My Job is To Think

Technically, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I am assigned to the National Youth Services Technical College outside of Mombasa.  Here I am a teacher, specifically teaching an Introduction to Computer Literacy course for the Craft 1 students, all 130 some-odd of them.  However, this only occupies about 12 hours of my week, maybe 14 if you include preparation time, but considering I only have to prepare one lesson a week, prep time is minimal.  At first I thought I could do more preparation time, create more engaging lessons, but I am slowly learning that my students only in fact have two hours a week in and out of class to think about computers, and those two hours are actually in class.  If you did the math correctly, you discovered my students have no time to think about computers outside of class, a point which has been verified from many sources at all levels of this school.  It’s sad, and it also means that even if I did extra prep, it would benefit nobody as far as I can tell.

So what do I do to fill my time?  My first semester here (Jan. ’09 – Apr. ’09) I left the compound and went out and discovered secondary projects.  These were interesting and compelling, but also were put to an end when my friend Crystal was forced to Nairobi because armed robbers broke into her house and stole everything from her and her family.  This left me with a lot of free time, aside from the odd technical job here and there.  I tried working with a group that helped musicians, but we couldn’t seem to find anything for my particualar ICT skills.  I could have worked harder, but I think it was also partly that I was not overly-interested in the organization.  Such is life.

However, all of this coincided with NYS opening up a brand new computer lab facility and getting me a lot of new computers.  I sat and kept the lab opened and people would come and go and we had a real computer lab!  It was great.  I spent time researching some good system administration techniques, and working on my Linux administration.  I built myself a small network, funded by NYS, to allow for certain network functions in the lab, but without the internet.  Second term cruised into its end and I was on a high as I left to go and help out other people and attend Peace Corps workshops in July and August.<!–

Semester three started on a high note.  I was feeling like a real teacher, students were regularly attending my classes, the Principal even threatened a final exam (a threat which may turn out to be baseless).  I keep the lab open, but traffic has decreased.  Some of my more regular attendees were the servicemen who were on their nationa-building year.  They had a lot of free time and I let them come in and watch movies they brought and listen to their own music.  They were using the computers and were learning while doing it.  Then they got yelled at for doing this.  I got reprimanded for letting them do it.  They don’t come anymore.

As for system administration, I administered the lab until I became expendable.  Except for the odd hardware failure, or removing a dead lizard from a power supply, the systems run without hiccups.  Because we are not on a a complete internet connection network, combined with running Ubuntu, the computers just work.  From and administration standpoint, this is great! From a time-wasting standpoint, all I can say is boo hoo.

But I have created this expectation amongst people that when I am here, the lab will be open.  So the lab services about one teacher a day now, unless I have my class, who seem to have lost their motivation due to my two week hiatus for medical in Nairobi.  At this moment I am torn.  I feel bad closing the lab, as it is the only way some of my teachers can use computers, and they are using them to type exams (hurrah, ICT integrating into the curriculum!).  According to Peace Corps, I am doing my job, and I am making a difference in at least one persons life.  But I feel locked down at NYS.


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One response to “My Job is To Think

  1. I totally agree! I’m am an education volunteer in South Africa theoretically assigned to a center that does teacher training where I can teach computer lessons and help with math or science. But in practice nothing actually happens there.

    This gives me tones and tones of time to think. Unfortunately this means I keep coming up with cool coding projects I want to do and then never do because I feel bad for sitting in front of my computer as much as I do anyways. I’m like a sponge just absorbing all this information from online (its amazing what you can actually get on 250MB a month if your careful about it) and I feel like I’m not doing anything with any of it.

    Peace Corps is a great ruminative experience and for my action orientated engineering mind that’s hard to accept sometimes. I also keep thinking/wishing I could find something more productive to do with all my time, but then I just pick up a new book or open Lifera back up and read some blogs. It’s whats so strange about Peace Corps. We might not be paid much, but were going to be paid no matter how much we actually “do”. And most of what I do that I feel makes the biggest difference Peace Corps couldn’t officially care about: like playing catch with the kids, giving them rides on my bike, and showing interest in their lives. None of that will ever appear in a Peace Corps report, but I feel it will be the most enduring aspect of my service because in 15 years the kids on my street will be better citizens of this country due to the 2 years of almost daily interactions I’ve had with them.

    Now back to learning some more Adobe Air for my latest pet project.