Zambia students graduate via Omagh online
Five students from Zambia have received diplomas in computing after being taught by tutors who were thousands of miles away in County Tyrone.
The four-year IT course was delivered online using a live video and audio link between a classroom in Fatima Girls' Secondary School in Ndola, northern Zambia, and South West College in Omagh.
Three of the students had never travelled abroad, but they made the 5,000 mile (8,000km) journey to meet their lecturers face-to-face and take part in the graduation ceremony to receive their diplomas.
Ciara Duffy, manager of the e-learning project at the college, said it had inspired everyone involved.
"The technology allows us the opportunity of transferring teaching across continents," she said. "The students come into the school in Fatima everyday and log in and meet their tutor, and then continue class as normal.
"Everybody told us at the start this would never work, that the challenges were too great and we couldn't do it, but we have done it.
"The students have persevered through significant challenges - drought, lack of electricity, walking through the rainy season - and they've achieved so much and we're so proud of them."
The course involved computer programming, software development and data analysis.
Student Francis Mutale said it made no difference being taught over the internet.
"You can't tell that I learned through e-learning if I don't tell you, so it's very, very good," he said.
The equipment at the school was provided by a charity to help overcome the challenges Zambian students face in continuing their education after they leave school.
"It means a lot to me," said 23-year-old student Phales Mizinga.
"For example, in our country when you complete grade 12 before you go to college, you need to wait for quite a number of years to do some pieces of work here and there so that you can raise some money for the sponsorship.
"But when I completed grade 12, I had this sponsored programme so I didn't have to wait."
Sister Angela, principal of the 500-pupil Fatima Girls' Secondary School, said the technology was quite challenging to begin with but the lecturers from South West College helped empower the students.
"It has broadened their horizons as they say, and even their way of looking at things," she said. "They have been empowered with their skills for life, not just for themselves but for others."
Sister Angela said 20 students had initially started the course, and although just five graduated, she said their knowledge would make a big difference to many more people.
"It is a great achievement and I'm very proud of them," she said. "They persevered, they know exactly where they are coming from, and they appreciate this opportunity that has been given to them.
"This is a big achievement because, by their education and even this graduation, they are going to touch so many lives and I'm sure they're going to change the lives of their families as well."
The five Zambian students joined 450 South West College students at the graduation ceremony in Omagh on 13 December.
On graduating, Mr Mutale said: "Wow! It really means so much.
"I hope to go on to teach ICT or maybe work in industry, but at the moment I have a few options to choose from but I really want to progress and study again some more.
"I never really imagined it, it is so unreal, and we're just really, really proud and happy to be here. It's a wonderful moment."