Ndonji Chuma is one of a dozen virtual tutors helping African Nova Scotia high school students with math and science. Photo: Jodie Shupac

African Nova Scotian students calculate success

Dalhousie students provide online tutoring for African Nova Scotian high school students

Kodjo Efu sounded embarrassed when asked if he is a role model for African Nova Scotian high school students. But he admits he may be.

Efu is pursuing a master's degree in economic development at Dalhousie University. He is also the project manager for Imhotep's Legacy Academy, a university-community outreach partnership.

Efu, from Winnipeg, helped design the Legacy Academy's latest virtual school project, an online tutoring service offered to African Nova Scotian students throughout the province.

This month 12 Dalhousie students will tutor via online video conferencing for up to six hours a day, without ever meeting students face-to-face. Sixty-five students from seven schools will get help in math and science. Tutors provide live presentations matching the students' curriculum, as well as one-on-one instruction.

The tutors use workstations in the Killam library and schools have installed compatible software. Students download the program at home and sign out a webcam package.

The goal is to help African Nova Scotian students excel in the areas of math and science, says program director Emmanuel Nfonoyim.

"There is a stark underrepresentation of professionals of African descent in the science, math, engineering and technological professional arena," creating a lack of role models for students.

The Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs says African Nova Scotian university graduates on average earn $12,000 less than those in the general population.

The virtual school project aims for early intervention, to encourage young black students to enter these fields.

The Black Educator's Association surveyed black participants from a Dalhousie math camp that ran between 1991 and 2007. Of the 111 who responded 66 pursued higher education, while 23 earned a bachelor's degree in science. Four studied computer science and one studied math.

Most of the Dalhousie tutors are black. They study math, engineering, dentistry and physics at the graduate or undergraduate level.

The program is funded by the Department of Education.

The online element gives tutors wider access. Schools in Halifax, Dartmouth, Truro, Sydney and Yarmouth are taking part, with the hope to expand to rural areas.

Nfonoyim says the virtual model is the most cost-effective and appeals to students because it takes place on a medium they are already using.

"It's a more attractive option for them, rather than having to go to a community centre for tutoring ... they can put MSN on one side, but can still be interacting with a tutor."

Students learn in an interactive setting. They can access tools like an online biology encyclopedia that uses animation and video.

Efu is helping to design a training manual so tutors will understand what's expected of them.

"These students will have access to competent Dalhousie students of African descent .... university students who can be a source of informal information for students, by telling them how to apply for university," he says, "while, at the same time, providing them with homework help."


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