Everyone, say hi to technology teacher, Cristina! (You may recognize her from this year’s Fall Fiesta at Home)

Earlier this year, Cristina received the shocking news that schools were shutting down across Guatemala due to the emerging pandemic. Like teachers all around the world, Cristina instantly began worrying about her students.

How are my students going to continue learning from home? How will they get the education they deserve without an in-person class?

These questions raced through her mind. As a Computer Program teacher, she questioned how her students would still gain the technical skills and knowledge without stepping foot in the CoEd Computer Center located at her school in Chimazat, Guatemala.

Chimazat’s CoEd Computer Center established in 2011

Cristina and her fellow teachers brainstormed, and started the quarantine off by sending paper worksheets home with their students. But early on, she could see her students quickly losing motivation.

When a student would struggle to understand a question on the worksheet, they couldn’t raise their hand and ask their teacher for help like they normally would. And to make matters worse, 1 in 3 indigenous adults in Guatemala cannot read or write, so many of her students’ parents couldn’t help them with the study guides either.

As time went on, students began to drop out of school. The situation continued to worsen to the point that about half of the school’s students were considering leaving their education behind during the pandemic. Cristina decided that she couldn’t let that happen.

With 98% of Computer Program students not having personal computers at home, she knew working from a laptop wasn’t an option. But there was one thing she knew they did have access to…smartphones.

As a result, Cristina and the other teachers came up with a new idea to use WhatsApp to engage with students and answer their questions about the worksheets via instant messages. Despite financial constraints, parents in the community made an effort to download the app and keep their cellphones up with enough internet credit to cover the time needed for basic math and language courses.

Something was still missing though.

Cristina began to realize the importance of face-to-face interaction with her students. She then came up with a plan to use Zoom—the perfect solution to address the missing teacher-student interaction and teach more courses, including Cristina’s computer class! She went to the principal with her plan and he approved a pilot test of Zoom.

She immediately called her students and explained the new process to them. With many of them having never used Zoom before, it seemed like it would be a difficult task, but Cristina motivated her students by telling them, “No one is born ready. Everything comes from learning.”

Students from Cristina’s school using the Computer Center equipment before the pandemic

Cristina’s first pilot class with her technology students was a success. The principal was so excited with the positive results that he asked her to record a tutorial video for all the other teachers in the school, so they could learn to use Zoom too! Afterwards, she also created a video for the students, explaining topics like how to activate and deactivate the microphone and camera, and how to be ready for classes.

At first, it was a big adjustment to use Zoom. Most of the teachers, including Cristina, own a desktop computer so they didn’t have a camera or microphone built into their setup. To overcome this, Cristina came up with the idea of logging into Zoom from her desktop and her cellphone simultaneously. This way, she could share her slideshow using the computer, while she uses the camera and microphone from her phone. It was challenging to figure out at first, but with the help of her CoEd advisor, Geovany, they were able to get her class up and running!

Together, Cristina and the school set up a schedule for students to attend one 40-minute Zoom class per day, with a different subject on each day of the week. This plan allows for students to get at least one face-to-face interaction (even if just through a screen) with their teachers each day, while also respecting the financial concerns of the families in the town since they would need to continue paying for internet services to attend Zoom class.

Thanks to Cristina’s initiative and dedication to teaching, she was able to keep her students from dropping out of school during the pandemic (an amazing feat!) Students have responded well to this new version of online class, and they continue to be punctual and pay attention during the lessons. Around 80% of her students are attending online class now! Meanwhile, the remaining students who don’t have access to a cellphone or internet connection are still getting the chance to periodically meet with their teachers at the school building (socially distanced of course) to go over the worksheets together, ensuring no one gets left behind this school year.