December 24, 2001 - Eritrea Science Project: Eritrea RPCVs help develop Science Teaching Aids

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, December 24, 2001 - 3:09 pm: Edit Post

Eritrea RPCVs help develop Science Teaching Aids

Read and Comment on this story about Eritrea RPCVs who are helping to develop teaching aids to make science and math a prominent part of a childís education at:

Eritrea RPCVs help develop Science Teaching Aids*

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There are many roads a developing nation must take to achieve comprehensive self sufficiency. There are problems along such a journey that can cause instability including war, drought, disease, and illiteracy. The establishment of interventions in the food and non-food sectors is delicate. Lack of funding in one area may undercut efforts and ultimately jeopardize the effectiveness of the entire recovery. However, fighting illiteracy (a longer term effort) can provide the knowledge to combat and avoid many of substantiality issues. Literacy programs that focus on issues such as health, agriculture, water, and other science and technological areas, can provide key tools in solving a nationís problems.

Leadership and funding agencies that realize children of emerging nations are an important ingredient of a sustainable future, are one step closer to success. Children and young adults become the leaders of tomorrow. If they are exposed only to the terrible problems of their society, then they become the problem. It is hard to ask people not to drink polluted water when they donít understand the consequences of diseases. If children learn early how to solve problems with knowledge, technology, and science, they will be equipped to help that nation as they become businessman, teachers, artists, and well-informed consumers.

Eritrea and Ethiopia like many African nations are finally ending years of armed conflict and looking to be part of a global economy. Developing countries around the world are looking for assistance to become self sufficient as they embrace the 21st century. Eritrea is a small enough nation to serve as a pilot site to test innovative, cost-effective illiteracy intervention programs using new technology.

The Math/Science Nucleus is a small, but dynamic non-profit, whose goal has been to make science and math a prominent part of a childís education. It is our belief that logic, which is inherent in teaching science, can assist a nation to create an educated population.

Over the last 20 years over 300 scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and educators have been involved with the development and implementation of our science curriculum (Integrating Science, Math, and Technology) in the United States. With todayís technology we feel we can assist countries who require a low cost, hands-on science curriculum. To test our hypothesis we intend to conduct a pilot program in Eritrea, Africa. Cost of textbooks is very expensive to a developing nation. Children and young adults need to be exposed to the technology that is occurring in the rest of the world. Why not combine the two?

The Math/Science Nucleus has been experimenting with Electronic Textbooks for over 10 years. We have concluded that pen computing is a technology that can assist both teachers in their instruction of content and for children to refine their fine motor skills (writing). In the last 3 years, the advent of browser software has given us an opportunity to transfer our materials to an easy-to-use format. Over the last year we have been transferring over 6000 pages of science curriculum (elementary-secondary) for all the world to access.

This material can give teachers the background information and methodology to teach children and young adults. The browser based curriculum allows easy integration of video, sound, and graphics. One computer can then provide a teacher with 8 years of materials to teach students.

We currently have our base-line elementary level material in the browser format, As funding becomes available we are adding animations, interactive quizzes, video, and sound. Our secondary level material is currently being updated and converted to browser format.

Electricity is a problem in developing countries and we would like to investigate the use of solar energy to maintain one computer and the use of wireless link-up to update and download materials easily. It is our view, that to help nationís to achieve durable regional stability and cooperation, new technologies are key, not used and outdated equipment.

Group to train Eritrean teachers


The head of a teacher's college in Eritrea, a grizzled veteran of that country's 30-year war with Ethiopia, was in no mood to receive visitors when Fremont resident Joyce Blueford called on him to discuss starting the country's first Internet program in local schools.

Mebtohtie Gilogabir, the director of the Teacher's Institute, looked at Joyce Blueford skeptically and said placing the state-of-the-art computers in the Eritrean classrooms wouldn't do any good unless the teachers knew how to use them, Blueford said, recounting her visit.

Blueford replied it was her job to teach them how.

But Gilogabir's dour demeanor softened when Blueford explained that the project was linked to Silicon Valley tech mogul Craig Johnson, who'd been in the Peace Corps. Gilogabir broke into a smile.

He, like many teachers in the tiny country, had been taught English by Peace Corps volunteers. ``Talking about the Peace Corps broke the ice,'' said Blueford, who last week returned from a two-week trip to Eritrea. ``He was all smiles. Lots of people in power love the Peace Corps and this was our link.''

Blueford was sent to Eritrea by NetAfrica, a non-profit company Johnson founded to develop Internet services so that Eritrea, derailed by years of war, could get back on track and join the rest of the world online.

While the original plan called for an Eritrean to come to the United States to receive training on computers and the Internet, now Blueford and her associates will return to Eritrea to train teachers there.

David Lundeen of Math Science Nucleus will go to Eritrea in August to set up the network and to load software. In September, Blueford will go to the capital city of Asmara to train 31 future trainers who will in turn educate 600 teachers over the next year.

Blueford's recent visit to Eritrea came as the nation -- the second-poorest in the world -- celebrated its independence day, the end of the 30-year war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. When she arrived in Asmara, thousands of people were circle-dancing in the streets.

She had never seen anything like the weeklong festivities.

``There were circles of teenagers, sub-circles of little kids, all dancing endlessly,'' Blueford said.

Two days later, she called on Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki at his official residence. It was Sunday, and the president was relaxing, dressed in shorts and sandals. He was dazzled by Blueford's QUBE computer, which uses a touch screen instead of a mouse.

Having spent years in the bush fighting, Afwerki hadn't been near a computer, but he was a quick study. ``He's a sharpie,'' Blueford said. ``He's trying to unite nine different tribes through education and he said in a speech on independence day that science education is the way.''

Eritrea was badly damaged after its war with Ethiopia. After the most recent border conflict two years ago, the country lost half its teachers when those who were Ethiopian were pulled out.

Now teachers at primary schools are very young. Most are 19 years old, just one year out of high school themselves. They teach 60 students at a time with almost no materials, Blueford reported.

Teclu Tesfazghi, an Eritrean-born Silicon Valley computer consultant who coordinated Blueford's trip, is so excited by the possibilities that he plans to move back to his native country to work on the project.

While the war was dragging on, some Eritreans living in the United States said they would return home when hostilities ceased. The fighting ended earlier this year.

Blueford said that she met Bay Area Eritreans visiting their homeland for the summer. ``Many people haven't been back for 10 years, so there were lots of families with small children they wanted to introduce to their country again,'' she said.

``This country can make it. The will is there,'' Blueford said.

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