[Edu-sig] CP4E in a third world country

Charles Cossé ccosse at gmail.com
Tue Oct 7 18:00:34 CEST 2008

Greetings Miguel,

Sounds like fun down there in Honduras.  I just visited Costa Rica
with my kids earlier this summer, and ran into some Peace Corps tech
teachers down there.  Myself, I'm an RPCV (Kenya 1991-1993) and have
been implementing the 3rd Peace Corps goal ever since by developing
OpenSource Education Software in Python (www.asymptopia.org).
Actually, there you might be interested in TuxWordSmith which is
almost Scrabble and plays in many language combos, including
Spanish/English and English/Spanish.  I'd be happy to correspond and
perhaps help you with some supplies if you need ... gotta run, but I'm
here.  Hope to hear from you.

Charles Cosse
AsymptopiaSoftware | Software at theLimit

On Tue, Oct 7, 2008 at 9:26 AM, Miguel Turner <dhagrow at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello to all,
> I'm posting here because I am planning on teaching a programming class to
> kids in a small town in Honduras. I am a Peace Corps volunteer currently
> living in a town of about 2,500 people. I studied CS in college and
> originally joined the Peace Corps when I learned that they have been seeking
> volunteers with technical backgrounds for some years now in order to develop
> the use of technology in third world countries. Needless to say, I am facing
> a number of challenges and I thought it would be helpful to seek out some
> advice, and maybe see if there was anyone who has been or is in a similar
> situation.
> I've been a huge fan of Python since I taught it to myself over 3 years ago,
> and I've used it often, since. I enjoy working in C and Assembly, but Python
> was like a breath of fresh air. So, I'm already sold on the idea of Python
> as a first language and basically everything about CP4E. I recently read
> John Miller's excellent dissertation on computer literacy, which is what
> motivated me to post here.
> The colegio (middle/high school) in my town has maybe 150 students, and 8
> working, donated computers. There is currently a computer teacher who gives
> very basic lessons in Windows and Microsoft Office to the 20 or so high
> schoolers. The town has 1 public internet connection at an internet cafe
> with 3 computers and a satellite dish. Very few families have personal
> computers and far fewer can afford to connect to the internet via mobile
> phone, which is the cheapest option available. In short, there is very
> little exposure to computers here. It is not unusual to find kids who
> struggle with using a mouse. But there are also some kids who like to spend
> their time at the internet cafe chatting and downloading music to their
> cellphones (plenty of those here).
> The lack of computers and internet is the first challenge, though not one I
> can do much about. Another is language. I speak Spanish well enough, though
> I do anticipate difficulties when trying to explain programming concepts in
> ways that make sense in this culture. There is also the fact that most
> documentation, code, and the language itself, are all in English. I'm aware
> of some books that have been translated, but I'm mainly concerned with how
> frustrating it will be for the students to debug their programs when all of
> the error messages are in English.
> Another major challenge is the educational system, and indeed, the
> educational culture here. It's a bit complicated, so I will just say that
> only about 8% of kids make it through high school and most of those will
> graduate without ever seeing algebra. The worst of it is that it's hard to
> find people who actually want to learn, or even think. When I showed the
> computer teacher here Guido van Robot she said, "doesn't all that thinking
> make your head hurt?" This is reflected in the lack of self-confidence a lot
> of the kids have that they're smart enough to learn difficult things. It's
> very frustrating, but it makes me think that a programming course would be
> all the more worthwhile, assuming I can get past enough of that sort of
> thinking to get started.
> Practicality is also very important here. Given that, and the generally low
> level of education, I am interested in integrating other subjects into the
> class, such as algebra, reading material, and whatever I can include that
> might be more directly related to local life. I don't intend programming to
> be an end, so much as the means to an end.
> I have considered, in some depth, using another method for teaching
> programming, such as Alice or Guido van Robot. Perhaps in another post I can
> give my reasons for deciding against those and going with Python. I've
> looked at the OLPC project too, but, unfortunately, it doesn't look like
> that will be making it to Honduras for a while.
> My biggest concern, it must be said, is that I have no real teaching
> experience - I'm a programmer. I'm sure I can muddle through until I can get
> the hang of it, but given all the other challenges I have to face, I'm not
> sure the kids (or the teachers) will have the patience to stick with me
> until I do. So, I'd appreciate recommendations for good teaching resources,
> as well.
> I could say much more, but I only wanted to introduce myself. Hopefully
> someone can give me some idea how far up the creek I am, though I'd be happy
> to hear comments on anything that I've brought up. I'm open to criticism as
> well, if anyone has any compelling reasons for why this might not be a good
> idea. I know most, or all, of these kids will never become programmers, but
> that's not the point, is it?
> Thanks for reading,
> Miguel Turner
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