Building Hope Through Computer Labs
Imagine teaching computer science without a single computer in the classroom. Writing the words “mouse” and “keyboard” on a chalkboard. Drawing a picture of a monitor. In many parts of Haiti, this is a reality. Teachers recognize computer literacy skills are critical for their students’ futures—even if the kids have never even seen one—but don’t have access to the essential tools and programs they seek to describe.
In 2014, Hope for Haiti and Endless OS Foundation set out to change this. Hope for Haiti, a nonprofit organization primarily focused on improving quality of life for Haitian people, particularly women and children, is a global network of individuals, foundations and corporations that believe positive change in Haiti is possible, despite the myriad of challenges its communities face. Hope for Haiti staff are in rural schools every day ensuring that kids have access to healthcare, nutritious meals, and now, computer labs full of educational content that can be accessed without internet.
At Endless OS, we want all learners to have access to safe, curiosity-based learning experiences, regardless of their connectivity status and where they are in the world. We believe that access to personal computing is critical for productivity, learning and job skills. We have dedicated the last 10 years to designing and delivering an operating system and tools that give people access to and control over their technology. With our tools for productivity, creativity, and learning through play and discovery, we help people of all backgrounds engage in the digital economy on more meaningful terms.
In 2006, Hope for Haiti CEO Skyler Badenoch visited a school in Ravine Sable that served 300 students on dirt floors without walls for classrooms. The community was dedicated to change: that year, the students’ parents helped build three classrooms, and Hope for Haiti funded an additional three the following year. Now the school enrolls 800 students and has 24 classrooms, clean water, a school garden, health programs, and a computer lab, all thanks to a group of people that were committed to their community’s future.
Now, Hope for Haiti works in 24 different schools, reaching 6,500 school children through a network of 347 educators. In 2015, Endless and Hope for Haiti partnered to bridge the gap of access and bring 1,000 laptops to computer labs in 47 rural schools and community centers in Haiti. Some of these schools were so remote that the Hope for Haiti team hiked three hours on mountain footpaths. Parents helped, hoisting solar panels, computers, and software. Community members brought donkeys and strapped batteries to their backs.
At the time, only 11% of the population had access to a computer. According to Skyler, “Hope for Haiti and Endless have been working together…to help solve that problem by establishing and equipping new computer labs with Endless Computers and making sure that each of the 6,500 students in our school network in Haiti has access to a computer. This partnership has worked so well over the years because both Endless and Hope for Haiti are deeply committed to the fundamental belief that access to personal computing is critical for productivity, learning, and future employment of all people."
47 computer labs have been built, each with an average of 15 computers
Each school also received computer literacy training for teachers. The computers feature Endless OS and were pre-loaded with hundreds of learning and discovery applications, which can be used regardless of internet connectivity. At the time of the deployment, Haiti was still recovering from the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, which displaced millions and destroyed infrastructure across the country. In 2021, the country faced another devastating earthquake that destroyed many of this partnership’s computer labs.
The organization has been focused on rebuilding, and there have been positive outcomes despite the ongoing challenges: Enrollment at schools with labs is increasing, showing that parents are finding greater value in schools with labs. And students at those schools have higher graduation rates and more engagement. Students at Hope for Haiti schools have 85% fundamental school promotion rate (6th grade test results), and 84% of Philo (last grade level in secondary school) students pass their national exams. While there are a number of factors that play into these successful passing rates, having access to computers, trained teachers, and being surrounded by innovative thinking certainly plays into it.
A Story of Hope
Growing up, James Declerus had no access to the internet, healthcare, or good education. He didn’t know anything about computers or the role he would play in fighting the digital divide.
This changed when one day his dad went to the city and brought home a radio. James wondered where the voices were coming from, who was “talking inside the radio.” Seeking to understand, he took the radio apart to find whoever it was.
He didn’t actually see a computer until years later, when, being a top student at his school, he was allowed to visit the computer lab - which didn’t have a teacher or internet access. His curiosity about how it all worked pushed him to explore. Just like the radio, he familiarized himself with all the different pieces.
“I realized that I could have used [a computer] connecting to the Internet to make friends outside my country, to explore the world. But at that period . . . I was 14 years old. For me, that some seven years of my life was lost. I could have, by seven or eight years old, started exploring the Internet, [seeing places] outside of Haiti, but it was not the case.”
With the computer labs and extensive suite of offline apps on Endless OS, schools unlock the opportunity for youth to learn about things that are not being taught in the classroom, and see the world beyond what they know.
