In this four-part ScratchEd feature story series, we explore ways that Scratch is being implemented in classrooms around the world, with a focus on developing countries. The stories expand upon common challenges and strategies shared by three educators: Alisha Panjwani, Julia Reynolds, and Claudia Urrea, who share their experiences using Scratch in developing nations around the world.
Directing the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)’s educational programs in over 40 countries around the world, Claudia has spent a lot of time in airports. She passed the time by reading. “I’d buy a book at the airport, and I’d get on a plane with something to read.” Claudia’s expansive experience showed her the widespread effects and positive change educational reform can bring about on culture. At the same time, her worldwide travels provided a constant reminder to check her assumptions at the airport bookstore. “For example, we’re used to books. But for some countries, a book is a foreign object. You have to be aware of the assumptions you make and respect the culture to facilitate it in a different way that is respectful of what they expect to happen. What resources and how you promote them and how you create the culture change is beneficial to people as well. For instance, if the parents don’t read, and the teachers are not used to reading, and the principals aren’t reading, culturally, if people are not used to reading, the digital form of books alone is not going to make a difference – and it’s something we sometimes take for granted. So for example, in countries such as Nicaragua and Paraguay, the local teams have made a huge effort to promote reading.”
Seeing Scratch being implemented in such a variety of places in such a variety of ways, Claudia noticed a trend. “I think that in terms of school culture, recognizing the need for change is something that is worldwide. There are countries where the educational system is more traditional. We promoted learning by doing, but this was hard to implement in countries where, culturally, this was not accepted.”
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t stories of programs having widespread impact. Claudia has plenty of inspiring stories to share. For example, the story of Uruguay. “A country in which a change was introduced in the constitution as a result of the program. The country changed its constitution to make sure the right education includes access to both a digital device and Internet. Uruguay now has free Internet for all kids, at home and at school. The students in primary public schools have a laptop machine and most of the kids in middle school have a laptop or some other device. Unless the government changes its constitution again, the children of Uruguay will continue to use technology. I hope that the government and those in charge will continue to rethink education as they observe and learn about how the children use the technology in powerful ways.”
Julia Reynolds confirmed the universal challenge of traditional school culture, recalling her shock when a seemingly simple question stumped her Rwandan students. “I would ask the students, ‘Can you tell me a story?’ And the kids would say, ‘I don’t know any stories.’ We would say, ‘Well, think of a story,’ and they could not tell you anything. They might say, ‘My name is xxx and I am in school,’ plus whatever they might have been told or rehearsed in the past. People underestimate culture. Our team saw that people from abroad would come with a certain expectation and not appreciating the culture.” Helping teachers to see Scratch as an integral part of the learning process, and not a stand-alone activity, was another cultural roadblock. “People have this idea that laptops are this separate thing. The teachers at school would say, “Okay, now we are done. Now everyone close [your laptops], because we are going to go back to learning.” To combat traditional top-down pedagogical methods employed by local schools, Julia and her team incorporated open-ended learning activities using Scratch to engage students’ imaginations. “Scratch was very helpful in allowing us the open opportunity to do anything. We would tell them, ‘I’m not going to tell you what to draw.’”
In Bangalore, India, Alisha Panjwani and her fellow facilitators worked to integrate Scratch across the curriculum. Alisha noticed that students began connecting Scratch to out-of-school activities, bringing their classroom learning experiences home, and vice versa. “It’s very important how you introduce Scratch, as not just a computational tool, but as a medium of expression. I was thrilled when a lot of the kids started coming to me to work on their own personal projects.” Alisha cites the work of a student who was reluctant to learn Hindi. “We engaged kids in designing story based games about dilemmas and choices they make in life. It was a multilingual-based project and a combination of Wellness curriculum, Language curriculum, ICT, and Art. The project was a game with a narrative, and one student shared, ‘I had to record my voice in Hindi. I usually don’t speak it and I usually don’t collaborate, but I went to my friends’ house and then we started doing Scratch together.’” (See the Hindi Scratch project below.)
Although Alisha recognized that a collaborative, student-centered approach to teaching and learning isn’t accepted everywhere, she was hopeful for Project Vision’s process and people. “Some schools have a more conventional way of teaching where the focus is more on the curriculum, textbook definitions, and deliverables. We worked very interdisciplinary. If someone was doing something in Math, how could we link it to that? We tried to design activities that could link everything together into the larger picture. School is a space – it is a learning community, not just a place where there are teachers and students. They were learning from me as much as I was learning from them. There, we were whole as a community.”
Does your work focus on using Scratch in developing countries? Do you recognize any of these potentials and/or challenges in your work? Or what other strategies or challenges have you encountered? Please share your thoughts and experiences below. We’d love to hear from you!