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Village teacher training via video conferencing

By Jeffrey Swindle, Graduate Student at University of Cambridge., Educational Technology Debate

This year I had the privilege of working with an LLC, a partnering local NGO, and a non-profit that trains undereducated teachers on a project designed to bring Internet access to rural villages in Mexico. Local schoolteachers, many of whom had not received any training beyond a standard high school diploma, were to be trained by experts via WebEx videoconferencing. The project was promising, but ran into financial troubles, and currently the project is at a standstill. I, however, am still optimistic that the project can be a positive educational tool.

I will explain the project design and implementation below. First, however, I want to pose three questions to readers:

1. What funding mechanisms are most secure for telecentre sustainability?

2. Are videoconferencing training programs effective when trainees have no prior experience with these technologies?

3. What pedagogical assumptions are instilled into videoconferencing trainings and what repercussions do these assumptions cause?

The need
For the first time, local schoolteachers in rural Mexico could receive teacher training, many of whom had never received formal teacher training. The non-profit planned to put these teachers through a 50-hour training course via videoconferencing tools and a satellite broadband Internet connection.

In a Mexican government program, and with assistance from the IDB, villagers from underserved areas in Mexico can receive a financial scholarship for college and a modest stipend in exchange for teaching elementary or middle school for two years in other rural communities. The program, CONAFE (which stands for National Council for to Promote Education), is a great asset to these communities who are otherwise without teachers.

The problem, however, is that the CONAFE teachers have not gone to college or received much formal training. Though the teachers are required to attend monthly seminars and receive a few weeks of training before entering the classroom, they are otherwise without preparation and come with no more than a high school education.

The project
To solve this problem, a technology-focused LLC who provides Internet connectivity via satellite to rural villages worldwide partnered with a local NGO to open an Internet café in the largest village (about 80 families) in the area. A local social entrepreneur was selected, who bought the technological equipment from the local NGO at low interest rates, and the Internet café quickly opened. Then, the local NGO partnered with the non-profit who trains undereducated teachers to put the CONAFE teachers through a 50-hour training course via videoconferencing tools.

Considering the unfamiliarity with computers that the CONAFE teachers have, it was apparent that they would have to rely heavily on the local Internet café owner to help them connect to a videoconferencing platform and to use the computers. Some of the teachers had never used a computer before, and even the most advanced had only used them a dozen times. The idea was that through this training, the CONAFE schoolteachers would not only become better teachers, but they would learn the basics of computer and Internet usage, invaluable skills without which they would be lost once entering college.

Difficulties and questions
Unfortunately, however, the Internet service was cut after just three months of service to the café. The cost of the service increased ten-fold in the contract with the satellite service provider after three months, a key detail in the contract that the local NGO had overlooked. Now, it has been over one hundred days that the Internet café has been without service. The social entrepreneur feels disgruntled and embarrassed in front of the other villagers, and wants nothing to do with the local NGOs efforts to reconnect the café with new service providers.

Without this connection, the videoconferencing training obviously stopped. Consequently, it is unclear whether the training would have been effective. The first training took place just one week before the Internet was cut off. I was at the training and afterwards I had a series of question regarding the program. How would the mentor relationship between the teacher trainer from the non-profit and the recipient CONAFE teachers affect their self-confidence and later self-development efforts? How would the training affect the teachers’ actual actions in the classroom? How much freedom would the CONAFE teachers have to modify the national curriculums that they were mandated to teach? Was a certification from the non-profit organization enough to motivate the CONAFE teachers to participate in the program? Would the certificate actually prove to be helpful in securing future employment?

It is impossible to find these answers from the short-lived project in Mexico. What experiences have you, reader, had that could shed light on the effectiveness of videoconferencing training over international boundaries? And can telecentres be financially sustainable in rural villages as they are in urban cities in developing countries? What increases the probability of financial success? If not funded through user fees, what are implications of government sponsorship or subsidies in telecentre projects?

I’d appreciate your comments and feedback from your own experiences. (Please post your comments on the original webpage of the article here: