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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Santiago de Cuba Diary 3: Teacher Computers



Profs Marta y Jose Luis from the Jose Marti Society/ Pedagogical Institute

The days are hot, short and have begun to run one into another to become a travel blur. A week is not very long to be away, especially here in Santiago de Cuba. Life moves in slow motion even considering the cooler winter heat. Also under the crippling weight of the US economic embargo.

The everyday amenities of city life, work and school are still often in short supply here, resulting in long waits for even the most simplest of things we usually take for granted. The telephone Internet is of course low tech and land based, dependent on a slow old fashioned wire electrical grid that often crashes in bad weather, or due to worn lines and increased use. There are still sporadic rolling light and energy blackouts as well across this Caribbean city of one million throughout the night and day.

Gone are the days when the economy collapsed and consumer goods dried up to a trickle in the "Special Period" after the sudden demise of the Soviet Block in 1992. South American, Canadian and European business and distributors have long since moved in to fill the opportunity gap left in the US and Soviet absence.
The move to a mixed socialist and market based economy has been slow, but would probably be heralded in Vietnam, China or even Russia had they experienced a similar evenly and fairly spread out post Communist economic development and growth. However the lingering cold war antagonisms are still an especially touchy sore point for the US in it's relations or lack thereof towards this small independent island nation located in the backwaters of the Americas. Having once caused such a post colonial stir with the 1959 Revolution, Cuba remains an ostracized political and economic pariah.

The impact seems most notable in medicine, food and consumer goods. For purposes of the Cuban School Project in providing educational aid, the need is most felt in the lack of new technology, especially cheap, reliable and easily accessed computers, software and peripherals at the schools. Forget paper, printing and hard copy classroom and office work materials and teaching learning supplies. These have long been difficult to supply or purchase here in sufficient quantities to meet the everyday needs of the Santiago de Cuba School Project's recipients' needs. On the other hand both Apple and MS are US based products which remain hard to import or if so they are unlikely to be very up to date. In Apples case, there seems to be no presence at all.
On this trip I am focusing on providing some computers for the teachers use. Just think of how much you depend on them today. Ultimately the focus is on providing an improved platform for better developing our long running locally Cuban and Canadian teacher "Ingles Para Ti" Spanish English workbook and teaching guide initiative and capabilities. The first few paper editions quickly fell in short supply, unable to keep up with demand. With the shortage of paper and printing capacity the hard copy version was hardly cost effective to continue to develop update and upgrade as it would be in an electronically interactive and paperless computer version.

So far we have managed to produce a few editions of a simple CDR based version. On this visit I am hoping to help my colleagues take the next step in further setting up a better computer based teaching and learning system. In specific, I have brought an Apple Ipad and an MS netbook for the teachers to learn how to use as we put together a system for their grassroot use in developing the next step of our project. Progress in the small Cuban Schools Project educational aid program I have set up and run since 1992 is often measured in little but very important first steps. This Novembers trip provides a case in point.

 Tuesday night our small group met in the wireless internet access area of the Melia Santiago de Cuba hotel. I handed out the two devices and began familiarizing my colleagues with their use. The internet was so incredibly slow that we did not get very far with the on line component, but familiarity with the operating systems is a time consuming process in itself, so the time was not wasted. I will be around until next Monday to assist and answer their questions. We will also be meeting to develop a plan for the new edition everyone is eager to create on this new if not rather small technology and software platform I am providing for them through the project.
 
Today they have taken the computers home to share as they explore further and use them on their own. Once again my day seemed short and amazingly similar. The morning sunny is especially vibrant out by the pool. As the afternoon heat builds the dark clouds again rolled in exploding in a mad burst of torrential rain that lasted for a few hours. However the heat continued to build.


It is now evening and the dark is settling in along with a cooler drop in the temperature. After dinner at the buffet tonight Maryanne and I are going to enjoy a traditional evening of Cuban music, culture and dance, a part of the special itinerary Marta has put together for us. Each cultural strand is supported by the government in jobs and funding organized around a little casa or house dedicated to preserving, continuing and representing each in the local communities across Cuba wherever they are popular or originated.

Santiago de Cuba is especially steeped in culture. It has continued to thrive, perhaps even more so having been cut off from the outside world for so long after the revolution. There is popular contemporary music and culture in the clubs and all that too, but we are looking forward to the real thing, rumbas, afrocuban and traditional music without the commercial influences. Over coffee and rinks I afterwards also informally catch up with the teachers progress and difficulties working on the new computers today.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So did they decide to reinstate Richard at the COP meeting today?

Jerry Gene said...

I like your style of writing. You break it down nicely. Very informative post. Keep up the good work.

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