This Haitian saying pretty much sums things up: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” Once you’ve overcome one obstacle, there’s another to take its place, then another.

We’d planned to have eleven full days in Matènwa, enough for the ten lessons with a break on Sunday (today). Once we arrived, we discovered that we’d need to lose a day with the kids, since the mentor classes were scheduled after the children’s classes each day. The local teachers were in school with the kids, so couldn’t do training in the morning as we usually do. The kids needed to have class directly after school so they could go home. So to have the mentors be one class ahead of the kids, we needed Tuesday just for mentors with no kids. It was decided we’d do double children classes on either Saturday or the following Thursday.

Yesterday, I learned of another kink in our schedule. Next Friday is Good Friday, so no classes can be held. Had we known any of this a month ago, we’d have budgeted another two days in Matènwa, but we’re here and so we gotta roll with it. High acceptance, low expectation. It was decided to do four classes yesterday, two for the kids, two for the adults. I silently shake my head, knowing this is just too much. While the people may be willing, retention may suffer. I’ve seen it before.

The particular lessons we were covering made things tougher: Viewers (5) and Scripts (6). A better plan would have been to double up on earlier lessons, which are easier. I designed the lessons to get progressively harder, to build confidence in the beginning. Projects (1), Supplies (2), Sketches (3), and Halos (4) are relatively easy, as was seen in the early classes. Everyone seemed to understand them.

Also looming was the power issue. With eight hours of class instead of four, the chances of power lasting were fairly remote without a generator. We had heard a generator would be found, but I was worried nonetheless. Lessons 5 and 6 really benefit from using the projector. The day would be even more difficult having to “show and tell” multiple times (with translation).

As expected, the power failed soon into my first class. Apparently the children had been sneaking their XO cords through windows to charge them overnight, which depleted the little amount of solar energy we had accumulated. So no projector.

It should be asked: do we really need a projector? It’s certainly a factor that limits scaling in the areas we’re working in, given its cost and power use. Since OLPC left out a VGA port on the XO, we also need another computer to project the screen. Given our experiences in our last eight pilots, I can say with certainty that a projector really helps, especially in a situation like Matènwa, where we’re teaching 21 adults at the same time that speak a different language. In other pilots, we’ve effectively taught fewer adults (usually no more than eight) by showing things on our Mac screen instead of using a projector, but with 21 adults and one translator, it really slows things down and gets more confusing without a big screen. With the kids, it’s easier because we have the Haitian mentors (who have already learned the lesson) to help us, so we can say “try this and this”, have it be translated once, and the mentors can then help the kids. The mentor-student ratio has been pretty amazing in this pilot. It’s exactly one-to-one, which is great.

The first mentor class was difficult. By the end, many seemed frustrated and confused. I felt bad about it, which lowered my spirits. Things would have been easier with our review materials to hand out, but without paper, this is impossible now. Also, we are still waiting on the translations for lessons 5 and onward. As the children’s class began, led by Chris, I went up to the library to check my email to see if the translations had been finished.

Instead I find that the Squeakland education team has voted to remove my Etoys lessons from the wiki, opting instead to call them Waveplace lessons. Given how hard I’ve worked on these in the last two months, and their clear benefit in the classes we are now teaching, this was a real blow. Sitting and watching the children master material from the lessons, I felt deep frustration at yet another example of “committee thinking” missing the point of the “roll-up-your-sleeves and get something done” approach.

Chris did well with the first lesson, though the children were clearly tired during the second. When we teach “forward by” and “turn by”, we hand out paper compasses to the children and have them march around outside so they can feel in their bodies what they will later see on the screen.

Before the last mentor class, they had secured a generator, so we had a projector for lesson 6. What a difference it made! My spirits rose, as did everyone else’s. We finished the lesson early and talked in the courtyard until nightfall. Afterwards we walked from house to house, experiencing the easy community of Matènwa, finally ending up at Chris’s house, where Etienne, Bill, Beth, Chris, and myself talked till late at night. Returning, I slept soundly once again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *