Sun, Aug 21, 2011 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: Distance learning a hit in Amazon

‘DOOR FOR REVOLUTION’:The Internet is allowing students in remote areas that cannot attract teachers to get an education in a way that engages them


The Internet is letting a school sprout in the Amazon where teachers tend not to linger due to harsh living conditions and a scarcity of students.

Teachers in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas State, conduct lessons streamed to students in the village of Tumbira using an Internet connection made possible with a generator-powered radio signal.

If not for “distance learning,” children from far-flung Amazon river communities would forgo school or endure arduous boat trips to places with traditional schools.

“There was skepticism whether this system would work,” Tumbira school director Izolena Garrido said on Friday. “It seemed like there was a lot of outside maneuvering to keep the school from functioning.”

While Internet technology made the school possible, opposition came from traditional schools in cities that saw money spent on distance-learning as eating into government funding for public education.

“So, we established a model for teaching and learning and just got the school going,” Garrido said. “With or without students, we were going to get this school going.”

A home for the distance--learning school was created by Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS), which built classrooms, a library and even sleeping quarters where students could string up hammocks that serve as bedding in the Amazon.

Garrido enlisted local teachers and invited parents to visit the school, which provides an intimate setting. Children from six Amazon communities aside from Tumbira signed on for the program launched about 18 months ago.

“Technology, in many ways, opens the door for revolution,” FAS superintendent Virgilio Viana said during a visit to Tumbira.

“Here, we are only able to do what we are doing with education because of technology, because of the Internet ... If not for this, it would not be possible,” he said.

Tumbira classes take place in the afternoons and evenings, when the generator runs and there is power for the Internet.

Children intently watch teachers on flat-screen monitors equipped with Web cameras that let distant teachers see students, peruse homework or follow exercises in classes.

“It’s as if the teacher is in the classroom,” said 16-year-old Ednaldo, one of the 76 students at the Tumbira school.

Courses range from math and sciences to first aid, health and exercise.

Local teachers sit with students, answering questions and helping with assignments.

“It is a pretty amazing experience,” Tumbira teacher Yolanda de Jesus dos Santos said.

“Children really love electronics and the Internet, and this method saves time,” she added. “I don’t have to plan every class, so I can focus on dance, theater and other projects for the children.”

Students pay attention because if they miss anything important, the teachers will not be around after class to answer questions, dos Santos said.

Students click icons to virtually raise hands in chat rooms used for questions or comments during classes.

“It is different from other schools, but at the same time it is the same,” 12-year-old student Angeliane said. “The teacher teaches.”

Homework is done at school, which features a library, Internet and assisting teachers like dos Santos.

“Last year, I was in a school with big classes and no organization and it was a mess,” Angeliane said. “Now, I have a better class with fewer people and I get involved more.”

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