Could you teach computer class without a computer?
For Owura Kwadwo Hottish, 33, an information and communications technology teacher in Ghana, it’s his only option. At the middle school where he works, there are no computers. So using colored chalk, he painstakingly draws a version of the computer screen onto the blackboard.
In mid-February, he shared a Facebook post showing photos of himself teaching Microsoft Word using this method. His story went viral, making international headlines around the world.
People praised his incredible attention to detail. “How many days did you take to draw that?” one commenter marveled. Indeed, his drawing of the word processing software included dozens of buttons and features, from the File tab to the horizontal scroll bar.
And he was lauded for his commitment to the students. “God bless you for the effort you are putting into grooming our young people,” wrote another.
One commenter expressed his disappointment in the Ghanaian education system: “Modern-day Ghana teaching ICT like this … so sad.”
For Hottish, who spends about 30 minutes making these drawings before every class, teaching this way is really no big deal. “Every subject is taught on the blackboard here,” he says.
He has taught computer class for six years and currently works at Betenase M/A Junior High School in Kumasi, a city about 250 miles from Accra, the capital of Ghana. He studied computers at the Kumasi Technical University. He does have a computer at home, “but the battery is too weak to send it to school,” he says.
Via WhatsApp, we chatted with Hottish about his newfound fame, where he learned how to draw and what he wishes most for his students. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve captured the world’s attention for using a chalkboard to teach a computer program. What do you make of all the hype?
I was really surprised. I wasn’t expecting my Facebook post to go that far.
Your story has been shared all over the world. Why do you think people are so fascinated by it?
It’s because of the chalkboard illustration of Microsoft Office. How I detailed it.
Why didn’t you just teach them on a computer?
There is no computer and I had no choice but to draw for them.
Where did you learn your drawing skills? You are quite good!
I studied art and graphic design in secondary school.
What else do you teach besides Microsoft Word?
We teach them the basics, like turning on and off the computer, components of the personal computer and creating folders.
And you do that all on the chalkboard!
When your students actually see a real computer are they able to take what you’ve learned from the chalkboard and apply it to real life?
Yes, but not with ease. They sometimes fumble behind the real computers. [Teaching with a real computer] would be easier for them.
Do your students have computers at home?
[We live in] a rural community and the students don’t have it at all in their homes.
People talk about the “digital divide,” which keeps poor people from entering the digital age. Does a chalkboard picture of Microsoft Word help kids get a way in, or is it a cruel reminder that they are lacking in equipment?
They are lacking more than just equipment.
Did your students laugh at you when you first tried teaching them computers on the chalkboard?
No. That’s the normal way and they’re used to it. They were OK since they don’t have an option, not having computers at the school.
So you’re not the first to teach computers on a blackboard!
Yeah, that’s normal in the rural community.
Does anyone ever erase your drawings?
Yes, after the students are done and the lesson is over. To make room for the next class.
So you have to draw a new screen every time!
I’ve read in news reports that you’ve received an outpouring of help from foreigners who want to donate computers to your school. Is that actually happening?
No, they are showing interest but nothing has been brought to the school. We are praying that they are able to organize themselves and present us with computers.
Do students ever correct your drawings?
No, they only tell me if they can’t see some portions very well.
Have any of your students graduated and gone on to study or work in computers?
I can’t tell, because when they graduate they move to urban areas to make a living or continue their education.
If you could give your students anything, what would it be?
Computers! So they can have a feel for it.