Below is a map of the Chuuk lagoon, illustrating the route of our team’s travels on the site surveys. On this first day, we traveled East-South-East from the Main Island of Weno out to the three island schools of Romanum, Udot, and Eot.
The purpose of the site surveys was twofold: 1) for the combined technical team from both iSolutions and Telecom FSM to carry out the site surveys in the field, practicing the both the skills and phone-based app they had learned in the workshop the day before out on the islands, and 2) for the non-technical team to assess the interest and readiness levels for technology at these schools.
We set off for Romanum Island school as our first stop, which is where Melody, the Peace Corps volunteer I had met the day before, is stationed. We knew we’d be getting wet today, but we got pretty lucky on the first (and longest) boat-ride of the day, mostly missing the rain. Once we arrived, we first met the landowner, as is customary for anyone visiting the island, and in particular for those who may be interested in making any changes to anything located upon the land being visited.
We greeted Melody, who was leading a group of 1st and 2nd graders in an English-language-learning song. She introduced our group to the rest of the teachers.
Prairie Summer, from Inveneo, and I spoke with the 8th grade teacher in more depth about his own educational background and about the Romanum School in particular.
At every school we would visit, there was keen interest in getting computers and Internet connectivity out to their Island schools, accompanied by the perception that this technology would help improve the educational quality/experience as well as enable access to information and communications capabilities. Also at every school, every single teacher and student indicated that they had relatives who lived not only off-island, but outside of Micronesia. (Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 2 Chuukese lives abroad.) Thus, it is not a stretch to assert that everyone is aware of the possibility for ICT to enable communications with loved ones who are far away.
Romanum school has over 200 students attending from 1st-8th grades, with 6 teachers. Excluding Melody, there was very little existing skill in using technology among the teachers at this school. (Below right is the site for the potential future computer lab.)
The next island we visited was Udot. This was actually a return visit for us, as Udot school was where we had installed a Solar-Powered Computer Lab in a Box in August of the previous year.
At Udot, we were fortunate to be able to speak with a room full of both teachers and students (the students were exceedingly shy) about their attitudes towards technology and their technology skill levels.
We were extremely disappointed to learn that the computer lab we had installed had not been used once, by teachers or students, since its install last August. However, in retrospect it isn’t too surprising. We had not been able to carry out a training session on the computers, as the installation had taken place during the summer when neither teachers nor students were at school, and we had only been on-site for a few days in any case.
We were given a few reasons for why the computers hadn’t been used: the first had to do with the solar system at the school—more on that in a future post. The second was that since the teachers hadn’t received training in how to use the computers, they didn’t know how, and didn’t want to break or misuse this valuable technology—so, better to leave it sitting. This is a phenomenon we’re familiar with, happening around the world with technology when people aren’t comfortable using it. (And I certainly know better than to “deploy and depart” with ICT-for-education projects, but circumstances in August did not permit us to carry out any meaningful training.)
All of the teachers claimed that they were comfortable with computers, (and we would hear this over and over again, at nearly every school,) despite the proof that they had never used this lab. It seems to me that their answer to this question indicates a positive desire to use technology, rather than their actual ability to use it, no matter how we word the actual question.
After this group discussion, we had the opportunity to speak a bit further with Bercy (above), the first grade teacher, while we were waiting for a downpour to pass. She expressed the desire to have the students be able to learn typing skills, as well as general computer skills. She also pointed out the importance of being able to communicate, given that everyone has relatives located internationally. In her family, all of her children are living abroad–and this is, in fact, completely normal.
Two days later, we would have the opportunity to return to Udot, re-establish the long-distance WiFi Link (this time to the Telecom FSM tower on the main Island) and carry out an afternoon of computer training, so be sure to look for that post!
Udot school has over 200 students in 1-10th grades, with (I believe) 8 teachers. Only half of these teachers claimed to have ever used a computer.
After the worst of the rain had passed, we crossed the island channel over to Eot Island school, where we had a delicious lunch (always with fresh coconut! and Spam was just one of the local delicacies, pictured below,) before we performed the site survey and interviewed the teachers.
Eot school has 80-some students attending in grades 1-8, with four teachers; each teaches two grades. Each of these teachers claimed to know how to use computers and to have experience using them–this was unique so far in our interviews, and was further evidenced by the specific examples each of these teachers was able to give of how they wanted to use computers in the classroom and for general educational purposes—none of the other teachers had been able to give such specific examples, which will always be the case if one is not aware of what exists, due to lack of experience. It is quite clear whether or not someone has been exposed to and has experience using ICT, and all of these teachers seemed experienced with ICT—this was the first school we were able to make it through our entire list of questions regarding ICT usage and attitudes towards it.
We asked about usage by the local community in Eot, and there was some hesitance, not only because of maintenance and upkeep issues (and the lack of an employee to either be present when a computer lab would be open, or to instruct the community in how to use computers/the Internet–which is, again, something one only tends to think about after having experience actually using technology) but also due to a perceived lack of interest in using computers by the community.
This was also the second school where we heard it mentioned that there are phones becoming far more widespread on the islands (perhaps one in two kids has access to a phone), and kids understand innately how to text and use the phones—and thus the teachers estimated that the kids would be able to pick up technology use very easily. We had heard the same claim on Udot.
We then headed back to Weno for the evening, getting absolutely soaked on the way there! In fact, we were already so soaked, half of our team decided to jump in the water before we made the ride back. The guys tried to fish on the way back, but had to put the gear away and just focus on riding out the rough sea.
Coming up next: Day 2 of the site surveys.