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.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now, we're going to talk about kids and screens. Here in the U.S., the struggle is to keep screens away from kids, limiting screen time and all of that. In rural Ghana, there is the opposite problem. Children at the Betenase M/A Junior High School want to use computers or even just know what they look like, but the school doesn't have any. A computer teacher came up with a creative solution to the problem, and photos of his classroom went viral. NPR's Malaka Gharib of our global health blog Goats and Soda corresponded with him and is here to tell us more. Hi.
MALAKA GHARIB, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: You corresponded with him because the phone lines aren't very good, so you've been texting this teacher.
SHAPIRO: Explain what he does to teach computers.
GHARIB: So Owura Kwadwo Hottish - he's the name of the teacher - he's 33 years old. He basically draws these extremely painstaking illustrations of Microsoft Word and other computer programs on a chalkboard using colored chalk. And he draws every single icon, every single feature and with extreme...
SHAPIRO: The bold, the italic...
GHARIB: The bold, the italics, the horizontal scroll, the vertical scroll bar - with extreme detail. And so it takes him about 30 minutes to draw the drawings on the chalkboard. And he has to erase the chalkboard after every class because there's another teacher who needs to come and use the chalkboard.
SHAPIRO: Why is he doing this? What's he hoping to teach the kids by drawing in chalk the layout of Microsoft Word?
GHARIB: Well, he hopes that when the students actually do confront a computer, maybe in their professional - these are just junior high school students - that they'll know how to use the computer and at least to be able to turn the computer on and off and navigate the actual physical computer.
SHAPIRO: Tell me about his background because he's clearly familiar with computers and yet he doesn't have one in the classroom.
GHARIB: And doesn't have one at home really - a functioning one. He's got something that - he says his battery dies a lot and he can't bring that to school. But he studied computers in school and just has a passion for it.
SHAPIRO: And his story has totally taken off. When you were texting him about this, what was his reaction?
GHARIB: He said that he was really surprised that the world had cared so much about his story. I think that he thinks that his drawings were the things that fascinated people the most.
SHAPIRO: They're very intricate.
GHARIB: They're very intricate, yeah, and he has gotten just so much international press and social media buzz for having shared the photos that he posted on Facebook.
SHAPIRO: There are a lot of schools in rural Ghana and other rural parts of the developing world that don't have computers. Is this the typical way to teach computers in those kinds of places?
GHARIB: Yes, absolutely, and that's why he was surprised with all the fanfare around his chalkboard drawing. This is a standard of teaching computers in this part of the world. And, yeah, he said that it's just a normal thing for him to do.
SHAPIRO: Since this story took off, there has been talk of nonprofits sending computers to his school. Microsoft weighed in. Any word on what's going to happen?
GHARIB: Since the last time we spoke about a couple of days ago, he said that he - a lot of people have promised but none have actually delivered yet.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Malaka Gharib. Thanks, Malaka.
GHARIB: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: And you can see photos of the chalkboard renditions of Microsoft Word and read Malaka's correspondence with the teacher at npr.org/goatsandsoda.
(SOUNDBITE OF HEXSTATIC'S "CHASE ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.