I’ve just got back from a grade 11 service trip in Cambodia* and I am in Tokyo for a few days before going to the Flat Classroom conference in Mumbai. I am still processing my nine days in rural Cambodia. I loved being on a trip, without a computer, doing dirty work. YIS students** (and me to a much lesser extent) helped lay a foundation of a school, danced in an orphanage, picked rice, helped complete a well and played a lot of duck duck goose. We were in a part of Cambodia that barely made Lonely Planet, ate good food, rode in the back of a pickups and on a bamboo train, and enjoyed the hot weather.
I have come back to school feeling re-energized.
Anyone who might be reading this blog, probably knows that I spend a lot of time thinking about technology. As I gear up for the Flat Classroom conference next week, designed to connect students around the world using technology, I was struggling to put my love of technology and basic pedagogical beliefs in line with the schools we visited in Cambodia. It seems ridiculous to be so concerned about computers, when I was in a school that needed so very much, surrounded by young Cambodians who need so much.
Then I met this wonderful young woman (whose name I never got) at the local orphanage that we visited twice***. She skipped her afternoon classes so she could practice her English with us. She said it made it so happy to speak English and French. She wants to be a doctor. And she wants to visit Paris, but is scared to fly. She likes to read scary books and listen to K-pop. She would like to learn Italian. Her mom (who is too sick to take care of her), told her to stay away from boys, because they will distract her from her goals. She takes computer classes once a week and goes to the internet cafe to Facebook friends. Imagine if she had access to easy and free internet? She could learn Italian on YouTube or connect with English speakers via Skype. She could learn how planes work, so that she doesn’t have to be scared of flying. Her community, not even a blip on most people’s radar, could be connected to the rest of the world.
I believe that programs like Hole in the Wall project run by Prof Sugata Mitra or the One Laptop Per Child program and I don’t think that its a frivolous expense for a place like Cambodia****. I am blessed by the luck of when and where I was born and my world is open and connected because of access to technology. There will be costs, both economic and social, to introducing technology but there are many benefits as well. And I believe that if technology if it is good enough for my students, then it is also good enough for the students of Cambodia.
* The YIS Schools to Schools Program is an established part of of the YIS Community. We have raised funds and literally helped build schools in the region of Pursat. The Hope Organization, and the indomitable Ly Phealy, have helped make this an amazing experience.
** Probably goes without saying, but YIS students are amazing. No complaining, no drama. Just heart.
*** Our students loved spending time at the orphanage. The universal language, that transcends all boundaries, seems to be playing and dancing. There were a lot of tears when we left.
**** The topic of the Flat Classroom conference is Open Education and I expect there to be a lot of discussion of how programs like Hole in the Wall and OLOC help Lesser Economically Developed Countries educate its population.