working hub than like a school. We don’t believe at all in building classrooms but very much in providing learners a safe space to interact with their peers and access to the tools they need for real experiential learning.

Kabakoo Academies Bamako

Another, deeper, reason why we believe in blended learning and building sustainable learning spaces is because physical facilities have the power to change mindset. Learning needs a caring space. This is grounded in ideas such as the Reggio Emilia approach where architecture is considered as the third actor at the same level as the teacher or expert, and the parents or mentors of the learners. If you think that this idea is only valid in preschool settings, then you might want to have a look at in the general discussion about “Teaching Green Buildings”; for instance this study published in “Journal of Environmental Psychology” which reports that learning in a space built through sustainable architecture raises general environmental consciousness of learners.

Yes, physical facilities are not only a necessity in resource-constrained settings, they also matter quite a lot if the goal is to deliver a real and relevant learning experience. Even in China, the country probably leading the EdTech movement, some major EdTech companies are investing in physical spaces. But, well, this is another topic.

As a tech education organization, it is surely contrarian nowadays to tell partners and investors that you are spending money on physical facilities. Still, we do believe it is the way to go and we are deeply grateful to our network of friends and supporters backing Kabakoo’s vision of merging high-tech and low-tech (local knowledge) for sustainable futures.

So Tom, or anyone else working or interested in the area of tech education, EdTech or education, I would love to read your take on this. Looking forward to the discussion and thank you for reading!