IESC Bolivia: Our Journey to the Altiplano

We are Team Tiwanaku, a team of 6 volunteers including: Jose Amaya, Nora Cannon, Juan Carlos Chacon, Allison Gordon, Allen Ringel and Marco Vega.

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(Left to Right: Jose, Marco, Allison, Nora, Allen, Juan Carlos)

To give some background on the project, our team was selected to participate in the Intel Education Service Corps, a program that sends Intel employees to work with NGOs deploying the Intel-powered classmate PCs (CMPC) around the world. We were paired with Save the Children in Bolivia to provide training to the teachers on the CMPC software. We are in Bolivia for two weeks, preparing the teachers for the official pilot and its usage model in the classroom. Our primary focus was to train teachers on the e-learning/Mythware classroom collaboration software developed by our Emerging Markets Platform Group. This software allows teachers to control the classroom via supervision and lock capabilities, it also allows online interaction with students and it gives students the option to work together. Another very powerful feature for the teachers is the ability to administer and evaluate quizzes in real time. In addition to our training work; we were tasked to fix servers and configure the Intel Powered classmates PCs in Oruro (a small mining town).

Save the Children started the Programa de Tecnologia in order to improve the level of education in Bolivia. Bolivia is the second poorest country in Latin America, second to Haiti. In order to evaluate how the system works and if it makes sense to expand the program nationally they are conducting a pilot with a number of schools across Bolivia. Our first task was to train teachers and then to provide support in the classrooms to ensure teachers feel comfortable with the usage model in a real classroom setting.

Our journey included a four hour trip in the “altiplano” of Bolivia to Oruro, which I am sure this is nothing in comparison to what the Kenyan team has experienced in their travels (I believe they have conquered almost every mode of transportation that exists). The altiplano is about 13k feet above sea level, mountains in the background and some greenery from the plants that survive the dryness and altitude of this environment (i.e. potatoes). Once we arrive in the industrial mining town of Oruro, we headed to lunch with the entire Oruro team from STC, Intel and both schools with whom we will be working (Uru-Uru & Ejercito Nacional). The Oruro pilot is further along than other education projects; the children have already used the Intel powered classmate PCs, therefore the teachers have had a lot to share with us about their experience.

Currently the 1:1 e-learning environment is not really 1:1. It is more like 2/3:1 (2-3 children/CMPC) since there are only 18 CMPCs per class for an average of 36 students. Each classroom gets to use the computer for a few hours a couple times/week. They let us know that 2:1 works well as the children are able to collaborate and keep each other on track. The teachers expressed how they did not want to use the computers at first, they were scared of them and the new responsibilities they bring, but once they started working with them, they began to see the potential and are truly excited. These teachers take additional classes and training that practically utilize their vacation and weekends to learn computer skills and how to teach it. WOW!! Not many people are willing to do this, and probably one of the leading impediments to making computers in the classroom successful.

The first school went to Ejercito Nacional is next to a prison. The school walls are made out of adobe bricks with barbed wire on top to keep the convicts out of the school. Supposedly there are police that patrol the school, but we did not see one while there. We walked through all the classrooms to examined possible set ups for the CMPCs. Currently they sit on the director’s shelf.

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The directora of Ejercito Nacional asked for our input regarding stationary vs. movable CMPCs; the team was able to influence her at Ejercito Nacional to set up a CMPC lab in a room going forward.

Why is a lab better than a classroom setup if this is meant to be in the classroom for 1:1 learning? Well, there are a multitude of reasons:

> 1. There are not enough computers, and not enough money to buy additional computers. The government in Oruro is not involved in the program yet, so the parents and teachers make donations to get the necessities.

> 2. Computer safety (there are bars on the windows & a lock on the door so people cannot steal the computers). Putting these in all the classrooms add costs

> 3. The windows are covered so you can actually see the screen, which means no shine on the children screens

> 4. The teacher does not have to move the computers to different classrooms(it is a desktop and a router), less chance of damage

> 5. The server needs a stable spot and access point. Setting up multiple access points increases costs, and the dollars are better spent elsewhere

The list can go on and on, but you get the drift, there is a lack of resources so you do what you can.

