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  • Writer's pictureChristina Mesk

Computadores Para Educar: Sustainability Meets Problem-Based Learning in Colombian Classrooms

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

La pandemia. It doesn't matter where you teach, the pandemic forever altered the landscape of education. Families all over the world saw a pause in their children's education and a lack of classroom or school community due to their inability to access reliable internet and devices. La pandemia was referenced in every conversation I had in #Colombia with teachers, students, families, administrators and representatives from private educational companies. Long before the pandemic, educators knew the high value problem-based learning, STEAM and the Engineering Design Process brought to our students.

Living through the pandemic, we are witnesses and beneficiaries to the vaccines that resulted from the Engineering Design Process. Our shared struggles over the last two years should motivate all teachers and administrators to ensure that ALL STUDENTS have the opportunity to engage in problem-based learning, STEAM and the Engineering Design Process during the school day.

On our first full day in Bogotá we were brought to CENARE or The National Center for Use of Electronic Waste. Initially, I was not very excited about this visit. I wasn't sure why a recycling center was part of our itinerary and what connections it had to education in #Colombia. However, my eyes were quickly opened through several passionate and engaging presentations from Computadores Para Educar. Computadores Para Educar partners with CENARE to provide a sustainable solution to bring technology, coding, STEAM and the Engineering Design Process into Colombian classrooms. Not only does Computadores Para Educar provide technology, professional development, grade-banded curriculums and country-wide student competitions at no cost to participating teachers in #Colombia, but they also collect out-of-date and unused technology. This out-of-date technology is brought to CENARE where it is taken apart by a crew of largely deaf engineers. The parts are sorted by their usefulness. Hazardous materials and parts are safely disposed. The useful parts are then used to build very engaging STEM kits that will go back out to participating classrooms in Computadores Para Educar.

Computadores Para Educar was not created in response to the pandemic.

In 1999, the idea for this program was approved by the President of the Republic and programming began in 2001. Their mission is to, "promote educational innovation with digital technologies, contributing to the welfare and sustainable development of society, promoting access and the generation of knowledge." After participating in an application process, accepted teachers and schools are eligible to receive laptops, tablets and 3D printers. The types of technology teachers receive depends on the age of their students and the type of professional development teachers choose. One option includes a kit that has electronic elements and the other includes a kit that builds on environmental elements. In order to receive certification (El Diplomado Edumaker), teachers must use the curriculum with students. All the curriculum materials engage students with problem-based learning because "analyzing by doing" is considered one of the best ways to increase student competencies in #Colombia. Computadores Para Educar wants students to be able to generalize engineering practices and create their own prototypes when exploring solutions. Computadores Para Educar also provides specific programming to support families with the use of technology. At the time of our visit, Computadores Para Educar was working with 4,200 teachers and 40,000 students throughout #Colombia. The presenters shared that they focus on promoting, monitoring and evaluating within all their programming. They pay close attention to how useful the technology was in each teachers' hand, so that they can continue to offer impactful resources for teachers and students.

Our visit to CENARE led me to do a lot of reflecting on my research question.

How do educators, education leadership and education policy in the US and Colombia ensure equity and accessibility so that all students develop agency and independence?

A) How do varying academic environments define success and how

is this messaged?

B) How much agency do educators, students, families and school

leadership have to impact change in their school community?

I believe that Computadores Para Educar is helping participating students to develop agency and independence through their problem-based approach to learning. As we observed the components of their various STEM kits, I noticed a parallel to the Engineering Adventure Kits and Curriculum available through the Boston Museum of Science. I was able to teach engineering for a few summers as part of the NYC DOE summer school curriculum. I always enjoyed using Engineering Adventures and saw a huge increase in student engagement and critical thinking as a result of their problem-based approach to learning. I imagine that there is a similar impact for students who are participating in Computadores Para Educar. My students seemed to enjoy participating in Engineering Adventures because the learning felt like play and the criteria for success was always clear to the students due to the implicit structure of problem-based learning. I was always very disappointed that Engineering Adventures was not part of our curriculum during the school year and now I find myself wishing I could participate in Computadores Para Educar. The quality of the the STEM kits provided by Computadores Para Educar is of greater quality than Engineering Adventures. These kits build on the skills synthesized through multiple years of participation and make use of the technology that has been provided such as coding software and 3D printers.

I'm also very attracted to the sustainability that Computadores Para Educar and CENARE are creating through their partnership. According to The World Counts, humans generate 40 million tons of electronic waste every year, worldwide and only 12.5% is recycled. It is comparable to throwing away 800 laptops every second. I am lucky to be part of a school system that does provide students with devices and replaces them when they are no longer useable. However, I don't really know what happens to those unusable devices. Where do they go? What does the NYC DOE do with them? Technology updates very quickly, and it would be very beneficial to our local and global environment if we were able to upcycle the useful parts of these devices to build STEM kits for students. Not only would we be helping the environment by keeping e-waste out of landfills, but we would also be helping a new generation of students practice the skills within the engineering design process so that they could possibly generate future solutions for humanity. This type of approach or partnership between schools and technology companies would be paying forward benefits in a multitude of ways.

I do have questions about the long term impact of this initiative on students within #Colombia; particularly after visiting a variety of public schools within Bogotá. In hindsight, I wonder if participation in Computadores Para Educar results in higher achievement scores on the Colombian National Exam. I also wonder how Computadores Para Educar attempts to reach out to students, families and teachers in rural areas of #Colombia where it is difficult to have access to the internet. I also want to know if participating teachers advocated to bring this opportunity to their schools or if administrators asked teachers to participate. Finally, I wonder how much funding for this initiative comes from the government and how much of it comes from private donations or grants. I have similar questions for school systems in the US that implement engineering curriculums and provide devices to students.

I am eager to learn more about the impact that Computadores Para Educar creates for Colombian students, families and teachers and I am so grateful for our experience at CENARE. I am eager to investigate if there are any US-based organizations that are taking a similar sustainable approach to supporting STEAM and problem-based learning within local school systems.

My biggest take away from this experience at CENARE with Computadores Para Educar is the confirmation that impactful learning feels like play and is problem-based. Children will leave our classrooms and are going to forget content. However, they are not going to forget experiences in which they were in charge of their learning and engaged in generating solutions. Providing problem-based learning opportunities will empower our students and provide them with competencies they can transfer to any number of professional fields.

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