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Alistair Williams 2007 -Teaching Computer Skills at the Santa Rosa School Nicaragua

Monday, 1 October, 2007

Despite a number of problems, our short computer course in the Santa Rosa School was remarkably successful. The project aimed to provide very basic computer literacy for a small number of teachers at the school, to enable them to use the machines already donated, and in turn to pass their skills on to others. The program mainly focused on the use of Microsoft Word, in an attempt to teach basic word processing and keyboard skills. We also introduced other basic programs such as Paint, and Solitaire to improve their use of the mouse. Because the program was one on one, it enabled us to tailor the each lesson to suit the student, which meant the more able students were able to learn other useful skills, such as file and folder management, and how to use a search engine on the Internet.

The project took place during the month of July this year, and the first problem we encountered was that we had actually arrived during a school holiday. This obviously reduced our already short teaching time, but the school had organised for all the available teachers and students to come in and welcome us, and gave us an opportunity to orientate ourselves around the school. We were also treated to several dance performances, the Nicaraguan national anthem, and more embarrassingly ‘God Save the Queen’, being blasted out on several large speakers, powered from an extension lead coming from the shop next door. This brings us to another of our problems: the lack of electricity. Since the recently elected left wing FSLN party have been in power, the school system has been made public. This means that rather than parents paying fees directly to the school, and the school in turn paying the electricity bill, the parents now pay through taxes. Unfortunately, due to complications with the distribution of electricity and the different companies controlling various parts of this, and ultimately the government not paying, the school is not getting power. This obviously put a damper on our plans to teach our students on the computers that they will be eventually be using, but fortunately there was an internet cafe within easy walking distance that was affordable and had electricity (albeit with semi regular power cuts, though we were usually able to work around these).

After a few days of switching students and working out the timetable most convenient for everybody, we settled into a pattern of each teaching one student before lunch and one after. We initially planned the lessons to be between an hour and an hour and a half, but this soon grew to be more as the students got more into the course, and their enthusiasm was encouraging. Initially, the lessons were very tiring for us, as none of us were IT experts or had Spanish as a first language. However, as the students progressed, it became increasingly rewarding and worth it. We overcame the language barrier without too many problems – for Martin and Rick this involved looking up a few specialist IT words before the lessons; for the rest of us it involved a lot of pointing and repetition, but nevertheless each of our students seemed to learn a lot, and were all able to produce simple Word documents by the end of the course. They also received a certificate signed by their teacher and Martin as the Santa Rosa Fund representative at the time.

About half way through our time there, the school had realised that we could be put to use teaching English as well as IT, and so most afternoons after we had finished teaching IT we went into the classrooms and attempted to get the students speaking some English. Because we were only there for such a short time, our aim was to provide the students with a chance to hear and to speak some English, (and to have a bit of fun), rather than an intensive grammar course. Despite being quite tired after teaching two lessons already, this was a great experience for us and hopefully for the children too – we had a lot of fun and it looked like they did too.

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