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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Contact: Beth Santos, firstname.lastname@example.org, 603.661.1273, http://bethstepsup.blogspot.com
Middle School in São Tomé e Príncipe Begins Computer Program; Lacks Funds
A new computer literacy program headed by a young New Hampshire native is putting one of the earth's smallest nations on the World Wide Web.
On Saturday mornings, 100 students and five teachers at the São João secondary school, on the small West African island of São Tomé e Príncipe, cram themselves into a single classroom. Students sweat bullets in a room that often has no electricity, spending four hours typing on bright green energy-efficient laptop computers. The supplementary class is headed by 23 year-old teacher Beth Santos and São Tomean computer professor Miguel Afonso da Boa Esperança. After receiving 100 laptop computers through MIT's One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program, São João chose 100 sixth grade students to participate in a developmental milestone for the school and the country.
Through 100-computer deployments all over the world, One Laptop per Child (OLPC) aims to supply laptop computers to schools in disadvantaged countries. The computers are fully equipped with a camera and microphone, wifi access and a Linux-based operating system called Sugar. Yet the laptops come with higher expectations than just developing skills in word processing, photography and research science. It is the hope of OLPC that the computers will nurture students' sense of creativity and discovery, promoting an interest in education that will expand country-wide. The computers are highly personalized to reflect the progress of one individual student's advancing use, allowing students to take them home and share them regularly with family and friends.“These students are so excited to learn, it's amazing,” Santos says. “Kids regularly come to class that aren't even ours. They're blatantly lying to us in order to get a chance to participate.”
The program has made headlines across the island in both media and government sectors. It has also accrued interest in Portugal (of which São Tomé e Príncipe is a former colony) and OLPC's hometown, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where OLPC's own have lauded the São João school's success.
However, the school is desperately short on computers for its sixth grade class, as the initial donation of 100 computers is significantly less than the size of the current sixth grade, which is 612 students. For this reason, the computers cannot be utilized during class time, because they are not accessible to everyone. “We so desperately want to be able to use these computers the way they're supposed to be used- during all disciplines, every day of the week,” Santos says. “Right now the program is great but it's lacking a very fundamental element because there is just no funding.” Once the school acquires enough computers for its students, the computers will be redistributed to the next sixth grade class for as many years as possible.
Santos and Esperança both hope that, with enough computers to serve the sixth grade – a critical year before a transition to high school that only some students make – more students will be eager to learn, to become educated and to improve the circumstances of an impoverished country.
Back at home in Washington, D.C., Santos is working to bring more computers to the São João School. When she's not busy seeking corporate or foundational sponsorship, Santos coaches a high school crew team and is editor of Go Girl Magazine, a blog for independent women who travel. She also receives enthusiastic emails from her students on a regular basis – emails from children that, at the beginning of the school year, had never touched a computer in their lives. “Every time I get an email from one of them, I get excited all over again,” she says. “Hardly anyone at that school speaks a word of English. Now they're connecting to each other and to the world outside. They're realizing that there is so much more out there.”
For more information about the program or to make a donation, please visit http://bethstepsup.blogspot.com. To learn more about OLPC, visit http://www.laptop.org.