As teachers at the so called ‘chalk face’ or these days the ‘smart board’ we continually strive to prepare our students with the knowledge, skills, attributes and life experiences that will make them effective life-long learners in the 21st century. But what if you have no technology as such, no wireless or broadband, what if you don’t even have electricity? Do teachers in these particular situations still need to prepare their students like we would?
During August this year I was extremely honored to travel to the Amazon rainforest in Peru with a charity called Cool Earth as part of their new teacher fellowship which is about teachers experiencing the challenges of living in the rainforest and then taking this experience back into their classrooms and schools. For more information on this visit the education part of the Cool Earth website: http://www.coolearth.org (In fact they are now accepting applications from teachers for next year as you are reading this).
As part of the fellowship (no I promise it isn’t anything like lord of the rings although once or twice whilst wondering in the dense rainforest I thought I heard voices coming from the trees) we lived with the indigenous group called the Ashaninka people for ten days or so and experienced their lives of living in such an amazing environment, we learned about the challenges that they face living in the rainforest and how Cool Earth as a charity was making a real difference to the future of the rainforest and the people.
One of the most fantastic elements was spending time in local schools with local teachers and students discussing how they learn and the challenges that they face. For me a teacher who loves to use technology in innovative ways I was really interested to see what technology they had and how they used it. Obviously due to things such as infrastructure, logistics and finance the technology they had was pretty limited however how they made use of this was very impressive. For example we visited two primary schools and two secondary schools for around about 60 or so students in each. These schools are in very remote areas of the rainforest which are a short flight from one of the frontier towns on the edge of the rainforest followed by a two hour trek through the rainforest. These schools do not have regular electricity however do have some small solar power units which can power electricity for a couple of hours a day. Each school had probably at least one laptop each which were primarily shared between all the teachers within the school and a few of the students to prepare materials for lessons.
Obviously due to the limited time for electricity and the limited number of laptops this use of technology could only go so far. I spoke to the teachers about whether they really needed the technology. Were they preparing their students in the same way that I was and did they really need to? All of the teachers I spoke to made it clear that they did need the technology and probably even more than my students for several important reasons. The first is that it is extremely critical to educate the students their about the rainforest and how to conserve it. This is extremely important not just for them but because they have a responsibility to the entire world. As protecting the rainforest could be the single biggest influence in tackling climate change, the students will need technology to help them communicate this to the wider world and to future generations.
The next reason is that the world is changing at a rapid rate for these students it is even quicker they will fall even further behind other young people their age if we don’t begin to educate them about the potential of technology. This soon will be an issue for them as the Peruvian government plan to build a road to one of their villages in the next 5 years opening up access to the outside world. Will they be ready for what they will have to face? Technology will be the key to their survival and the future of their race. I saw an example of this while I was there visiting technology like for all of us can opens doors, one girl who had more access to technology as she was studying ended up gaining a scholarship to become a doctor and was undergoing her training at University in Cuba with a view to returning with the right medical training back to her village. Technology definitely helped her in making a success and raising her own aspirations. Finally technology has the X factor the students were in awe and wonder and using it engaged them I could see that just by the way their faces had the biggest smiles in the world and the laughter whilst they used it.
So where now and what can we do? Let’s not forget that it isn’t just about the technology the teachers in the schools often have to pay using their own money for materials like books and pencils, in some of the schools the students have little food and are hungry so what can we do to help? Well you can help fundraise to help give these schools the materials, electricity and technology that they need. I am setting up a collaborative fundraising student project using edmodo in association with Cool Earth if you’re interested in getting involved or finding out more contact me on twitter @chickensaltash.
So do these teachers need to prepare their students for the 21st Century as we are trying to? The answer is yes and in fact you could argue that they need to even more than we do but they have a much bigger challenge in doing this then we all do. I want the children from Peru to have the final word: