Steppe by Steppe, Side by Side - Schools Connect
After traveling through the rural areas of Kazakhstan, we have decided that we would like to expand this project to help the people of Kazakhstan. We would like to set up a new program to provide free internet-ready notebooks, an internet connection, educational software (encyclopedias etc), teaching aids, computer training, and an information technology teacher to rural schools of Kazakhstan. Having access to these resources in the remote villages will allow the brighter students to expand their educational prospects without having to leave their village, traditional lifestyle, and family for the city.Our aim is that by providing access to these resources in remote villages, will allow the students to expand their educational prospects without having to leave their village, traditional lifestyle, village traditions and customs, or family, for the city – something which the community often finds very damaging in this rapidly changing and globalised world.
Throughout our project, we have visited many schools in very remote rural areas, these schools are often very under resourced – lacking sporting equipment, proper toilets, libraries and many other facilities that we ourselves take for granted today. Adequate phone lines/reception is often non-existent in these areas also – let alone the internet. Most people in these remote villages have never even seen a computer, let alone used the internet.
In these rural areas (where hardly anyone has seen a computer), there are very limited prospects for further education. We hope that by providing a few laptops, internet access (along basic training) and software, to a school, we can increase their chances of continued higher education. Access to global information will greatly enhance their awareness, understanding, and knowledge of the larger community that we are all apart of, resulting in greater empowerment at both a communal and personal level, thus greatly increasing their developmental prospects.
Our other goal is to partner each participating school in Kazakhstan to a sister school in Australia, it will allow students in these distant regions of the world to learn and grow together with open minds. This can only be done however once these schools have access to the internet (and thus telephone lines, electricity, and computers). The partnered schools will then be able to keep in regular contact with each other, learning about each others traditions, lifestyle, and culture.
Many of the children speak and write at a basic level of English, once this program is up and running we hope to further increase their English skills with the most advanced English learning software(since the teachers themselves often have poor English schools) and resources, to allow them to better communicate with both these schools and the outside world. Thus enabling them to actively participate in the global community they are a part of – as truly global citizens.
Learning about and appreciating the complexity and diversity of other cultures is key to reducing conflicts around the globe. Furthering our knowledge and understanding of the world we live in, can only enhance our connections to this global community we are all a part of. It is only by connecting to and understanding the rest of the world that we can begin to solve the greatest problems that plague mankind today. It is only by working together as a united global community that these ills that confront the world can be eradicated and the goals that we so dearly want can be achieved. Inter-cultural connectiveness is the key to this, our children are the key to our future, let us open both these doors, for only once new doorways are opened, can new insights be gained.
At the moment, we have about 6 different schools in Karaganda Oblast that we are working with, but we hope that this number will soon grow. We have a NGO partner over here in Kazakhstan, the Karaganda Ecomuseum. Our contact there Vitaliy Shuptar, and he can be contacted at Avalon@guide.kz (he speaks English and is a Kazakhstani Citizen). The Karaganda Department of Education, is also supporting us, and we can put you in contact with them also if you wish (they only speak Kazakh and Russian). They have been very helpful in getting this project underway. We just need some schools in Australia who are interested in buddying up with a sister/brother school in rural Kazakhstan, as well as anyone interested in helping us fund the laptops, internet training, support, logistics and monitoring. If anyone has any ideas/suggestions or offers of help, please give us a shout!
We believe that education is the greatest possible tool for development, and that every child should have the right and ability to receive the best possible education. In the 21st century, computers are playing an increasingly important role in the ability to access educational resources and as educational tools themselves. On top of this, access to the internet is vital to learning more about the world we live in, and communicating with the rest of the world. It is only by staying connected to the rest of the world, by utilizing the most up to date and technologically advanced teaching and educational resources, that this goal of providing our children with the best educational resources available possible can be achieved. Our children are our future, and our very future depends on providing them with the best education
Education is the key to political, social, and economic development. With global events already dramatically affecting the rest of the world at an increasing rate, and the future being left in our children’s hand, it is with utmost urgency that our children must be prepared to undertake this enormous task of managing their own future. We cannot tell what kind of future out children will inherit, the only thing we can do is best prepare our children to cope with, change, and thus lead the future we give them.
