We are privileged to minister to the kids age 13 to 17 at Cornerstone Presbyterian High School. We started by helping set up the computer lab with 24 computers running windows 8 with Office 2013 installed on each unit. There were no worries about drivers for ancillary devices making it a bit easier. As with most technology issues we ended up being unable to get three of the computers working. One had a virus so the IT director asked us to leave it be, another had a bad keyboard with no spare available at the time, and the last one refused to boot from a USB and install Windows. Out of 24 computers, only three did not work–a 12.5% fail rate we considered good.
For those who know me and my career history this will make perfect sense. Why? Because I used to set up computer classrooms all the time! However, there are a few differences in the rooms I used to set up 19 years ago and the one we just finished helping set up, albiet few! Let’s say technology is booming in Belize, back in the 20th century.
These computers are hardwired using twisted pair Ethernet cable which had to be hand pinned and crimped. No newfangled cable ends where you feed the wire through, crimp and cut off the ends this ensuring the cable will work. Painstakingly seating each of the eight wires into their slots, without dropping the cable otherwise the end pops off and…you guessed it, you have to start over. When that happens on the last wire, well it truly is heart wrenching!
Most all of the computers have a keyboard and mouse connecting via USB ports. However, there are a couple using the old style round connections. The mouse units are optical except for one, and all the spares, which throwback to the rollerball days. It is really amazing how difficult it is to use a rollerball mouse!
These monitors connect with VGA cables and there is a parallel port on the unit. Who remembers when we printed through a parallel cable? Anyone?
Yes, I am very tired! We worked hard for two full days. It was a great room to be in until the water vent on the air conditioning unit leaked into the room and on the table/computer. It was much harder to set up each unit, particularly on the second day when it was warm in the lab. At one point I had sweat running down my sides, back, and legs. Yucky!
Mike had the tougher job. He was the one crawling around on the floor after the cables had been fed through the drilled holes above. So, of the two of us, I had the easy job! Mike was also able to use his networking expertise to fix cables and test the network card in each machine to ascertain and correct any connectivity issues. At first the testing process proved a bit challenging Mike found himself in a quandary and finally turned off Windows Firewall temporarily and viola! Once he was able to solve the firewall issue, things moved quickly. We were able to make substantially more headway and finish everything we could to get the lab functional on the second day. By the end of the second day, we were exhausted and somewhat dehydrated.
Mr. Gonzales is the IT director at the school. He is very knowledgeable, upbeat, and fun. He recruited two other teachers to help with the setup. Both were somewhat shy but answered our questions and were ready to help us too! Interesting to note, most primary and secondary schools are without access to technology throughout the country. Computer use and internet access is generally limited to Post-Secondary schools, roughly equivalent to 12th grade in the United States.
The educational system here is very interesting and is overseen by the Ministry of Education. Primary school is divided into Infant 1 and 2 (Kindergarten and 1st grade). Standard 1 through 4 (2nd grade to 5th grade) is followed by Primary 5 and 6 and Lower Secondary Forms 1 and 2 (6th to 9th grade). Upper Secondary Forms 3 and 4 (10th and 11th grades) conclude public education. Students may then proceed to Tertiary or Vocational Education programs held at community colleges. Much like in the United States, students are given standardized tests at the conclusion of Primary 6, Form 4, and any Tertiary or Vocational programs students may elect to attend. Additionally, school is not free in Belize. Pathlight has some interesting information on the average cost for a family to send one child to school. Poverty rates are high here and it is widely believed education is the way this generation will escape poverty.
Our next project has started…more to come!