Friday, June 3, 2011

Me and Maircos

After an hour on a hellish road in mountains of rock, bushes and the house/farm, you immediately notice the solar panels. To be specific, a steel tower with 6 170W panels lined up in a row, topped with a small wind turbine. Over the red clay roofs of Qoturi’s school, and framed by high mountains, it seems out of place. However, many outlying buildings had simple solar panels, indicating that clean energy was not a new technology to these parts. The wind turbine was a new aspect. Right next to the tower was a small white shack, which housed the batteries, the fuses and the controllers. What appeared to be an air vent chimney was in fact the post for the satellite connection that is promised to come within months.
A simple green fence is all that keeps people out, although, with a simple leap from the road above I could get inside. The entire design within the shack was neat and organized. A mysterious bird (or animal?) had made its nest within the tower, in the shade of the 6 170W panels. After some short deliberations, we decided to leave it be.

Adjacent to the installation was a 4 room 1 floor building with a kitchen, storage space, a room with a fridge and water filter system and a large room with 5 computers, a printer and a router. The computer room looked unused and cluttered. Thieves through a window had stolen 4 of the original computers weeks earlier, yet they left the power supplies, keyboard and mice. Steel bars and better locks had been added as a new precaution.

Laptops were placed on simple office tables with no chairs in sight. After logging onto the one computer that had not been stolen (and thus, most likely to be used) I found no evidence that kids had been using them. My failing was to not talk to the teachers about how the lab was being used. I expect that they are waiting for internet, but I have no clue at the moment. According to Marcelo, this installation got computers only 3 months ago. A projector was also stolen, yet replaced. Ricardo demonstrated it to local people (no children) with someone else translating to Quechua. I was not completely present because I was cleaning the solar panels.
I had a very revealing experience with a 4 year old named Maircos (sic?) who spoke some Castellanos but preferred Quechua. As I tapped away on one of the computers in the lab, he hung out with me and watched. I asked him whether or not he used a computer befor…. From his mute response, either he misunderstood me or maybe he thought he shouldn’t answer because no one had been allowed to use it. Clearly nobody had used the one leftover computer – there were no saved files of any sort or recently opened files in Word, Paint or MediaPlayer. Yet I could see his clear interest in me the Gringo and the weird looking TV. So I stopped and pulled out my Ipod Touch. As soon as I unlocked it with the slider, he smiled widely with bright eyes directed at me. I showed him how to go through photos and watch a video. I took a pictures of us two with the front-facing camera.

Later on I had to help out in the battery/control shack. A small appreciable crowd of local farmers, wives and schoolchildren stood on the other side of the fence while we ran through checks of the system. Maircos followed me inside the fence and clearly wanted to play more. For the benefit of him and the entire village it seemed, I showed him more. I opened the piano app and played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. As soon as the first note was pressed, there was a small, yet audible murmur of surprise. After Maircos screwed around with the piano, I showed him Twinkle Twinkle and he got a bit of it. He was clearly enjoying himself, and to my slight relief, everyone present let me and Maircos have fun. I didn’t want to anyone to destroy the great times we were having, him and I. As we noodled away, the little kids stood very pilotely and watched, the women talked a little among themselves and the men looked on. The best part was the Sketchup App. At first, I drew a smiley face to demonstrate. Then I made a new page and let him draw. He drew a misshapened head with big eyes. Soon it turned into a game.

¿Esto hombre, él tiene una boca? (I point to my mouth)
(Maircos draws a mouth)

¿Esto hombre, él tendría un nariz? (I point to my nose)
(Maircos draws a nose)

¿Esto hombre, claro que sí él tendría pelo? (I lift a few strands of my hair)
(Maircos messily scratches out some hair)

After the whole ‘portrait’ was done, I showed the whole crowd what was drawn, which made them laugh loudly. Maircos was smiling, and so was everyone else. By then, other things had to be done, and we moved on. To his obvious sadness, he could not keep it. And my sadness as well.

To my obvious delight, it goes to show teaching kids computer literacy is a matter of prodding rather than lecturing. You have to show them a few things at first, but after that, you have to be a mentor rather than a teacher. Bless Señor Jobs for creating an intuitive user-interface. (and all those app-developers). I think if I had more time with Maircos, I would show him more of the Sketchup tools but in a round-about way. Instead of opening a certain tool, I’d say, “Nos debemos tocar esa botón. Vamos a ver que pasa!”

Indeed, what would happen?

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