Bringing New Learning Tools to a Rural Community in Guatemala
During our time in Guatemala we visited the San Ysidro primary school in the rural, indigenous community of Comitancillo. We funded a project here in 2018 with our partner, Change for Children, and we wanted to see how it has impacted the children and their teachers. We are so pleased with the results. And, most importantly, the community is as well.
To show their appreciation, everyone in Comitancillo came out to welcome us. Schoolchildren, the parent committee, local municipal councillors and the mayor, representatives from the Ministry of Education and staff from our local partner, the Mayan Mam Association for Research and Development (AMMID), all participated in a ceremony to honour our contribution to their community.
They even gave Josiane and me a traditional Mayan Mam woven and embroidered sampler to thank us for 60 million girls‘ investment in their children.
It was heartwarming. And it affirmed, yet again, the importance of reaching all children, regardless of where they live, to ensure that they can get a quality education.
Education is a right for every child regardless of place of birth, family wealth, ethnicity or gender
Indigenous children in rural Guatemala are among the poorest in the country. They are also the least likely to be in school. Almost all children from wealthy families in Guatemala, and most city children, complete primary school. But poor children from rural areas like Comitancillo are being left behind.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, just over a third of children in Guatemala from the lowest income category finish primary school. And poor children are even less likely to finish lower-secondary school (generally ages 12-14) with just over one-tenth completing this school level. In comparison, three-quarters of children from wealthy families finish lower-secondary school.
Twelve years of quality education is every child’s right. It is what families want for their children, and it’s what we, as a foundation, strive to turn into reality.
When selecting projects, 60 million girls feels the degree of vulnerability of the children is an important consideration. Here in rural Comitancillo, where children from the Mayan Mam indigenous group speak their own language, and where girls are likely to marry young and where few – girls or boys – complete secondary school, the degree of vulnerability is high.
You can read all about our project in Comitancillo, on our website.
New technology centre lets children explore and learn
One of the main objectives of our project was to give children access to offline interactive learning materials through our Mobile Learning Lab (MLL). Teacher training was also an important aspect of the project as most teachers here have no formal training or exposure to technology. Even text books are scarce.
At the new technology center at San Ysidro school, we watched a teacher incorporate some of the learning tools from the MLL into her lessons.
The MLL is based on the RACHEL – a hotspot or mini-server that can connect multiple laptops or tablets – and gives children and teachers access to fun and interactive learning materials offline. This means that in communities such as Comitancillo, where there is no Internet connectivity, the MLL gives children access to math and science tutorials, e-books and other learning tools, all curated to fit the needs of the community.
The technology centre, which has been operational since February 2019, is large, airy and well-constructed. It was built specifically to house the MLL. Multiple plugs for charging the tablets line the walls and are embedded in the floor. The RACHEL is suspended high on the wall.
The tablets are connected to a separate keyboard as AMMID felt that the students and teachers would find it easier to type in this way. Most of the children, however, seemed to use the integrated keyboard on the tablet. Like children everywhere, they are quick to adapt to new technologies. We found the versatility of this set-up interesting.
Every student at San Ysidro school has access to the MLL for one hour per week in the classroom with the teacher directing the learning process. Grade 6 students have access to the MLL every day.
Teacher training a key part of project
We all know that a good teacher can make a huge difference in learning. That is why teacher training is a key part of our project in Comitancillo. In some ways, it is even more important here than elsewhere because most teachers don’t have much formal education themselves.
Furthermore, other than the MLL in the technology center, this community has almost no access to any sort of technology. Only a handhold of people here have cellphones and none have smartphones.
Altogether, this has made it more difficult for the teachers to adapt to new ways of doing things.
To help them adjust to the new learning tools, a teacher brigade from Alberta gave the local teachers a 2-week training course in July. The brigade visited specifically to work on pedagogy approaches for use with the MLL.
Earlier in the year, Mundo Posible showed the teachers their offline teacher training course MOOC (see previous blog). However, uptake has been slow. To better figure out how they can help the teachers in Comitancillo utilize the full scope of materials on the MLL, AMMID’s technology and pedagogy specialists will spend time at other schools where teachers have already participated in this MOOC teacher training.
The idea is that this will help them gain some insights into how to better engage their teachers and offer new approaches despite their lack of tech skills.
It was so wonderful to see the children using the MLL and exploring the possibilities it offers. Overcoming challenges is part of every project, and with such enthusiastic support from the community and our local partners everything is possible. All children, no matter where they live, should be able to get an education. It’s their right.
President and Founder, 60 million girls