Tuesday, October 21, 2008

!Por Fin! Computer class...with a reality check.

Well, as my last blog says, I now have some money to start with my aqueduct! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the road into my village has been soaked with constant rains and all-but cut off from the outside world by parts of the road falling away. Sooo, although I bought a whole bunch of materials over a week ago, it has been impossible to have them delivered, and we are still waiting.
So in the mean time, during this difficult period of waiting, I have had the chance to finally put to use a small OLPC laptop that was donated to me earlier this year. I went by the small school that is on the other side of the river from me on a Friday morning, hoping to catch the older students. I had talked to the teacher about doing this small computer class earlier and she thought it was a great idea but reminded me that maybe it would be a good idea to start with the higher grades of the school (grades 4 and 5). So I headed over to the school only to find a class of 5 students. I couldn’t believe it. I asked the teacher why there were so few, and she just said most kids weren’t showing up…yet. Classes started on August 18th, kids slowly start to trickle in over the course of September, and by October most kids are coming to school, at least frequently.
This was back in September that I went to the school for the first time, so the kids were still in the trickle-in phase. It was a reminder to me of how little kids and their parents value education, how poor the education system was, and just how incredibly hard ‘development’ is. When I asked parents why their kids weren’t going to school they responded that the kids didn’t do anything for the first month. And the reality is that the kids don’t really do much ever. The teaching system is not even close to that of the US. And clearly, the teachers don’t try to teach as much or as thoroughly when only 5 students show up. This was a class that should be about 15, mind you. Parents don’t tell their kids to go to school because ‘they don’t learn anything’, the kids don’t go, so the teacher is less motivated to teach, so the kids probably do learn less, and the parents are suddenly correct. But the level of education in general is so low that the parents do not see this cycle. They just think that they are correct and their children shoudn’t bother going to school for a while. This was the reality check that I received, and it really squashed all of my enthusiasm after arriving at the school, sweating, and carrying the laptop.
I walked into this class of five students and had to explain to the teacher again what it was I wanted to do. After I had reminded her and explained that I wanted to take one kid aside at a time to show them how the computer works, she agreed, and I got my first volunteer. It was a kid that lives really close to me, Jodali, and seeing his eyes light up at getting the chance to touch a computer made it all worthwhile. Almost all of the kids in my village of this age have never touched a computer, if they have even seen one up close! I showed him how to open it, and he delicately followed my instructions, making sure he wouldn’t break anything. With my instruction, he then turned on the computer, practiced moving the mouse around and opening up different programs. Moving the mouse was really something that took time. It is just something I take for granted, having grown up with computers, but for him it was like riding a horse for the first time. Once he got the hang of the mouse I then had him open up a memory game that included simple mathematics. He started playing, and the smile just got bigger and bigger on his face, that is when he wasn’t intensely concentrating to make sure he had added 10+8 correctly. I spent about 30 minutes with three of the students, and they all told me they really liked it, at which point the computer battery died. Reality check…there is no electricity. Asi es la vida aqui (Such is life here).I intend to go to the school every Friday and let the kids do whatever it is they want on the computer. I also have started talking to the oldest member of my youth group about him going to another small school on his side of the river and leading the small computer class. He actually tried to go one day. He came and got the laptop, and headed up to the school, but it was raining and the teacher didn’t show up. There’s that reality check again. As much as the constant setbacks to any type of project are frustrating and discouraging, I have to keep thinking of the kids. Every minute of practice they get will help them out in the future. And who knows, maybe next fall they will go to school on the first day of class if the gringo with the computer is going. One can only hope

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