With each new computer lab established by Kids on Computers, there are a variety of challenges to overcome. For example, this week as our volunteers prepare to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico, teachers are on strike to protest upcoming elections they believe to be a farce and to draw attention to unmet demands. Protests have disrupted the airport in Oaxaca City, and also some ground transportation (gas stations). We are closely watching the situation and hope for a positive outcome.
Besides logistical challenges, we are constantly looking for ways to improve the technology adoption in schools we serve. An article in this week’s Washington Post focuses on one of the biggest challenges we try to overcome at Kids on Computers. “Technology won’t fix America’s neediest schools. It makes bad education worse.“ accurately describes many of the things we experience in our computer labs. We are pretty good at the one-time task of getting computers and educational software physically delivered and setup in a lab for underprivileged kids. But we continue to seek creative solutions to the long-term tasks of maintenance and teacher training.
The article’s author, Kentaro Toyama, describes a scenario that he observed in Bangalore, India, that is not dissimilar to our experiences:
One visit I made to a government primary school just outside of Bangalore illustrates why. The headmaster unlocked a large metal cabinet to show me where he kept the school’s personal computers. Inside, desktop PCs, monitors, and keyboards were piled shoulder high, somehow caked in dust even though they weren’t out in the open. He explained that the PCs had been received with excitement two years before. The school had cleared a room in the spartan cement-block building for a computer lab. Classes visited the lab one after the other, and students, crowding five or six to a PC, found games to play. The teachers, however, complained that the games didn’t follow the curriculum, and in any case, they didn’t know how to incorporate digital tools for teaching. Then, within weeks, the equipment began to fail. Power surges were probably to blame. The school had no IT staff, and there was no budget for technical support. Soon after, the machines were locked away, and the computer lab was repurposed.
Simply delivering hardware, software, and educational media content is not enough. We also must find and encourage local volunteers with technical skills who can support the school administrators and teachers as they work to incorporate technology into their curriculum.