The story behind the viral photo of a teacher in Ghana showing students Windows on a blackboard

Viral sensation and tech hero.
Viral sensation and tech hero.
Image: Courtesy: Richard Appiah Akoto
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There has been global applause for a teacher in Ghana who posted photos of himself drawing on a blackboard with multi-colored chalk, the features of a Microsoft Word processing window. The students in his class can also be seen drawing it into their notebooks.

Social media exploded in admiration and wonder at his effort to explain how computers work—without computers.

Richard Appiah Akoto, 33, is the information and communication technology (ICT) teacher at Betenase M/A Junior High School in the town of Sekyedomase, about two and half hours drive north of Ghana’s second city, Kumasi. The school has no computers even though since 2011, 14 and 15-year-olds are expected to write and pass a national exam (without which students cannot progress to high school) with ICT being one of the subjects.

“This is not my first time [of drawing] it. I have been doing it anytime I am in the classroom…I like posting pictures on Facebook so I just felt like [sharing it]. I didn’t know it would get the attention of people like that”, says Akoto, who has been a teacher at the school for six years.

On Facebook, Akoto goes by the nickname “Owura Kwadwo Hottish” which was the name that went viral on both Facebook and Twitter. His photo was seen as both a bit of ironic fun about life in Africa but also as a source of inspiration particularly for Africans in the tech community like the Cameroonian tech entrepreneur Rebecca Enonchong, who tweets as @africatechie.

The photos gained prominence after a popular Ghanaian comedian (who is also a teacher) shared it with his 140,000 Facebook fans and later picked up by international websites and tech enthusiasts on the continent. After Enonchong tweeted about him she reached out to Microsoft on Twitter. This has culminated in a promise by Microsoft to “equip [Akoto] with a device from one of our partners, and access to our MCE program & free professional development resources on.” Akoto, however adds that the school needs about 50 computers in order for his classes to really fulfill its promise.

Although he has a personal laptop, he does not use it because the features differ from what is in the official syllabus which require him to teach his students among other things parts of a system unit and monitor, the steps in connecting them and how to boot a computer with a desktop as their reference. ”[So] if you bring a charged laptop to class and just press the power button, then all of a sudden, everything will be on”, that does not work, he says.

That written exam relies on students’ ability to remember what is in the syllabus, which has not been updated since its introduction. Last year, only one of his students managed to get an A.

“Definitely those in Accra [Ghana’s capital] will pass the exam because you cannot compare someone who is in front of a computer, who knows what he is doing with the mouse to someone who has not had a feel of a computer mouse before”, says Akoto.

While Akoto has been described as an inspiration for teachers in Africa, what he does is symptomatic of an under-resourced dysfunctional public school system. Across the continent, many poor parents are forced to choose private schools over free public primary schools due to this lack of resources in government-owned schools. In Ghana, there have also been calls for a national conversation about a fairer distribution of educational resources as many rural schools like Betenase struggle with infrastructure and teaching logistics challenges.

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