One of the key challenges for inspiring Haiti’s youth is that people can’t be curious about how technology works without seeing it. James found that 90% of kids in his community didn’t know what a computer was: “To be curious to know what is inside of a smartphone or how a car or how a computer works, you need to see the device say oh, I did not know that before, so let me go to see how it works. But if [you’ve never seen] a computer, you can’t be curious about it.”
At some point, James decided it was important to share his love for computer science with his community. He says, “A computer connected to the Internet is a life-changing opportunity. It’s a [path to] University, it can create jobs.” Alongside teaching computer literacy with Hope for Haiti, James started the Krik Krak Computer Project, which teaches rural children how to use a computer. Many high school students in Haiti will fall behind without computer literacy skills. Giving them the opportunity to learn at an early age increases their ability to connect, learn, and join the modern day workforce.
A Brighter Haiti
The Endless Operating System, which James has called the “internet in a box,” has been beneficial to learning in this community. Its pre-loaded content and user-friendly applications allow kids to explore even if a teacher is unavailable. The apps allow kids to explore resources in a safe way, from word processing to browsing encyclopedias online. They’re supporting computer literacy in real time, teaching the different parts of both software and hardware, and building understanding of how computers really work. Games that support programming skills are helping prepare the next generation to use technology for “a brighter Haiti.”
And besides, it’s fun: there was a typing game on the Endless OS that the kids enjoyed so much that when James would try to transition to a new topic, the students would offer to bring him cookies just to play a little longer. (Usually, it worked).
The engaging content is key: a lot of times, basic education in developing countries becomes rote, and it’s easy for creativity to get stifled. What these students need is content that “inspires creativity and … enables and challenges students to be more creative in their thinking,” says Skyler.
According to James: “They are so happy. They enjoy it. Even [though] they don’t know for the moment how impactful this will be for them, they love it, they enjoy it, and they make you feel the love when they are using it.”
Each of the 47 schools that have new computer labs also received training for teachers, on both Endless OS and Windows. Importantly, the training is in Haitian Creole, which is the language the students will learn in.
The training isn’t just a one-time event: Hope for Haiti builds communities of learning, supporting teachers long after the lab is built. Many of the teachers have never used a computer before, but all are willing to learn - and show other teachers how to do it too. “It’s not build a computer lab and leave,” says Skyler, it’s “let’s build a computer lab and then figure out how to make it better over a long period of time.”
All of these collaborations support the development of a sustainable network, one where teachers, students, and Hope for Haiti work together to support the next generation. James dreams of a Haiti where all kids are “connected to the world.” Computer-literate kids will be able to access good jobs from Haiti, building sustainability and job opportunities without having to leave.
According to James, the “situation … in Haiti is really critical. But when you have organizations like Hope for Haiti that are making sustainable change or [supporting] the weakest in an effective and sustainable way, there is no other way that you can keep this hope for a brighter future.”
Haiti is going through a difficult time right now. And even with the hard work of this partnership, there are still barriers to digital access: the economic structure limits spending, and there is no public policy that encourages or supports schools to build and maintain computer labs. Most schools don’t even have the means to teach the basics of education, let alone technology. Internet access remains low at only 40% of the population and there’s limited infrastructure to support expanding penetration.
With these challenges, people ask, “is there still hope for Haiti?”
And emphatically, Skyler says yes. If you look at it day to day, in the short term, it’s easy to say things haven’t gotten better. But that same school that had no walls back in 2006 now has hundreds of high school graduates, and we know what that kind of access to education means for long-term social and economic growth.
When you’re able to find examples of sustained long-term development, we can always find instances where there are pockets of hope and examples of where things are better.
Moving forward, Skyler says we need to invest in access, teachers, and creativity. With these, we create long-term space for people to iterate on the process.
Call to action
Now, Hope for Haiti is looking for investors to continue to help us bring access to computers and build labs in schools across the Greater South of Haiti. By the end of 2023, they plan to build an additional ten computer labs that include computers, solar charging systems, furniture (tables/chairs), teaching materials like printer, projector, and screen, and teacher training to help teachers learn how they can use technology in their classrooms.
Hope for Haiti is looking for Haitian Creole mentors to provide ongoing support to teachers and students to keep them engaged and learning. Representation and having a support network will help the students, and teachers, continue to learn and build a passion for technology.
Those interested in helping to further this work can make a contribution or contact Taylor Hebble.