Changing Lives and Education in Guatemala with Internet Connectivity
When Enlace Quiché opened its doors to students and teachers in the five teacher training high schools back in 2000, the technology centers were well equipped with multimedia machines, an array of various software titles, digital cameras, scanners, photocopiers, etc.
The idea of Internet connectivity was still a far off dream due to high recurrent costs of up to $1000/month. While extremely valuable from an educational perspective, connecting the centers to the Internet was definitely an unsustainable financial venture for these rural teaching training institutions.
Thus the centers were installed without Internet and used new multimedia technology tools to enable students and teachers to create their own Mayan language teaching materials.
Dreams to reality: Internet connectivity
Now as the second phase of the Enlace Quiché project has begun under dot-EDU, including the opening of an additional seven centers, connectivity prices have fallen within sustainable reach of all centers, with Satellite connections for as little as $150/month, which can be covered by each center through user fees. This vast price drop as well as the increasing interest on the part of the project partners, participating schools, and community members in using the Internet, compelled the project to make connectivity a key aspect of all their efforts.
To date, fortunately all 13 centers have satellite Internet connections.
Access to Information and Communication
The two principal uses of Internet are to search for information and for communication via online chats and email. While these two uses may seem pretty basic, due to the lack of print materials, such as books, magazines, and newspapers, and very limited library resources, if at all, the Internet is serving the very important purpose of providing these resources, and serving as a rich online library in which to access needed information.
Enlace Quiché Portal: Our Internet Space
Another interesting and relevant resource designed by the Enlace Quiché staff for use in the centers is the Bilingual Web Portal http://www.ebiguatemala.org. The portal, which was created in collaboration with the Education Ministry and other local NGO's working in bilingual education, and which recently launched in March of this year, is known as "Our Internet Space to share resources, news and ideas about intercultural bilingual education in Guatemala."
The portal has generated much enthusiasm in Guatemala, as students and teachers are beginning to use it to look for resources to enhance their classroom teaching and learning.
Currently the portal contains links to other sites that are useful to both students and teachers, including information about Guatemala, local newspapers that are online, some specific subject matter resources and Mayan artwork. As the students gain more familiarity with the technology tools, and begin to create their own culturally appropriate educational materials, these materials will be uploaded to the portal site for other teachers to investigate, share and even use or adapt for use in their own classrooms.
Francisco Tzoc Mejia, a student at the Santa Cruz bilingual teacher training school, saw the web portal for the first time and was immediately drawn to it, "When I saw the Mayan glyphs, menu items and news in my own native language of K'iche', I felt it was a web page custom-designed for me and those in my language community. The information is about Guatemala, for Guatemalans, and a very relevant tool for indigenous communities to build upon."
He plans to engage in the online discussion forums that are part of portal with other students in Guatemala, in order to meet new young people and to compare his life and studies in Santa Cruz with others' similar to him throughout highland Guatemala.
Reaching out for ideas and support
Others whose lives have been changed as a result of connectivity are the Enlace Quiché project staff. Project staff are actively using email and chat in order to communicate with teachers to give them technology integration ideas and support, as well as to the center administrators to provide help in resolving technical problems.
With open source software entitled, VNC_Viewer, Enlace staff can take temporary virtual control of a computer in any center and help the administrator to solve difficult technical problems, thus allowing Enlace staff to give prompt attention and constant support to the centers, some of which are three hours or more away from the office.
Being able to communicate via email and chats to the technology center managers has been an unbelievable help to all of us. We can solve problems much quicker, which eases the frustration on the part of the users, as well as allows us to communicate more often, and build better relationships with those in the centers. Before connectivity, the only contact with the center managers was during the site visits, and through discussions on the telephone. Now we can still make the site visits, but provide ongoing support that is much more immediate and efficient.The Internet: the World's Largest Library
Lastly, Enlace is finding that teachers and their students are quickly taking hold of the vast amount of resources the Internet provides. Teachers are discovering that both they and their students can quickly get up-to-date information on the Internet that they simply cannot get anywhere else. Miguel Angel Camajá, principal of the school in Cunén responded that, "the Internet allows access to information worldwide, nationally, locally, and allows our students to constantly stay current."
Elma Nohelia Merida, a Spanish teacher at the Colegio Mixto Bilingüe in Cunén concludes, "There are many benefits, and I think the most important is opening the doors to a world of information and communication that is easily obtained for all."
dot-EDU was awarded the Guatemala Project on June 6, 2002 for 20 months (Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00011-00 under the dot-EDU Leader Award No: 520-A-00-02-00109-00).