[Edu-sig] CP4E in a third world country

Vern Ceder vceder at canterburyschool.org
Tue Oct 7 18:03:14 CEST 2008

Good luck Miguel, we're all pulling for you.

My advice teaching-wise would be to go slow with the initial concepts. 
To someone who has never coded at all variables, lists, loops, etc are 
somewhat alien concepts, while once you know how to program, the same 
concepts seem trivial. So be patient and attentive to whether or not 
they're getting it, and be ready to explain (and illustrate and have 
them practice) the same thing several different ways.

Vern Ceder

Miguel Turner 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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This time for sure!
    -Bullwinkle J. Moose
Vern Ceder, Director of Technology
Canterbury School, 3210 Smith Road, Ft Wayne, IN 46804
vceder at canterburyschool.org; 260-436-0746; FAX: 260-436-5137

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