Digital Literacy for Haiti Rebuilding
Mercidieu François assisting two DLHR participants at College Mahatma Gandhi
The riverside city of Hinche sits high on Haiti’s fertile central plain, sixty miles northeast of the country’s capital of Port-au-Prince. A rural community of roughly 50,000, Hinche has remained untouched by many modern conveniences. Before municipal electricity became available in 2012 townspeople would gather outside the mayor’s office to watch a single television screen swiveled to face out into the street. A few of the city’s central streets have been paved with concrete, but many of the city’s straining oxcarts and pickup trucks still travel over knobby dirt and gravel roads. And while many carry mobile phones, access to computers and the Internet has been nearly nonexistent.
In the spring of 2012 Inveneo and NetHope launched the Intel-funded Digital Literacy for Haiti Rebuilding (DLHR) program, providing basic computer training to more than a thousand community members in rural Haitian communities like Hinche. The majority of participants come directly from the small, rural communities where the training center computer labs are located; some ford rivers and walk for several hours to attend the trainings. For many, this is their first time touching a computer. Learning quickly, they use their new skills to further their education, improve their businesses or hunt for a job.
The DLHR program builds off of one of Inveneo’s previous projects: the Haiti Connected Schools (HCS) program. Through the HCS program Inveneo and their Haitian IT partners deployed solar-powered computer labs in schools in 40 locations across rural Haiti. Connected to the Internet, these labs provide an opportunity for students, teachers and administrators to augment academic lessons with computer-based technologies.
By making use of resources already deployed in the field, the DLHR program expands accessibility to community members based near these schools. Both schools and communities benefit from the program: schools gain long-term financial sustainability of the computer labs by offering computer training beyond the school population; community members learn computer and Internet basics, skills that help them participate in a modern economy. Local teachers, technicians and interested community members also have opportunities to participate in advanced training modules and become Community IT Instructors. These Community IT Instructors form the backbone of the program, inspiring other community members and acting as a local resource to provide computer training long beyond the limited timeframe of the program.
One of these Community IT Instructors is Mercidieu François. Mercidieu was hired as a lab administrator at College Mahatma Gandhi in Hinche after the school received a computer lab through HCS. The young Haitian had previously completed a year of Microsoft Office training at a local vocational school and had some experience teaching, but had never received formal training as a teacher. Mercidieu jumped at the opportunity to participate in the training to become a Community IT Instructor.
Mercidieu presenting at the December DLHR workshop
Together with teachers and technicians from all over Haiti, Mercidieu participated in two workshops on teaching techniques. He learned about lesson planning, teaching methods and pedagogy and how to use IT in the classroom. Mercidieu says the workshops helped him formalize his understanding of what it means to be a teacher.
“It was a good experience for me,” said Mercidieu. “I learned some strategies I can use with my future students and I love the simplicity of the documentation they used to teach… From these workshops, I learned about questions to ask myself when I have to plan a lesson… What makes me happy about participating in this program is that it has helped me to learn how I can teach effectively.”
During the first community training in Hinche, Mercidieu started as an observer, quickly moving into more active roles, first as an assistant instructor and then as lead instructor. Today Mercidieu coordinates and teaches computer classes for students and community members, and uses his experience to coach other teachers.
With this experience and training, Mercidieu has become known in his community as a capable and qualified computer instructor, with schools and colleges in and around Hinche asking him to teach classes. The additional income from teaching these courses allows Mercidieu to continue his studies at Queensland University in Hinche. In addition to the financial benefits, Mercidieu values the way the DLHR program has grown his ability to share his enthusiasm for learning and teaching computer concepts:
“As a teacher of computers and Microsoft Office, after completing two sessions on the techniques of teaching, there is in me a kind of metamorphosis. That is to say, a transformation in the way I expose courses now in different institutions in my home area… I am practicing [different techniques of facilitation] and I am teaching in a better way.”
All told, DLHR is expected to train 40 IT instructors, providing skills and access to over 3000 community members throughout rural Haiti. With 30 trainers working and over 700 students enrolled so far, Mercidieu and his cohort are well on their way.
Mercidieu and a fellow community IT instructor prepare a lesson plan for a class on Microsoft Excel 2010