By Luke Filose
What’s the connection between Zynga - a company that “wants to give the world permission to play” – and rural Haitian schoolchildren learning to use a computer for the first time?
The answer is L’École de Choix, a new school in Mirebalais, Haiti supported by Zynga.org. Over the last two weeks, I joined a team of five Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) volunteers to help set up 35 Intel-powered classmate PCs purchased by the school for its computer lab.
We also taught the children how to use their purpose-built education laptops. Focusing on the basics of the classmate PC’s touchpad and keyboard, we didn’t quite get to building chicken coops in FarmVille or playing Words With Friends. But Zynga.org’s mission in Haiti goes way beyond games. L’École de Choix is teaching its students science, math, technology, social studies, history, language arts, and other subjects too, all in an English-immersion environment.
After several days of technical set-up, we trained nearly 150 of the school’s kindergarten through 4th grade students, one class at a time. We also introduced them to Waterford Early Learning (WEL), an impressive English language learning program that will accelerate the students’ transition to English. The WEL content is served to the classmate PCs by a Critical Links EA100 education appliance.
In addition to Critical Links, a number of Intel Learning Series alliance members including BrainPOP, British Council, e-Learning for Kids, LEGO, PASCO, and skoool.com, have provided their products to the school at a discounted rate or even for no charge, and I want to thank them for providing so many ways for the students to enrich their education.
Many of the students had never heard the alphabet before when they sat down for their first class. A few were clearly overwhelmed; one girl had to be led out of the room by the hand because she wasn’t feeling well. But all of the students left with basic computer skills upon which they can continue to build. And the teachers knew how to make their first lessons memorable: for example, Moise (first grade) taught the alphabet through a rap. It was fun to hear the students say “ellemmennoPEE!” with enthusiasm.
In a country where less than one in three children finishes the 6th grade, L’École de Choix is an ambitious project addressing an enormous need. And the excitement is palpable. Before our classes, students wrapped around the building waiting to be admitted into the classroom, and other children and parents crowded outside the windows to catch a glimpse.
All of us at Intel look forward to hearing about the school’s progress and seeing how technology can make a difference for these children.