My recent trip to the DR showed me another side of this picturesque country as I visited a number of fledgling Christian schools which are part of COCREF (Colegios Cristianos Reformados). This network of 15 Christian schools seeks to serve roughly 3,700 children, some of whom are among the most neglected children in the DR.
The Dominican Republic conjures up images of plush resorts in places like Punta Cana, where tourists come to lounge on white sand beaches near turquoise waters holding drinks with little umbrellas. My recent trip to the DR showed me another side of this picturesque country as I visited a number of fledgling Christian schools which are part of COCREF (Colegios Cristianos Reformados). This network of 15 Christian schools seeks to serve roughly 3,700 children, some of whom are among the most neglected children in the DR.
The trip was arranged by EduDeo Ministries, an organization I have partnered with in previous trips. What I encountered in schools in the DR had many similarities to what I have witnessed elsewhere: schools with computer labs cobbled together with modest numbers of outdated desktop computers running with an unreliable power grid. In fact, only three out of the 15 schools had computers for their students, and those that did had only a handful of working computers to serve large classes of students. I shared a saying with the teachers who nodded in agreement: “talent is universal; opportunity is not.”
One of the purposes of the trip was to introduce the Dominican teachers to a nifty little computer called the “Raspberry Pi.” This device, targeted to hobbyists, is about the size of a deck of cards and can run a full desktop operating system. Previously we have piloted the Raspberry Pi in Nicaragua and Zambia where it has proven to be an appropriate technology for schools in developing countries. The Raspberry Pi runs on roughly three Watts of power and can be purchased for around $70 USD. Because of its size, it can be easily shipped overseas. It has no fans or moving parts, and instead of a hard drive it uses a single microSD card for storage. It runs a version of the Linux operating system and includes a wide variety of open source educational programs.
What was special about this service trip is that EduDeo arranged for a Nicaraguan teacher, Rafael, to join me in the DR. Rafael had participated in prior workshops in Nicaragua, dating back to 2010. He has since taken up a leadership position in a group called RedProCom, a network of Nicaraguan Christian computer teachers who gather regularly to encourage and share materials with each other. Rafael has had firsthand experience with the Raspberry Pi in Nicaragua, a context similar to the DR. What is more, Rafael’s native tongue is Spanish enabling him to speak unhindered with the DR teachers (whereas I required a local translator). Together, Rafael and I led a three and a half day workshop with roughly 10 Dominican teachers.
We brought 40 Raspberry Pi’s and distributed eight to each of five schools among the workshop participants. If this pilot project proves successful, we hope to work with EduDeo to help provide more Raspberry Pi’s to the other 10 Christian schools in the DR which do not currently have computers for their students.
The other main purpose for the workshop was to share how a Christian worldview relates to education and computer technology. Although we were eager to introduce the Raspberry Pi, we took care not to promote the notion that the answer to challenges in education and poverty is technology and information. Instead, we explored a Christian perspective of technology which was eagerly received and appreciated by the teachers.
The workshop ended with the Dominican teachers connecting with the group of Nicaraguan teachers through a video conference link. The Nicaraguan teachers shared their experiences with the Raspberry Pi and how they have grown in understanding about faith and technology. The Nicaraguan teachers kindly offered to act as a resource for the Dominican teachers as they move forward. The video conference ended with a Nicaraguan teacher offering a prayer for the DR teachers, a fitting example of concretely connecting faith and technology by using it to reach out to help and care for our neighbours.