The Thomas Project: Bringing Appropriate Technology To a Haitian School
The Thomas Project provides solar-powered carts for Ecole de Lespoir (School of Hope) in the Village of LaPaix in Haiti.
United Methodist Communications has begun a pilot project with The Thomas Project, an initiative from the California-Nevada Annual Conference, to integrate appropriate technology into low-resource schools in Haiti. The latest innovation includes a portable cart with laptops, a projector, a charging station and water-filtration – all powered by solar equipment.
Ecole de Lespoir (School of Hope) is the first site to use this system, deployed in October 2013. This school serves children from the Village of LaPaix and the surrounding area, which is in the hills about a mile from Thomas, Haiti. The solar panels and batteries were purchased in Haiti. The mission team from the United States brought the cart electronics, laptops and water purifiers to Haiti. The cart was built in Haiti, and the system was assembled there.
Ecole de Lespoir is a private community school operated by Jean Claude, who served as a mission team interpreter for several of the California-Nevada team's trips to Haiti. He is funding this school from his own money and donations. The goal is to provide a free education to children who might otherwise lack access to school. As of October, his enrollment was 112 children – kindergarten through 6th grade, taught by six teachers.
One of the solar-powered carts for Ecole de Lespoir (School of Hope).
This school serves the Village of LaPaix, a very primitive location on the sunbaked hills above Thomas, Haiti. A subsistence culture, there is no electricity, and the available water source is a nearby irrigation ditch. Power and clean water are luxuries.
The team delivered the cart, related equipment and additional educational supplies on Oct. 28, 2013. Jean Claude had participated in planning before the team's arrival. They began their work in country with instruction on how to use the solar and water systems.
The team also purchased a 300-gallon water storage tank with the help of Thomas Project's in-country manager, James Lazarre, who continues operational maintenance training.
Configuring technology is the easiest part of a project like this. Sustainability depends on local leaders understanding the technology and their desire to implement its use. The California-Nevada team learned how important training is through their previous projects in Thomas and Leveque. The team pre-trained 14 teachers at the Thomas School computer facility. This prepared them to receive training on the laptops and provided a preliminary understanding of the teachers' computer knowledge.
Another orientation introduced the laptops and allowed participants to sample the installed software. Additional training will follow this high-level training. No students were involved other than as observers of the orientation class.
Lazarre has been conducting ongoing training in deployment at both schools and the Thomas campus. Teachers from both schools come to the Thomas lab with their laptops for training. He can accommodate all of the teachers in one class by doing so.
The deployed laptops are Intel Classmates. These particular models are the convertible (screen swivels) version with a built-in stylus. They are low power-consumption, hard-sided "clamshells" specifically targeted at educational settings.
These laptops come preloaded with Windows 7 – Professional, Intel Learning Series Software, a note-taking application, webcam, labcam software (software for recording and tracking experiments), an e-reader, Art Rage (an art creation application) and a classroom-management application (to interact with teachers online). Most applications are in English. A few applications have the option to change the prompts to French.
Wisco International, the local Inveneo certified partner in Haiti, added a student dictionary; a music education application; GCompris (a portfolio of computer education, discovery, puzzle, math, reading, strategy and other activities); and Deep Freeze (an application to protect each laptop from accidental introduction of changes, unauthorized use or viruses).
Several other software applications loaded onto each machine included a geography application; three elementary math packages; Mini-Sebran, a preschool/kindergarten intro to colors, numbers, alphabet and art; and a more advance art program, Tux Paint.
Ongoing and Future Planned Activity
Assembling the components of a cart.
Additional school requirements are being assessed, as is local community interest in computer courses and related topics. Outreach to the community will be through movie nights and free courses.
The biggest challenge is to help teachers to become computer literate and prepared to use the computers in teaching. The students adapt more quickly. In some cases, students are teaching teachers, and co-use of the machines is being encouraged for teachers and students.
We are currently starting baseline assessment of teacher, student and community computer knowledge. We have planned interviews with the teachers and students at one month and at three months. Community interviews are randomized. These assessments will provide some data needed to evaluate and scale the project.
Technology can transform lives for the better. United Methodist Communications can work with you to develop a strategy for your ministry beyond the U.S.