Saturday, July 18, 2009

Laramarca: The Work

As I mentioned before, Kate and I lived and worked in Laramarca for two weeks. During this two weeks we were tasked with the responsibility of working in the elementary school assisting the teachers with anything related to the XO laptops including how to implement its use into their current curriculum. We found out upon our arrival that the school had received the computers over a year ago meaning that the kids were already used to navigating them and all of their capabilities. This was a very good thing for us because it meant that we could focus more on its implementation versus just explaining the basics of how to use them. The school had six classrooms, grades 1-6, each with its own teacher. The reason I mention this is that many school in Peru are multigrade classrooms meaning that there is one teacher for a classroom filled with kids of different grade levels. This set up meant that Kate and I would each spend two days in three different classrooms and one day in the remaining three the following week.

The days were typically run as follows: At 8:15 the bell would ring signaling that school had begun. Prior to this you could find some of the kids partaking in either volleyball or soccer in the plaza space in front of the school. At the sound of the bell you could see them all running furiously into their specified classrooms. The teachers would then begin the day's lesson and continue with that until around 11:00 am when recreo would start. This was essentially 30 minutes of outside time for the kids to let out all of their energy in any number of forms including volleyball, soccer, or conversation amongst themselves. I typically spent this time playing football with the kids. For the first four days or so we played with the soccerball that I had brought from Lima, but as we were playing on the side of a mountain, the ball was first popped by a cactus, and then lost for good the bottom of the hill. From then on we played with anything that was round and you could kick. The girls all played volleyball. They absolutely love it. The Peruvian national volleyball team has actually been doing really well in a world tournament in Thailand that they have been showing a lot on television here in recent weeks. Then around 11:30 am the bell sounds again and the kids run back into the school. The lessons then continue until 1:30 when the attention deficit and hungry children get to go home and eat lunch.

Kate and I spent each day observing the teachers and making suggestions to them about how the activities on the XO could serve to enhance the current lessons being taught. We also answered any technical questions that they proposed to us. I did not want to take away from the lessons being taught during the classroom time so we devised some sessions to address all of this at 3 pm each afternoon. Here we discussed all of these topics without distracting the children.

This type of technology is not yet ubiquitous like it is in the US therefore there is an extreme learning curve with the users of this software especially the adults. As with any children, the exploratory process takes a short amount of time before they are proficient in the use of the laptops. At times it seemed bit difficult and almost counterproductive to introduce the laptops into the current lessons for any number of reasons including the laptops needing to be charged but there being a lack of outlets, the sheer lack of fine motorskills by the younger grades, or just a lack of ability to accomplish what you would like to with the available activities. I believe that this is the main reason that we are here as interns for OLPC. What they have done is created these laptops and handled the distribution; however, now it is time to make an impact. And it is the feedback that we will be providing them that will help them to do this. One main concern for this program is just the necessary ability of these laptops to stand up against the extreme conditions in which they are deployed. Let me put it this way. You hand a kid who has never had this type of technology to take care of before a laptop and you can only expect that it will be battered and bruised beyond its limits. Its not that they don't respect the laptop, its just that they don't have the knowledge to care for a foreign piece of equipment like this before. They don't know the things that come natural to you and I such as proper maintenance and potential dangers to the computer. These kids not to mention always have some kind of dirt on their hands making proper cleanliness of the laptops a constant battle. The XO's are also kept in extremely dusty environments where as I mentioned temperatures range from freezing to smothering. I have been keeping a journal of all of my thoughts and experiences, so I hope that the information that I have gathered will be helpful to the OLPC mission of empowering children in regions where resources are limited.

I do know that these little green laptops have given the children something that you can not put a value on and that is the love for learning and attending school. If nothing else it gives the kids who otherwise may not go to school a reason to leave their homes and potential responsibilities and walk however many miles they have to just to go to school for five hours. I believe the laptops open the doors to opportunities. It shows them a world bigger than they have ever known. That is what this program is all about and I am blessed to be a part of it. It is now up to the organization to build on this and possibly make the use of the XO even more influential. I won't go into my ideas but I and the rest of our team have some that we hope will make a greater difference in these eager kids' lives.

The work has not always been rewarding but I have to keep reminding myself that the reason I am here is not for me but for the children whom we hope to influence. It is their lives not mine that we seek to change. I know however that my life will forever be changed in the process of achieving this.

Here are some pictures I have captured in the classrooms of the children using the XO's:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot for your interesting posts, keep 'em coming.

    And I (and about ten-thousand other people working on OLPC / Sugar and related projects) would be very interested in your ideas on how to make the XO a better educational tool.