Mar 13 2012

Technological gap widening for students in developing countries

Access to technology such as computers and the Internet can present great challenges for children and their families living in poverty. Here are some thoughts from Yessenia Alfaro, coordinator of CFCA’s project in Santa Ana, El Salvador.

The technological gap between students in developed countries is huge compared to students in developing countries. And the difference between those in cities and those in rural areas is big too.

CFCA scholar Venancia in El Salvador

CFCA scholar Venancia, 20, is studying English in the National University of El Salvador. She says computer skills are essential for academic performance. 'Most of the time we are given homework and (people without computer skills) cannot research for it, therefore they don't study, and if they don't study, they do not get good grades,' she said.

Those in rural areas have less access to learning about technology. Those who do must travel from their communities into the city and pay for Internet and computer access. Those living in the city can easily walk to a cyber cafÈ, for example.

At the same time, students who visit cyber cafÈs are exposed to many other risks. No legal entity monitors these businesses.

They are not created as an educational tool, but will offer any service that customers look for, including access to dangerous websites.

These places are visited by people who want to watch pornography, play online games where predators are connected, as well as those who really want to research or do homework.

Unfortunately, cyber cafÈs sometimes become a dangerous addiction for students rather than a tool for their education.

Students who live in rural areas are much more exposed to these problems because their experience with technology is less, as well as their understanding of these dangers.

This lack of access in the early stages of education creates great problems among students reaching higher levels such as high school or college because schools don’t take into account the realities where students are coming from.

They take for granted that every student can access the Internet and download assignments, research material or simply check on their grades.

Nowadays high schools and colleges use Internet-based platforms for their everyday work. For example, some universities offer online tests for new students.

Those who don’t know computers or have no Internet access are asked to visit a webpage and complete a timed test.

The students could have been very good, but if they don’t know about computers or the Internet, they can’t pass the test and enroll in college.

Challenges in accessing computers

You hardly ever find a computer available for children at a rural school. Those who have it might have one computer for every 20 to 30 students.

Cyber cafÈ costs
  • One hour at an Internet cafÈ = 50 cents to $1.
  • Internet speed = 128 kbps to 512 kbps.
  • Slow speeds make it more expensive to search for information online.

Source: Yessenia Alfaro, CFCA project coordinator in Santa Ana, El Salvador.

At schools in urban areas the numbers are better: one computer for every three to four students. In both cases computers are not available until 10th or 11th grade.

It is interesting to see how computer monitors are now flatscreen and wireless. There are laptops, smartphones and tablets, and in many of our schools children haven’t touched one computer. Those who have worked with computers may be using software from 1995 or even older.

A clone computer can cost somewhere around $400 or more. These computers have no legal licenses, which makes you unable to update your software.

Those who buy a computer usually get a credit at the computer store. A $400 computer is paid off in three to four years, with an average monthly payment of $30 to $40.

This is equal, for many of our families in CFCA, to 40 to 50 percent of their monthly income.

Home Internet can go from $10 a month for a very slow connection to $100 for a faster connection (128 kbps ñ 2 MB).

It is interesting that the Internet is not accepted as a tool by many parents. It is perceived as a useless expense. They don’t understand all the good it could bring into their lives if used well.

As technology advances, Internet-based platforms change every day. Such is the case with social media networks.

The gap between those who can access technology and those who can’t becomes greater. Many people living in poverty don’t know or use social networking. This is more complicated among young people because their friends use it.

How to address the technological gap

Rosa and Edwin, CFCA sponsored child in El Salvador

Rosa is the mother of Edwin, a 16-year-old sponsored through CFCA. The family has no computer at home, but Edwin took two computer courses through CFCA. 'At the beginning, I was ignorant about computers,' he said. 'Now, it has become something normal to me.'

In CFCA we are working hard to make technological education available for sponsored friends.

However, we have to educate their parents about the importance of technological education and the impact this will have in their children’s future.

We are making computer classes available for our sponsored members in rural, semi-urban and urban areas. We not only cover the course cost but also transportation, especially for those in rural areas, from and to their communities.

In 2010 we graduated about 140 sponsored teens. In 2011 we made a greater effort to make this benefit available for sponsored friends in rural areas because we want to strengthen their potential when they reach high school or college.

In our vision, the mother is a pillar because she needs to believe technological access is important in order to encourage her child.

When the vision of the sponsored child and family change, they see better job options in the future. The family’s overall self-esteem increases by the pride they feel when graduating one of their children.

They see how, in spite of their poverty and limitations, their children are being educated in this area of technology.

In rural areas, when a sponsored friend graduates from a computer course, it’s huge news. The family feels very proud, and the community feels a sense of progress by looking at one of their members reaching new goals.

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