In a remote village in a rainforest in Ecuador, a teenager sits at a computer while logged into Canvas, an online classroom tool, to work on her English homework. She is one of many students at her school to use this technology for group work and to communicate with teachers after school. Meanwhile, more than 6,300 miles away in the bustling city of Lusaka, Zambia, children at the Chikumbuso Community School are immersing themselves in math, thanks to new teaching strategies. Pleased with students’ progress, teachers feel empowered in being able to teach this difficult subject.
The instigators behind these new developments — both UCLA students — know that the potential lifelong impact of their efforts will far outweigh the time and money that went into them — one summer and a $5,000 grant from UCLA’s Global Citizens Fellowship. The award was established in 2012 by students and is supported by UCLA Student Affairs to challenge undergraduates to transform the global community through self-directed public service projects.
Connecting students in Ecuador to the digital age
"Of all the projects I’ve done, this is the only one that I feel has been 100 percent successful," said Joan Hanawi, a junior who worked to create a digital literacy education program for high school students in rural Ecuador.
Hanawi, who is pursuing a joint B.A. in international development studies and environmental studies, already has a lengthy track record in international development work. She has helped build houses in Mexico, worked with minority groups and interfaith organizations in Indonesia to reduce religious conflict, and taught math and distributed school resources in Namibia.
She first fell in love with Ecuador and the Kichwa people in 2011 when she began a yearlong assignment to work with government agencies to produce an English- and Spanish-language environmental magazine.
And all this took place before she came to UCLA.
As a UCLA student, Hanawi earned a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Scholarship, which allowed her to return to Indonesia to study the language. While there, she also set up an environmental education program at a school in the community where her parents grew up.
"These experiences have really helped me to step outside of myself and think about things from someone else’s perspective and [realize] how much more there is to approaching a project than just good intentions," she said. "These are more than projects. They’re lives."
This summer, with the Global Citizens Fellowship, she returned to Ecuador to work in Pano, a small community located five hours from the nation’s capital city of Quito, to help develop and implement a digital literacy program at a local Kichwa school.
The school had a few computers, but no functional routers or software. The school’s directors, whom Hanawi knew through a previous project, wanted to fix the connectivity issues and find a better way to use the computers for teaching. They shared their desire for an online classroom with Hanawi, who was eager to assist.
"They can’t get cell service it’s so rural, but they have Internet and can use computers," said Hanawi. In partnership with the directors, she set up Canvas, a free software program that is available in English and Spanish, taught instructors how to use it and helped resolve technical issues. Funds were also used to help bring their Internet access up to speed.
Among other things, the new program has helped save time and optimize communication between students and teachers and made group learning easier, she said.
Starting with English classes, the school has since added classes in math and Kichwa, an indigenous language that is at risk of becoming extinct. Students also have access to Word and PowerPoint to help them make presentations, write reports and craft résumés.
"Inside the community, we have observed great changes," said Rocío Coyachamín, the school’s institutional coordinator for technical English. "Overall, there is a better understanding and knowledge of technology. And there is higher interest in maintaining our computer lab and discovering new ways to engage students. The parents of … students are very satisfied and happy for this curriculum and style of learning. They are proud to have their kids studying at a school that has this advanced technology and these tools, especially since we come from a rural area."
Now back at UCLA, Hanawi uses Skype, WhatsApp and GoogleDocs to keep up-to-date on the school’s successes. Teachers are now working to create a new entrepreneurship class to cover business etiquette and writing business letters and résumés.
"Government officials are coming in to assess the program, with an eye toward possibly expanding it into other rural regions of Ecuador," said Hanawi.
Strengthening math education in Zambia
At the same time Hanawi was in Ecuador, Michelle Sinness, an interdepartmental scholar who holds an undergraduate degree in global studies and Portuguese, and who completed the requirements of a master’s degree in Latin American studies during the fall quarter, was in Lusaka, Zambia, also working to find better ways to educate students.
Working with teachers at Chikumbuso Community School, Sinness used her work skills — she helped manage her mother’s math tutoring company — to strengthen the school’s math education program by organizing resources and introducing new teaching strategies.
The teachers there believed that if children were having fun, they weren’t really learning, Sinness said. "I showed them that that wasn’t true."
Part of the fun for her, and the children, was teaching them the famed UCLA eight-clap. An added surprise came when Sinness met UCLA graduates, Tony and Ann Bloom, who were visiting the community with their family. Tony Bloom now works in educational technology at USAID, said Sinness. "It was such an amazing feeling to find a little bit of UCLA there."
A transfer student from Antelope Valley Community College, Sinness said that UCLA has afforded her a multitude of experiences and opportunities.
"Coming in as a transfer student, I had half as much time to take advantage of those opportunities," said Sinness, who earned two FLAS scholarships, including one that allowed her to study Portuguese in Brazil for a summer, and a UCLA Alumni Scholarship; and worked as a writer for the International Institute and an intern at the Burkle Center for International Relations. "I can’t say enough about how much I’ve gotten out of this school in the past three years."
The Global Citizens Fellowship, however, tops everything, she said. "It allows you to make up a project and just go. You’re on your own, and you figure it out."