I had an opportunity this week that very few people ever get, especially if you live in America. For an hour and a half, for two separate sessions, I taught 40 teenagers Internet basics. What’s so unique about this? Well, many of them have never used a computer or the Internet. At all. Ever. Now that’s cool. I’m not even a teacher by profession, but my setup with these classes would make any middle school teacher jealous.
Let me tell you why.
Partly because of their culture, and partly because they are the recipients of a unique opportunity to learn English, these students are ultra-respectful and gracious. Each one greeted me as they came in the room with, “Good afternoon, ma’am.” Each one looked me in the eye as they left and said, “Good evening, ma’am.” They started their class with singing. I’m not talking barely moving their lips, self-conscious singing. These students were singing to their heart’s content. Every one of them, boy and girl. They sang “Oh Susanna”, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”, and a moving song about overcoming and being strong. I was moved.
These students are part of the Nepal ACCESS program that provides them with the opportunity to learn English and other parts of American culture. For two years, these students meet together after their normal school (which in Nepal they attend 6 days a week for long hours). They even meet on Saturday, which is normally the only day off students have. They come from underprivileged, difficult backgrounds, but you would never know it. Their eyes shine, full of light, and they WANT to be there. At the beginning of the program in February they spoke little to no English. Now they are flourishing.
So, I volunteered to teach them roughly once a month about technology. This is what I love and what I’m passionate about. Fortunately, this is a topic that teenagers anywhere are interested in, so I didn’t have to pull teeth to get their attention. In fact, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. All eyes were on me, and I had their complete attention. No texting or talking in the background. No murmurings or whisperings. Nothing but a ready and willing audience.
Yes, these are teenagers.
So, I taught them! I am still waiting for a projector that will allow me to use my iPad for instruction, so I did the logical next-best choice: I packed up my entire 27-inch iMac into our small car, drove it through insane traffic and bumpy roads, carried it up 3 flights of stairs in the monsoon rain, and put it on the table.
It definitely piqued their interest.
How could I talk about technology without letting them see, hear, and experience it? I was in my element, teaching about something I really enjoy, and we had a lot of fun. I showed them a movie trailer I made using iMovie and footage I took of them during their Teej festival. They loved it. These are kids who probably don’t even own a single photo of themselves. They oohed and awed over the screen as they watched themselves sing and dance and recite poetry. I gave them a quiz on Internet basics and we went over all the answers. My assumptions were correct in that they don’t know very much at all.
I really feel, which is why I am doing this, that teaching someone about how to access available tools is empowering. For them, the Internet provides knowledge about the world. It levels the playing field a little, giving someone in Nepal access to the same information that anyone else in the world has. It’s about opportunity, providing them with skills that will open doors and change lives. It’s also about confidence, as their skills and knowledge increase, they become more confident in their ability to help others.
I’m not sure what I’ll talk about next time. They want to know how to use Facebook, Skype, and email. I’ll teach them about Google Docs, because it is such a great resource, especially for someone who doesn’t have a computer and software of their own. I’ll help them use various search engines to access information, talk about netiquette and staying safe online. We’ll take and edit photos and videos.