Much more than access to technology

This summer, I visited six schools in Guatemala - 5 elementary schools and 1 middle school. These are all "TINFA schools": the schools are provided the TINFA technology kit and the teachers receive ongoing education and leadership development opportunities. This was my first visit to Guatemala (the first of several, I hope), and while there was much that was new and noteworthy to me, here I focus on TINFAs impact and the perception of TINFA among the students, teachers and school administrators.

Guatemala schools are vibrant communities despite scarce resources

One of the first things that struck me was the positive, energetic vibe at the schools. These are public schools in rural areas or small towns near the town of Retalhuleu (map). The kids come from families that do not have much and the schools themselves are not particularly well stocked. Despite this, I found the children full of life and observed many great student-teacher interactions. There is some parent/community involvement too, and I got to meet several parents, all of whom were deeply appreciative of TINFA.

  Lunchtime! Students pay for lunch. The PTA and teachers sometimes chip in for students that cannot afford it.

Lunchtime! Students pay for lunch. The PTA and teachers sometimes chip in for students that cannot afford it.

TINFA is highly appreciated

Emma, Cesar and I visited each of these schools to touch base with the teachers, principal and students, answer any questions they had and to observe classes in session to see how effectively the teachers were engaging the students in class. Cesar also taught an example class and gave some individual technology coaching to teachers.  

  Cesar teaching a model Geography class. The students are gesturing where to pan and zoom the map to get to a particular landmark.

Cesar teaching a model Geography class. The students are gesturing where to pan and zoom the map to get to a particular landmark.

Despite the "working-trip" nature of our visits, the schools inevitably put up a great reception for us - it seems to be part of Guatemalan culture. We were invited to speak at whole-school assemblies and had group lunches with all the teachers in the school. Often, the principal would accompany us to visit each class.

   A school assembly and dance put up on the occasion of our visit.

A school assembly and dance put up on the occasion of our visit.

 We got many impromptu comments from teachers, students, and parents on how much they appreciate the work TINFA is doing in their schools.

  Students would often come up and chat.

Students would often come up and chat.

TINFA's impact is deeper that you may realize

What underlies the appreciation that teachers, students, administrators and parents have for TINFA? There were certainly several specific examples of teachers recounting how they could convey concepts much more effectively with the help of the technology (projectors/laptops, online content). But there also seemed to be the sense of pride that comes with being part of something larger. For teachers, this meant being part of a small but growing community that is, thanks to TINFA, becoming technology-savvy and networking together. They share ideas, develop new curriculum and have opportunities to grow as leaders in the teaching community. One of the areas where TINFA is having the greatest impact is in providing these opportunities for teachers to grow both individually and as a community

  Cesar and Emma discussing progress with teachers and school principal.

Cesar and Emma discussing progress with teachers and school principal.

Help TINFA grow and have broader impact

TINFA today is a very lean organization – imagine, Cesar, our on the ground person, shuttling between schools on his motorbike, conducting skill level trainings, facilitating grade level curriculum building , providing one-on-one feedback to each of the teachers . The methodology directly and deeply addresses the teachers and their students’ needs. It is very clear to me that the time is ripe to scale up efforts - not just to increase the number of schools where TINFA works, but (more significantly, I feel) to invest in joint curriculum development and teacher leadership training. Much of this can be then applied to other Spanish speaking countries, making this a highly leveraged investment. I urge you to contribute in any way you can to this effort. If you are already contributing to TINFA, thank you. I hope that given the additional perspective in this article, you will be motivated to increase your investment in TINFA. If you have not yet contributed to TINFA, please consider doing so and rest assured that your contribution will have a deep and lasting impact.

The annual dinner is coming up, this Saturday. This is a wonderful way to learn more about the organization and to support it. We would love to see you there. If you cannot make it, please consider making a donation here

Joseph Joy, TINFA board member.