These past five days in the classrooms of St. James Primary have made me 100% supportive of the OLPC program. Theoretically, I knew it was a good thing to teach children computer science because we are, after all, living in a digitally connected world. Our major infrastructure systems--transportation, media and communications, government, energy, education, etc.--all rely heavily on computers. After this past week, I can now say that, experientially, the OLPC program is a win-win situation, not only because it builds crucial technological skills, but also because it keeps the focus on people. In other words, people seeking to understand and interact with and learn from others.
Both the St. James students and the CSG teachers "win" because they're communicating across age, culture, dialect, and attitude differences. The St. James students are stretching beyond rote memorization. They're being asked to connect what they are learning (coding) and what they are personally interested in (gaming, singing, sports, etc.). I'm not sure the students have ever been asked what they like, much less what they are passionate about. When you ask them what they'd like to do next or what they wish they could make their sprite do, they are often at a loss to answer. Our girls are asking them to be curious, adventurous, creative, logical, patient, persevering, and independent--all at the same time.
What are our girls learning? Many things about effective teaching, which is really all about effective communication. They're learning they need to have a game plan for the eighty-minute period, and while they're at it, best to have a back-up plan as well. They're learning to meet individual students where they are--not where they want them to be. They're learning when to be firm, perhaps even stern, and when to be warm and encouraging. They're learning that these kids have the same worries (about bullying, about fairness, about "not getting it") that kids back home do. Most importantly, they're learning to be flexible and to step into the roles in which they can have the most impact. I've observed one girl be the primary "explainer" for the whole class, and another spontaneously take a smaller group of boys who were behind on the lesson out onto the verandah for more intense instruction, and still others be extremely effective in one-on-one interactions. It's been an inspiring week.