Room to Read believes opportunity is inherent in technology. However, after a careful and thoughtful process of conducting research, collecting internal and external feedback, and examining the economic forecast for the next several years, Room to Read has decided to temporarily suspend the Computer Room program. Existing Computer Room projects will continue to receive support, and Room to Read will fulfill its project obligations to the communities in which Computer Room projects have been established. However, no new projects or initiatives involving technology will be launched in 2009 or 2010.
Room to Read realizes that technology may ultimately play a key role in its efforts to bring educational opportunities to children in the developing world and we therefore still want to highlight the program below. However, at this time, Room to Read will focus its resources on improving the quality of its core programs with an eye towards revisiting the use of technology sometime in the future.
Although computer technology has brought great numbers of people closer together, thus far it has failed to reach millions who simply lack the necessary infrastructure to tap into it. Nowhere is the "digital divide" more visible than in developing countries. Throughout most of the developing world, computers are available to less than one percent of the population. Computer literacy is one of the largest unmet needs of the educational systems in our partner countries and often what holds young students back from being part of the global community and from improving their life situation.
Computer labs can have a life-changing impact on students. They provide core job skills and pre-vocational training in Information Technology for disadvantaged, at-risk youth populations. Furthermore, computer use helps reduce attrition rates by providing an incentive to students who might otherwise drop out of school. Thus, computer labs not only have an immediate impact of providing exposure to the outside world, they also provide for long-term growth and access to higher-paying jobs for students who would otherwise never have such opportunities.
The Room to Read Computer Room Approach
Room to Read has developed a Computer Room Program to meet many of these needs. It is one of the last programs we launch in our partner countries, as we have found it beneficial to establish a working relationship with communities through our School Room or Reading Room Programs prior to investing in a more expensive and complicated program.
Room to Read works with local schools and partner non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make computer access a reality through our Computer Room Program. Computer labs are established in schools and NGO-run community centers and consist of 10 to 20 computers (depending on country and room size), software, a printer, voltage stabilizers and Internet connection (where available); other basic needs such as furniture and a whiteboard are often included as well.
An integral aspect to this program is the training we provide to the computer lab teachers to help them develop a curriculum, to improve their computer teaching skills, and to ensure that hardware is maintained properly. The computer classes, and the teachers themselves, are periodically evaluated to quickly remedy any knowledge gaps and to reward successful programs with more computer resources. Over a three year period, we provide subsequent training, as well as additional software and occasionally additional computers.
Computer classes normally complement standard class time. In addition to teaching computer literacy and typing skills, the computers are used in conjunction with traditional classes to apply pragmatic application to relevant studies. Computer training and access are also often extended to members of the community after school hours.
One story of a successful Computer Room Program comes from Battambang, Cambodia, where we established a computer lab for the 4,000+ students at Net Yang Secondary School, a government school that caters to students from the surrounding rural areas. With many of his students too poor to afford access to private computer labs, the School Director approached Room to Read to establish a computer lab within the school. His desire was supported by the rest of the school administration, all of whom were highly committed to meeting and fulfilling our Challenge Grant requirements (see below).
After its completion in June 2005, the lab began serving many of the 429 students in grade nine, which has the highest rate of drop-out students. Students can use the lab twice for two hours each week. Students learn basic computer skills such as computer fundamentals and English and Khmer typing. One teacher, Mr. Neng Iv said, "[The] computer room will help students to stay at school. Children will gain a good benefit by studying the life skill from this project. The gift from Room to Read Cambodia would improve the human resource in my school."
Our Challenge Grant Model
Community commitment is central to our philosophy. On top of demonstrating need and dependability, Room to Read requires the school community to co-invest with us through our "Challenge Grant" model. We approach our partnerships in every locale with an understanding that the people involved have the best solutions. Our program requires local investment and involvement. Once a school community has been chosen as a future site for a Room to Read computer lab, they must make a contribution to the process. The local team selects partners based on the following criteria:
- The school community must initiate the request.
- The community must sign our "Challenge Grant" contract. This contract stipulates that the community must perform some sort of co-investment with us to establish the computer or language lab. In addition to providing a clean, renovated room to be the devoted lab, schools must provide the teachers to run the lab (at least one teacher must go though Room to Read training), committed oversight of the ongoing project, and lab security. Furthermore, the school community is responsible for funding ongoing maintenance and electricity associated with the lab, and Internet access, if available.