How can we stop the persistent increase of malaria in Cameroon? What causes corruption? What traditional medicines can cure snakebites? How can Cameroonian culture be protected from the influences of modernity?

These questions, and many others, comprise the myriad searches our students have conducted using Google this past week, as they continue online research for their projects. Clara and I have also collected a fairly large database of news articles and PDF files about their topics in advance, so that students can use articles we have found if their Google searches do not prove fruitful. Over the past two weeks of research, we have been excited to see our students using these resources effectively, learning new facts about their research topics, and applying critical thinking skills that they are rarely taught in school.

One such moment occurred yesterday, as Clara was watching a dozen of our Buea Town students conduct research with Google in a tightly packed Internet café near the school. Josiane and Lucia were frustrated with the results they were getting, and called Clara over. “We aren’t getting results we want,” they told her, “we are searching for ‘ways to improve poor education in Cameroon,’ but are only seeing websites that explain the causes of student drop-outs and high illiteracy.’ Clara replied that websites may not always give the exact answer to a question, but will often provide information that is instrumental in answering it. After talking with Clara for a few minutes, the girls were back at work, jotting down a fact they saw online—for instance, that poor and irregular teacher training results in low student achievement—and then extrapolating possible solutions to this problem—improving teacher education, firing poor teachers, and assessing teacher and student performance regularly.

In spite of these exciting moments with students, we continue to notice that our students make unexpected errors in using web browsers and computers. Junior, for example, was conducting excellent web research using several websites in Buea Town yesterday, but when prompted to provide the website where he found his evidence, he kept citing “” Junior had indeed accessed his research using Google as a search engine, but the information he was jotting down was from a different website altogether. Explaining this and rectifying his error proved surprisingly challenging. Junior was ultimately able to fix his mistake, but we are now on the lookout for other students with the same misunderstanding.

As in past weeks, these moments illustrate for us that our students are smart, eloquent, and quick to learn new ideas, but lack computer experience and the sorts of basic computer skills that we assume everyone must have in the US. This finding makes YAN’s work here feel even more pertinent. By teaching critical thinking skills alongside basic computer skills, we hope that we are closing the “technology gap” that separates our Cameroonian students from their peers in the developed world. All in all, we are thrilled by the progress they have made so far in their research, and look forward to working with them to post some of their findings on their own websites, which they will create in December (and we’ll share our students’ websites’ URLs on the YAN website as soon as they are created!)

One final note for today’s post: with Thanksgiving and Clara’s birthday both falling next week, we decided that it would be a great idea to take a brief break from our YAN classes and do a bit of travelling around Cameroon. Our trip will take us to Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital, where we will explore museums and practice our French for a few days before heading north on a night train to the city of N’Gaoundéré. From N’Gaoundéré, we will exchange the train for a bus and head even further north, passing into the Extreme-Nord province of Cameroon. Maroua, our home base there, is largely Muslim, Francophone, and in the middle of the desert (by contrast with the leafy green land we are used to here, populated by English-speaking Christians). We will spend several days there, hiking between small tribal villages and (hopefully) seeing giraffes and an elephant or two before returning on the long journey back to Buea. Sadly, our week of travel will mean that we will have to take a brief hiatus from blogging. However, we’ll be back and blogging the week after next, and are excited to post stories and pictures from our adventure as soon as we return. Happy Thanksgiving!