“Jean Pierre, can you please read your homework on the days of the week?” Cara Sampson calls into a laptop webcam from her home in Fishers, Indiana. The young Haitian boy in Port Au Prince looks down at the floor as his teacher’s face glows from the laptop screen in a hot semi-dark schoolroom, located in the middle of a tent city where 55,000 refugees have now been living for more than a year.
Cara asks again, “Jean Pierre, can you please read your homework?” The boy stares at the pretty white face on the monitor, hesitates and then looks down again in silence. “All right, perhaps later,” Cara says kindly. ‘How about Kimberly, are you there?” Kimberly can you come up and read your dictation?” Slowly, the 15-year-old girl with black hair woven into neat braids, steps forward, looks in silence for a moment, and then begins a halting sentence. “On Monday, I go to the market. On Tuesday I cook rice.”
Children in Haiti being taught English over Skype video
This is the scene that recently repeated itself time and again during the first week of a new class conducted by Teach The World Online in the former Petoinville Golf Club in Haiti’s Capital. We were trying to teach young boys and girls via Skype video who have been so destabilized by events of the past year that they could scarcely talk. Our job was to gain their trust and offer them an education in a world which has brought them nothing but misery and pain for the past year. I was spending the month in Haiti specifically to make sure Teach The World Online succeeded while my co-founder, Jurate Kazickas “skyped” me each morning to discuss the project.
After several delays, we finally began teaching at the Petoinville refugee camp where thousands of children sit idly day after day with nothing to do. During the first few classes I tried to balance a terrible fear that this wasn’t going to work with a desperate hope that we could help these traumatised children. Occasionally, I jumped up to give advice through our webcam microphone to Cara and our classroom assistant Haitian teacher, Dimitri Napoleon, on how to work the multi-media and interactive devices we had created for teaching on the internet.
“Ask them to come forward two at a time and introduce themselves,” I called to Cara in Indiana and Dimitri, who sat at the front of the room working the laptop and translating instructions into Creole when necessary. Speaking slowly and with clarity, Cara soon had the children introducing themselves to each other. Quickly, they began to forget their fears, their self-consciousness. A few began to laugh.
Then Cara called for Dimitri to play a YouTube video associated with the day’s lesson about food and going to the market. It was a silly video called “Yummy In The Tummy,” but the students began laughing and singing, even memorizing the words, “I like apples” or “I like carrots”. Neural pathways were opening up. Learning was underway. These Haitian refugee children had finally began the long journey to receive a quality education via a new and most exciting educational delivery system.
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