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jueves, 6 de agosto 2020
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Colombian teacher narrows the gap between rural schools and the digital world

By Yenifer Aristizabal


UdeA engineering graduate Carlos Guevara uses technology as an educational tool for equity and peace building in rural areas of Colombia.


When Carlos Guevara arrived in Ituango he wondered if he was facing a scene similar to that of the Syrian or Afghan conflict. When he saw the trenches in the central square of this town in northern Antioquia, Colombia, he realized that he had made a great decision: he left his comfortable job as a teacher in a private school to occupy a place in a rural school of a small town that has been hit by violence for decades.

The door of the José Félix de Restrepo school, located in Chontaduro, a rural area located one hour from Ituango, has witnessed the menacing presence of men and women belonging to armed groups.

When professor Guevara arrived at this rural school, he found several tablets stored in boxes as well as computers in poor condition. He also learned that many students had no idea what YouTube or Wikipedia is. The Internet, which is part of the daily life of any child or teenager in the city was foreign to them. «Some of these kids have never been to Ituango because of the conflict,” said Guevara.

Several armed groups converge in Ituango: the 18th front of FARC dissidents, the Gulf Clan - one of Colombia's most powerful drug gangs -, and the so-called Caparros, who fight for control of drug trafficking routes. This fact, in addition to the crudeness of the armed conflict, has profound implications in the commitment to build peace and reconciliation through education. “Many teachers refuse to work in Ituango, which makes it harder to improve the quality of rural education” says professor Guevara.  

Education made in Ituango

Guevara knew that his knowledge of technology could be useful for teaching mathematics, so he convinced school directives to use the tablets and computers, although lack of Internet connection would be a barrier.  According to Gustavo Jaramillo, deputy secretary of Educational Planning of Antioquia, only 440 of the more than 3900 schools across the nine subregions of the Antioquia department have permanent internet connection.

To address this obstacle, Guevara set up a local Moodle platform that works with a server - that is, a kind of online learning community dedicated exclusively to the institution. Then he met with other teachers in order to build the contents. Once the platform was complete, it was replicated through small servers in ten rural schools.

«For example, a teacher from another rural school located eight hours from my school can use his laptop as a server. Therefore, he will be able to replicate the internet signal using some tablets. This is what we have called a New School model,” says Guevara, who thinks it is a paradox that new generations, who are basically digital natives, don’t have access to educational internet resources.

Professor Guevara arrived in Ituango in January 2019 and, little by little, he has seen how his initiative has favorably impacted rural education. In September 2019, the Ituango Education Office provided the school with internet access, however, the signal is unstable due to rain and cloudiness.

A thesis inspired by frustration

While pursuing his master's degree Guevara felt the need to give a new impulse to his teaching vocation because of some frustrations related to his work in a city school. After moving to Ituango, he learned that he could develop his thesis proposal, which was intended to address the learning of maths through ICT. He devised another way to teach concepts such as Pythagoras' theorem, and instead of asking his students to take notes in their notebooks he encouraged them to build an Android app and learn to code using MIT software.

Thus, while Guevara would continue developing his master’s thesis he encouraged several 11th grade students to learn about technology and pursue a career in software development in SENA, Colombia’s National Learning Service.

“Some of my students don’t even have a cell phone, so they borrowed their parents' cell phone and brought it to class. One of my students built an app that would wake him up every morning with his mother's favorite song. She had recently been killed by an armed group,” said professor Guevara.

Professor Guevara says his experience in the mountains of Ituango has been essential for his career, because through the teaching of statistics, arithmetic and physics, he has provided rural students, who have historically been marginalized both socially and technologically, with a wider panorama of educational opportunities.

Currently, his students are also learning robotics and some of them are learning to repair computers. In addition, they can access the University of Colorado virtual labs.

“Each rural school must have at least three laptops, one for the teacher, and two for students, as well as four tablets. Unfortunately, sometimes there are no laptops available», says Guevara. However, he is determined to make rural schools in Ituango have access to “virtuality”. Now he wants to use the internet to boost rural education in a region where the construction of peace and opportunities still seems far away.

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