The second school we visited is much like the first except that the “directora” keeps asking us if they can keep the computers for more than the 6 month pilot. STC is piloting the program for 4 schools and therefore in 6 months they get transferred to the other schools. The pilot across all 4 schools is then evaluated to see if this has legs to run on. Anyways, they have tested the computers for a couple months and have already seen vast improvement in students’ interest and ability. The kids come to school outside their schedule to be able to touch the computers. Pretty amazing! Also remember that the children don´t go to “recreo” – break, the prefer to continue with the classmate.

The next day we spent ~12 hours in a STC room getting the computers and servers configured. As we all know technology is not a plug and play type thing, worse for those who have barely touched a computer and one sole tech. We have many rebuilds that need to happen, server set-ups, software installs, etc. We do not finish them all, but there is a good base which can be replicated.

IESC Bolivia 2010 Oruro P2 070_blog.jpgDay 3 in Oruro was spent training the teachers and technical assistants on the software. We start off at Uru Uru school and after getting the classroom environment set up, the teachers took their seats. We had two virtual classrooms in order to assist in the experience. We reviewed the presentation and did hands on practices. It is at this point we saw the different levels they all were at. A dark skinned, aged man named Bernadin had a wonderful a smile that showed all his front teeth missing, there was something special and inspiring about him. He has been a teacher for over 30 year and using the computer was much more difficult for him; especially trying to use the mouse pad. He struggled but listened intently and took careful notes. I asked him what he thought of the new tool, and he replied that although it is tough to learn, he found it very interesting and really enjoyed the opportunity. For him every action took a long time, and not once did he loose his patience. He stayed calm and continued to smile and thank us for coming to help. I did not know what about this man was so moving but touched each of the volunteers in a very special way. Our heart was deeply touched and his image will forever stay imprinted in our minds.

Others in the class were able to understand the material, but all needed more practice. It takes a long time for an adult to learn how to interact with a computer, nonetheless they have to learn to use it in the classroom to improve future generations. Not an easy task. The computer teachers and technical students who provide support in the schools quickly picked up the software and asked a ton of questions, some that stump us for a bit, but it is great to have them since they will be the ones who then assist the teachers in their learning process.

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From there we moved on to Ejercito Nacional. With one class down, we take the key learnings and improve the lessons for the schools were we taught next. Some of them included:

> 1. Less time giving classroom instruction

> 2. More time with hands on training

> 3. Separate demonstration servers so they are not on top of each other at practice time

> 4. Have the servers demoing while the presentation is going

> 5. 3 times of practice – best mix of practice and not getting bored

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IESC Bolivia 2010 Oruro P2 055blog.jpgThe directora, Nyla, at this school is a gleeful lady who is always smiling and cracking jokes. She liked to be part of the experience, making sure her teachers are excited about their opportunity. At first there were some teachers who were closed off to the idea, as we got into the software and showed the “SILENCIO” button, we got lots of laughs. This began the process of making the students feel at ease. Edith, another 30 year veteran teacher at the same school, is very special too. The difference with this lady is that she is ready to learn and absorbs like crazy. The improvement I saw in the 4 hours was really impressive. She was creating quizzes, using the mouse much quicker, typing faster, and even telling the group that they needed to practice and planning the team’s next steps. That excitement obviously in something that makes one feel proud to be a part of this project.

For us, the most vivid impression of these two days was the gratitude and eagerness the teachers demonstrated about this program. It made us feel ta great responsibility as well as pride in representing Intel and living our core values.

One Response to IESC Bolivia: Our Journey to the Altiplano

  1. Gary Shaye says:

    Hi, This is from Gary Shaye, the Director of Save the Children in Bolivia. We are so grateful to Intel for making the Intel Education Service Corps volunteers available to us here in Bolivia. All of them really made a difference, not just in the schools, and with the teachers, and students, but with our staff who had the opportunity to work together with a very talented and committed group of professionals. Our thanks to you for offering this valuable resource to NGO’s like Save the Children. They really helped us make a difference. Sincerely, Gary Shaye Country Director, Save the Children