Schools and Computers – The case of Santa Maria, Valle de la Convención, Cusco. March 2010.

Peru, I heard, is investing a lot in computer technology for schools. When I was in France, I got invited by the OLPS XO developers group – the One Laptop Per Child project. I was told there that the XO computers were very popular in Peru and that many schools were using it. While in Peru, I heard that schools also received many traditional computers and that people from the previous government were using the momentum to improve their image.

I got to learn more about the current situation through my friend – el Maestro – that I met the first night of my arrival in the small town of Santa Maria (see “The gringo of Santa Maria” blog entry). I also met a teacher who works in a school in a small community which has been isolated because of mudslides. He uses the OLPC XO computer with his students. He was going to bring me the machine but never did. He complained that there is very little software installed for the children but also mentioned that they do have access to some good educational material. His main problem was the need for electricity; many families do not have it at home, which limits the use of the computers by the children.

The situation at the Primary school in Santa Maria was very sad. They received 10 computers about 6 months earlier. The director of the school believed that they were brand new when in fact they were probably 3 to 5 years old with an incomplete version of Windows XP installed on them. All made in China, a brand name that I never heard off before. The operative system and the antivirus had not been updated since 2008 and they were all full of very nasty viruses. The only two software packages installed were Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Encarta, an encyclopedia. There were no educational software at all and nothing at all for primary school. The computer looked more like office machines. They were badly set up without any type of security or protection. The director insisted that engineers from the municipality were coming regularly for maintenance and updates and she did not believe at first what I was telling her about the state of her computers. I showed her the date of last updates and she finally accepted that something was not right. I gave her a detailed 4 pages report so that she could contact the municipality and get the problems fixed. She told me later that the engineer would come and that I should not make any change to the configuration. Teachers had no idea of how to use the computers and what to do with them and the children. Meanwhile, the children were in hot classrooms with no fan. Teachers were telling me that they do most of their heavy studies with them between 8 and 10 am, before it gets too hot. As I see it, they would be better with 10 fans instead of these 10 computers!!

The classes with the 9 teachers that I got to organized have been very hard and draining. These teachers have very low attention; they speak and interrupt all of the time, and have a very poor memory. The situation with the teachers fascinated me since they were educated people and teachers themselves meant to use these machines. I was expecting more enthusiasm and motivation. In fact, I spent a lot of energy to simply motivate them. Their lack of attention was remarkable. It’s a pity to see how little they learned and how little time they were willing to dedicate to their studies. Although I was booked for two hours daily, they would come 10 to 15 minutes late and all leave after one hour. Most of them lived in Quillabamba – the nearest city one hour ride away – and would rush out at 1:00 pm to catch the bus. It was impossible to keep them longer. They just leaved without even saying goodbye. None of them did any practice between the classes, besides having access to these computers, and most of them were forgetting it all one day to the next.

If this is representative of what happens in all the small communities of Peru, the situation is really bad. Once again, we have here the classical situation. The government provides computers, but no proper software, no training and unqualified technicians.  The computers all carry Microsoft products designed for office work, not schools. At the end of the day, only Microsoft gets the advantage here. I just hope that a few of my teachers got motivated enough to continue their education.

To make a real change here I would have to stay for a year or two, train the technicians of the municipalities around, define a set of good programs to install on the machines according to the level of the students, train the teachers and develop some type of network to keep everyone connected and motivated. What I’ve been doing is just a drop of water in the sea. What a pity!

Besides all of that, at the end of the two weeks classes, I felt quite positive with my 9 teachers. They all had learned their basics, some better than others. They also had learned to work together and help each other. Maybe 6 or 7 of them will continue to practice and improve their knowledge. I certainly insisted on the necessity to continue and showed them the tools that they can use to keep educating themselves.

Now it’s all in their hands.

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