Connecting A Primary School in Kolonia to Improve Learning Methods
Pohnpei Catholic School is located Kolonia, a town in Pohnpei State in the Federated States of Micronesia. The school was awarded a grant by the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Community Grant Programme in June 2014. The goal was to create a wireless Internet network at the school and allow teachers to incorporate the Internet into classroom activities. As of April 2017, the project has not reached to their short- and long-term goals due to various challenges. However, the program’s implementation has brought some definite benefits to the teachers.
Pohnpei Catholic School is located at the center of Kolonia, a coastal town and the previous capital of Pohnpei State in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). It is one of the most populated places on Pohnpei and the commercial hub of the island. It has a population of around 6000 based on 2010 Census Data. According to a 2005 report, household income is $76.9 (Male-headed) and $23.1 (Female-headed) in Pohnpei. Government is the largest sector where people are employed in Kolonia.
Pohnpei is connected to the fiber optic cable line and the Internet is pretty rarely available on island. Minimum payment for household Internet line with ADSL is $33, which is affordable for two income households. However, there’s a low penetration rate around the island and most people are using the Internet while at work. According to 2015 report, fixed broadband subscription rate per 100 inhabitants is 3%, and mobile subscription rate is 21.5% in Micronesia.
In Kolonia, there are several Internet public access sites for community. At Pohnpei Public Library, the use of computer lab is $2 per hour with a limit of one hour per day and the use of Wi-Fi is $10 per month. The library is open 9am through 5pm during the weekdays and from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays. Other than the library, there is one Internet cafe with fifteen computers, where the Internet costs $2.00 per hour. Finally, the FSM Telecommunications Corporation offers a couple of computers in their lobby for Internet connection through a prepaid phone card, which costs $0.08 per megabyte. At the lobby, users can also get connected to the Internet from their laptops or at their fourteen hotspots available around the town.
Lack of community ownership. Due to lack of resources, the implementation of the project relied on volunteers. Although there were IT experts among parents, getting enough parents to volunteer to dig the lines and lay the cables was a challenge, and it took time. The project was perceived as low-priority by parents compared to their other obligations with family and work. As a result, the implementation of the project took more than six months.
Delays due to perception of time. Once the volunteers stepped in, there were also delays in the completion of tasks due to perceptions of time in the culture. In polychromic cultures like Micronesia, promptness is firmly based on relationships rather than the task. People do not often obey clock-time and plans tend to change easily. This has led to the cancelation and rescheduling of the planned activities.
Limited educational packages. Due to the existence of only one telecommunications company in town, the available packages for education are limited. The only available educational package for schools is directed to administrated connectivity such as school principal, but not to students who are using it. The project would benefit from the availability of affordable educational packages.
At Pohnpei Catholic School, there are approximately 370 students in grades K-9 and 15 teachers. The school has a computer lab with eight to ten computers in it. The biggest motivation for school to get Internet connectivity was to provide resources to the teachers so that they could find additional materials for their classes. With the Internet, teachers planned on introducing new methodologies to their students’ skillset as well as expose them to better quality learning tools. As students learn to do research online, they are exposed to up-to-date and varied sources of information as much-needed supplements or replacements for the school’s limited and dated textbooks and library resources.
With the ISOC grant, the school has built three wireless hubs housed in three different buildings of the school. Those buildings are stretched out across the campus and connected by hardline. In addition, they purchased twenty thirty-seven-inch tablets. The school has an Internet budget of $1,260 a year for their monthly access fee, which comes out to $105 a month. The short-term goal of the project is to increase bandwidth so that a full class of students (which tends to be 20-25 students) can utilize it all at once. The long-term goals are to offer computer classes to the high-school students, to teach specific Internet skills and/or software programs in which students can gain proficiency, and allow more information sharing for parents.
Since the installation of the wireless network in March 2015, the project has not reached to its short-term or long-term goals due to various challenges. As of April 2017, the school is trying to reach their short-term goal, which is to increase bandwidth. While the students haven’t started utilizing the connectivity as much, it has had some benefits for teachers.
Access to information resources online. All fifteen teachers have their own personal laptop and they were provided training in Internet usage such as setting up email and identifying online sources. They are benefiting from the connectivity in the access of information resources and preparation of classroom activities.
Facilitation in teacher-parent communication. The Internet connectivity has also facilitated communication between teachers and parents. Teachers can easily inform parents about the student activities and progress through email as well as through school’s Facebook page.
Project managers. Project managers should take possible social, cultural and economic barriers into consideration while setting their goals and timeline. In addition, they should do research about available resources upfront and prepare key data such as affordability and availability of services. They should also be flexible and always consider a Plan B when things don’t go as planned.
Community. Community organizations can benefit from partnering up during the implementation of these initiatives for creating ways to encourage volunteerism in community and providing digital literacy skills to support those programs.
Telecommunications Companies. It is significant for telecommunications companies to learn the needs of the community that they serve and offer packages that address those needs, especially if they have a monopoly in a given location.
Donors. This case demonstrates that the impact of connectivity projects may take several years following the initial connectivity. It is important for grantees to provide social and technical support as the process unfolds and to foster knowledge sharing in the community so that as large a group as possible can benefit from lessons learned. This would also help with the sustainability of these initiatives.