However, the educational systems in place, in much of rural Kazakhstan, lies rooted in the past, the resources and infrastructure these schools have, is something most people cannot even imagine existing in the modern world. Can you image working, learning, socializing, or growing without either telephone access to the rest of the world, the internet, reliable electricity or a computer?
Connecting these schools up to the internet, allows them to open up the door to enhanced educational development. The previous restriction and limits in place will no longer exist. It is not capability that these school children lack, but rather infrastructure, resources, and thus opportunity. The huge potential of these school children can only be unlocked by access to improved educational prospects. However just giving these schools access to the internet (and thus computers) is not just some miracle cure. The cure itself, is bound up inside every child
These schools lack even the most basic infrastructure to make technologically assisted education possible – no access to the outside world by telephone, intermittent electricity etc. Before we can even being to give these schools computers and the internet, reliable telephone access and electricity has to be achieved first. Reliable electricity and telephone access does not just benefit the school and its pupils but rather the whole town as well, proving access to outside services in the event of medical emergencies etc.
Providing basic telephone access and reliable electricity for these computers can be achieved at relatively little cost. We ourselves have tested many of the available options so can testify to their feasibility, ourselves running an Asus EEE off a 12watt solar panel for 6 months in Kazakhstan, with no troubles. Once these two issues are addressed, proving basic computer and internet access can also be provided at relatively minimal cost, the most basic Asus EEE (or OLPC unit) only costing a few hundred dollars, and a USB modem (or dial-up modem) costing about $80 here.
One of the keys to increased educational prospect is by being able to utilise universal technology and tools. In rural Kazakhstan of the children speak Kazakh, and they learn Russian, and to a minute extent English at school. Giving these children enhanced ability to learn English, will allow them to better engage with the rest of the world, as well as with their partner schools in Australia.. Whilst Kazakh itself is a very beautiful and poetic language full of history and rich in culture, it is not the most conducive tool for global communication. Being already skilled in Russian, we believe that English would be the next most beneficial to them.
By “Law” all schools in Kazakhstan must teach English, however what “teach” is interpreted as is a different matter, as often the English teachers themselves have had very little (if any) formal English language training. It thus perpetuates a very sad cycle, with the English teacher imparting part of their knowledge onto a student, who then becomes the English teacher of that same school (as is often the case), who then imparts part of their knowledge onto the next generation of students, one of which who becomes the school English teacher, each cycle losing key aspects of the English language, ending up in a vicious negative regress. Many of the English teachers we have spoken to only just finished school, and were the best English student, and thus asked to become the English teacher of that school, with no other formal training,
We feel that it would be important first and foremost to get reliable phone access to both these villages, both for safety, economic development, and education. Following on from this (and only after this) will it be possible to get internet access in these remote areas, and thus connect them up to partner schools in Australia Thus our plan now is to install GSM repeater stations (they cost about $350 each to buy), powered perhaps by solar or wind, at the highest point in both these villages to give them some mobile phone coverage, and to use this then to acquire internet via USB modems (which cost around $80 each). The remoteness of these villages necessitates these measures.
Here is a brief outline of the 6 schools we are working with at the moment (and as finances/resources permit, hopefully many more schools than this in the future!). These schools are listed by location, further details of the schools (contact details of the village mayor, of the school director, photos of the students/school, a map etc can be provided upon request)
Malshybai is a very remote village of some 400 people, but the population is rapidly declining as people move away. The main industry here is herding animals in a semi-subsistence lifestyle, the horses here outnumbering the people themselves. When it snows here, the village is cut off from the rest of the world, due to lack of access. The school itself has 57 pupils and no science labs to do experiments. A lot of this is due to the lack of infrastructure in the region – where there are equal numbers of hours when there is electricity and where there is not, where there is no mobile phone reception, and where there is no telephone lines connecting to the village (they communicate with radio telegram, which again spends more time out of action than working due to the sporadic electricity).
