Monday, June 05, 2006

Edu-Tourism's Technological Divide Initiatives

As described on our NGO main website's Projects Portal, Edu-Tourism has ongoing initiatives in four areas in St. Thomas: the empowerment of teen mothers; the promotion of sanitation initiatives to improve public health indicators; computer initiatives with pre-kindergarten Jamaican youth. We see advances in each of these projects this summer. In January 2004, we began installing computers in basic schools across the Parish of St. Thomas. Our goal is to fit all 97 schools with computers donated from corporate sources in the United States and to provide training in their use.

Summer 2006: Two students from Temple University have been volunteering at Yallahs Basic School and at Yallahs Middle School for nearly three weeks under the supervision of Ms. Millicent Grant and her son Jhay Grant. This beginning this week, these students, Casey and Annie, will be working taking the lead in reinstituting the series of computer training sessions begun by students last summer. Designed to meet the needs the basic school teachers, these training sessions cover the components of the computer, trouble-shooting tips, and an introduction to word processing and creative projects such as cards and pictures. In response to the wishes of the teachers, the last session will focus on the basics of navigating the internet and creating their own email accounts.

Because of difficulties in finding a suitable training location with multiple computers and internet access, we will be inviting the teachers over to the Center for Global Understanding at Carleva Bay for this section of the curriculum. At the end of the trainings, teachers with approx. 10 schools will be receiving computers, to be installed by Edu-Tourism staff.

During this training process the last two summers, we have learned that there is also a tremendous need for computer repair and certification in the region. In June 2005 students from Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, led workshops in computer repairs and diagnostics at Yallahs Comprehensive School for 20 Yallahs students and other organizations. This trainings represent an exciting new partnerhship between Edu-Tourism, the digital divide initiative of the Pennsylvania Service Learning Alliance and Yallahs High School.

We are also concerned that with the limited access that students in the basic schools are given to these computers. As scarce resources, computers tend to be 'hoarded' rather than shared. By providing teachers with low cost educational programs, and demonstrating their use, we hope to be able to bridge this divide. But I am also very excited by the new initiative at MIT to design a children's laptop computer that will cost less than $100 to produce. Ethan Zuckerman, a blogger active in digital divide and free speech initiatives around the world, and recent published a profile that shows the design standards for their new prototype. Ubiquitous computing is a hot topic right now in Philadelphia - I hope to see St. Thomas participate in this initiative as well.

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