In a poor neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia, children live in conditions that EDC’s Kit Yasín describes as “bare bones.” Spartan in their simplicity, many homes have rudimentary electricity and few amenities. Further isolating these youngsters is the country’s ongoing civil war, which has displaced and terrorized Colombians, leaving them reluctant to travel even short distances.
Abutting this stark reality lies another world—largely unexplored and unappreciated by most Cartagena residents. A lush, mangrove forest hosting a wealth of tropical plants, animals, and sea organisms—some of the most biodiverse wetland habitats on the planet—thrives just off the coast. Mangroves, trees and shrubs that grow in saltwater coastal areas, are biologically unique and also serve as a buffer from erosion and storms. For the Cartagenan children served by EDC’s “Illuminate!” project, these mangroves are their gateway to discovering ecology and software, and a mechanism to connect with other students from both Colombia and the United States.
Through Illuminate!, says Yasín, EDC researchers are testing the viability and cost-effectiveness of computer technology to bridge the geographic isolation facing many students in developing countries and help them communicate with one another and open their horizons.
Illuminate! utilizes software—Elluminate Live!—that allows students to communicate online about their experiences in exploring the mangroves. Through bi-weekly interchanges, they share ideas, images, videos, and drawings. This pilot is part of the dot-EDU program, a multi-country education initiative which improves quality, expands access, and enhances equity through digital and broadcast technologies. Dot-EDU is based in EDC’s International Education Systems Division.
Staff from local environmental NGOs donate their time to teach middle school students about mangroves, reef systems, and other native ecosystems. Thanks to a Cartagena eco-tourism organization, the Cultura del Mar, students are learning how mangrove forests are integral to the balance and survival of their local ecology. Last August, the students—calling themselves Los Guardianes del Mangle (Guardians of the Mangroves)—completed a service learning activity, cleaning up a local park populated by mangroves.
“It was amazing to see 7th and 8th grade kids show up for this activity at 7 a.m. on a Saturday,” says Yasín. “There must have been about 60 of them, and they stayed there until noon.”
The students then shared their experiences via the Internet with other students in Colombia and have connected with a public charter middle school in Washington, D.C. The Academia Bilingüe de la Comunidad (ABC) is a Bilingual English and Spanish total-immersion school comprised mainly of immigrant Salvadoran students. The entire junior high school participated in a virtual visit as they listened to the Guardians in Colombia talk about their experiences with this program.
After the virtual visit the U.S. students were inspired to conduct their own clean-up day in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.
The Guardians also have read stories, listened to educational radio programs, and written rap songs—all relating to mangroves. They recently won an international competition to illustrate a calendar produced by the non-profit Mangrove Action Project (MAP).
Student outcomes from Illuminate!
Through the project, the Guardians have developed greater comfort using a computer for educational purposes, as well as other less tangible skills and abilities.
“They have broadened their horizons. They have learned to share experiences with people outside of their community. And they have become expert in a content area,” says Yasín. “They take pride in being referred to as the Guardians of the Mangroves in their city, and are proud to be involved in something positive.”
One of the Washington students who is originally from Senegal brought in a picture of his mother and sister taken in front of the mangroves in his native country.“It was really great for other students to see this ecosystem represented elsewhere in the world,” states Yasín. “It helped to demonstrate their shared connection with the Colombian children, even though they live several thousand miles away from each other.”
Originally published on April 30, 2007