The school here only goes up to grade 9, since they do not have any pupils wanting to continue studying beyond that. Most pupils just want to get into the workforce ASAP to help their parents earn enough income, thus letting their education suffer. The education system in Kazakhstan however, provides for education in years 10 and 11. In year 9 there are 8 students, in year 8 there are 8 students, in year 7 there were 7, and in the remaining years it alternates between 4 and 5 students. Interestingly enough there are more students in the higher grades than in the lower grades, again showing how the village population is decreasing. By the time most students finish year 9, most have never done a science experiment, sent an email or learnt more than a few basic words in English.
Some people have left this village to go to the further away(a few hours drive) big towns since the school was so ill equipped, so it is hoped that by providing them with better resources/infrastructure, this does not need to occur so much. The School director here is also the most recent ex-Akim(Mayor) of the village and thus is highly respected. This school is in dire need of adequate English learning resources, as well as infrastructure to be able to connect to the outside world.
Kyzyl-Arai is arguably one of the most scenic and unspoilt areas in Kazakhstan, with natural rock towers enshrouded in lush mountain greenery (in summer of course), this however comes with a price of remoteness and difficulty of access. The village itself depends on herding animals for a living (mainly horses and sheep), which graze the mountains in summer, fattening up to survive the long harsh winter ahead. During the winter, houses, herds of animals, and grass, get completely buried by snow, causing much loss of livestock. This is happening with increasing frequency each winter, meaning, the people often lack the funds to give their children the best education. Kyzl-Arai, has no mobile phone reception at all, and the landline system is used only to call other houses in the village. Thus making any form of communication with the outside world (let alone communication in an emergency) near impossible.
Terekty is a small little village with a single school of 197 students (ranging from 4 year old pre-school to grade 9). The sole English teacher here is a 20 year old, 2nd year student, (studying English at a college) coming out to teach English two days a week. She cannot keep in touch with the school or the students outside of these days, due to their lack of internet. She is very enthusiastic about this project however, as are the students. These students are very excited about the prospects of having online pen-pals, to learn more about the Australian way of life, and to share their culture and traditions with the schools in Australia. Being a very new Teacher, and having only learnt English for a few years, both she and her students are looking forward to practicing their English by conversing with students in Australia
This school is a resource centre for all the other rural schools in the area. Teachers from all the other rural schools would come here 4 times a year to study English, and had access to their small library collection also. Rostovka itself had quite good facilities (because it was the local resource centre), as well as 2 very good English teachers who very enthusiastic about setting up a system of communication; not just so the students of Australia and Kazakhstan could correspond with each other, but so the teachers of Australia and Kazakhstan could talk to each other to learn new teaching techniques from each other as well. They were very keen on acquiring some new English learning aids also, since they were the sole teaching resource centre in the region, where all the local schools came to get English learning/teaching resources. This school teaches in both Kazakh and Russian.
Kingirr is one of the better (comparatively) resourced schools, with a very enthusiastic man as director. Understanding the role and computers and information technology in the future of education, he is very glad to here of our plan. He is also very enthusiastic about setting up a partnership with an Australian school, so that both countries could benefit from learning about another culture. The is a free government school, and has a very successful policy of proving three meals a day, all for free, for its students up to year 4, thus encouraging even the most disadvantaged families to send their children to school to, a problem for many of the schools in this region.
Shabanbai-bi is surrounded with a fascinating landscape of caves, streams, mountains, and rivers, virtually untouched and untainted.. Shabanbai-Bi, like Kyzl-Arai, has no mobile phone reception at all, and the landlines system is used only to call other houses in the village. Thus making any form of communication with the outside world (let alone communication in an emergency) near impossible. The first task here before computers and internet can be effectively used, to is provide telephone reception for the area.