Blog Post

Letting go...

posted May 12, 2010 6:59 AM by Jose I. Icaza


... is sometimes applied to children that grow up. But in technology and other endeavors we have many kinds of children -most notably computer programs that start life with many limitations (call them bugs if you wish...) and end up ready to confront the wide world by themselves; or to certain kinds of projects close to our hearts.
TecnoTzotzil has been one of those projects. For the children, the community instructors and ourselves the researchers (listed in order of importance...), it has been so far an incredible experience, and we want to make sure that the project keeps growing and is able to sustain itself when we go... 
To this end we have been careful to train not only the instructors but also the instructors' tutors and one assistant to the academic director of the schools' zone at San Cristobal and even that boss herself. 
But here we must come to terms with CONAFE's policies, that apparently encourage a lot of personnel rotation. Instructors stay with their kids one or two years only, in exchange of a two year or four year College scholarship respectively. The computers will stay at the school, but they may later be managed by an instructor that has not been trained in pedagogy with thechnology -it'll be the kid's task to train their teacher... Tutors may also get assigned to a different school. Raymundo, the academic assistant, ends his CONAFE term also. And Carlos, our star instructor, has decided to stay just one school year, so he goes also. Only the academic director remains with knowledge of the technology, and she didn't stay for the full training course :( 
On our next-to-last visit, we met some ugly technology problems. Readers of this blog with technology experience may be surprised that we have not mentioned any problems with the technology... Actually both the Classmate machines and the Sugar Leanring Platform have turned out to be very reliable. But we have had a nasty problem with the SD cards where Sugar resides. On each visit, typically one or two cards in each school wouldn't boot, and on this visit there were 5 cards wrong at Naxoch and another 5 at Tilil. So we spent most of those visits subsituting or repairing cards. Recently the problem has been solved, and it turned out to be not the cards' fault but a nasty software bug regarding the encoding of Sugar within the 2GB cards.
At Naxoch, instructor Carlos was making his first steps with the Logo Turtle, by having the little screen critter do same... As usual, his very directive style just made the kids repeat what he was doing; we hope later on he will give greater degrees of freedom to the children. We left him a tutorial video on Turlte Art.
At Tilil the kids were learning to do tables with the Sugar equivalent of Word. They were preparing their weekly schedule. We notticed that, unlike Carlos, the instructors at Tilil speak to their kids only in Tzotzil language. So when we showed the instructors the Turtle Art tutorial in Spanish, they mentioned that the children would not be able to understand it, but that it will be useful to the instructors themselves. 
Comming back to letting go... at Tilil fortunately both Marcela and Maria plan to stay for another year. At least for these 15 kids, they will have another school year with trained instructors and computers. Then when they finish primary school, their poor parents will be unable to buy one. At least it'll be a two year experience that they will not forget; for some of the brightest kids, it may perhaps provide a window for a better future.

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