Change races at us. New cars emerge annually, new gadgets seasonally, new software daily. In a blink, a storm juggled life for millions. Yet some phenomena persist. Educational progress for many remains stuck in a time capsule, pushing victims toward a future long past. Fortunately, this is not true for all; flashes of capacity sparkle even in regions off the beaten track.
Recently, I visited a tiny elementary school in a tiny community in Costa Rica. Electricity was sometimes down, occasionally for weeks; internet access was erratic at best. But the school’s leaders and key teachers share a vision of the future and the power of education that reaches toward tomorrow. Children from very different backgrounds learn together, bilingually, integrating subjects, exploring the rich natural realm outside and diverse heritages indoors, understanding their world, building geoliteracy.
From a young age, kids learn to use GPS units, cameras, and the power of maps for integrating data. While the electricity is on (or as long as batteries last), the grade 1-2 teacher uses ArcGIS Desktop on a modest laptop to help students learn the continents; zoom in to navigate the rivers, volcanoes, and cities of Costa Rica; and wander the roads and trails of the community. When internet is available, the grade 3-4-5 teacher uses ArcGIS Online to help students assemble maps, points, and pictures, translating hardcopy assemblages into digital views that help them place their local experiences within a context.
The educators talk about the future for their kids, about the skills they want to ensure, about the values of thinking, learning, doing, and communicating. Here at the end of the dirt road, in a building where insects and geckos carry on an ancient battle, and modern scoundrels make off with key resources, one can see hope for the future. Kids are learning about the layers of their world; grasping the patterns and relationships that weave together sky, land, and sea around them; understanding the influences large and small, near and far, with which they already cope.
In town at a discussion one eve, as we watched, a honey bee too weak to reach the hive wriggled its last on an outdoor tiled floor and expired. Moments later, ants found it; in a few minutes, scores of the tiny ants were tugging the bee and literally carrying it off the floor, somehow unified in understanding a powerful mission, working together to improve their world. This tiny town in Costa Rica has discovered the richness of geospatial technology and realized that adults and kids can improve their world, as individuals, as a group, and beyond. They have the basic tools and, most important, the vision, focus, and commitment, to steer toward the future, today.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager