Could Computers Be the Answer to Peace? Ask Kids from Karabakh!

Posted: May 6th, 2013 by Michele Borba

How the One Laptop per Child project, NUR and children in a land far away called Karabakh may teach us the secret to positive social change for developing countries and even peaceful coexistence

I’ve been a teacher, writer and researcher for over thirty years and like many, I’m haunted knowing that millions of children in our world will never receive an education or even walk into a classroom. I’ve pondered again and again how we can give poverty-stricken kids-especially those living in the remotest of areas where teachers, textbooks, classrooms or even running water don’t exist-a chance for a more hopeful future. I found the answer, and ironically, it came from children in a country half way around the world in a place called Karabakh. The visit changed my life.

The One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC)

I made the 22 hour trip (and then six hour convoy ride) to meet Karabakh‘s Prime Minister, tour the schools and visit with these wonderful children and their teachers. I was invited by  NUR (New Educational Strategy (Nor Usumnakan Rasmavariutum), an amazing project within the Fruitfull Foundation, an Armenian NGO created by the Argentinean-Armenian businessman, Eduardo Eurnekian. Mr. Sebastian Duval, director of the project asked me if I’d like to see their educational efforts in Karabakh. There wasn’t much hesitation on part.

I accepted in my role as the Goodwill Ambassador for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project,  a nonprofit organization that oversees the creation of affordable educational devices (or laptops) for kids’ use in the developing world. The OLPC goal is to transform education by providing every child with access to a connected laptop computer.

The XO laptop is made from durable plastic so it can withstand tough weather conditions (think “Sahara Desert”), is childproof, and has instant connectivity.

The XO also comes equipped with curriculum in a child’s native language–29 languages and counting–and was specially designed for the children of Karabakh with a keyboard equipped in both Armenian and Latin alphabet.

The XO was created by some of the world’s most brilliant minds at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge and supports how kids learn best. It retails for about $185 and is given by OLPC to each child to bring home and keep.

A core OLPC principle is that in order to achieve meaningful educational improvement, each child should own a laptop so no one is left out. (I couldn’t agree more-I’ve witnessed many children in remote areas teaching their parents how to use a computer! It’s always a stirring sight.)

As of 2012 there are over 3 million XO laptops delivered to children in developing regions of the world including Rwanda, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Peru, Afghanistan, India, Ethiopia and South Africa.

Laptops to Karabakh!

Laptop deployments to Karabakh began just over a year ago with Fruitfull Foundation overseeing the distribution as well as teacher training. The laptops were generously funded by Mr. Eduardo Eurnekian,who gave 5000 laptops to all schools in the Karabakh cities of Stepanakert, Shushi and Karin’tak. His goal is to improve these children’s learning experiences by introducing technology in the classrooms, their schools and to their families so that eventually have every child in the region is equipped with an XO. I love Mr. Eurnekian’s vision for children:

“The world community sees Nagorno Karabakh within the context of war and regional conflict. People fail to take note of the children who are born and live there. These children are entitled to the universal right of education and access to information.

Through NUR, I intend to bridge the gap and give the children of Nagorno Karabakh the opportunity to receive the best education the world has to offer.”

 ~ Eduardo Eurnekian

Karabakh’s Unique Technology Challenge

Each XO deployment is always remarkable and has special challenges, but the Karabakh experience has to be among the most unique. The region’s history, location, and present-day circumstances all make the laptop deployment fascinating.

The success-as well as  the amazing response of the children and teachers-provides important and often overlooked lessons about the power of technology that we can all learn from.

To help you understand these special children and why the OLPC project is so special, I ask you to step into the shoes of the kids of Karabakh.

Imagine you are a child living in a country with it’s own flag, President, Prime Minister, post office, passport stamp, and standing Army, but you are not recognized as a nation by most of the world. That unique region is called Republic of the Mountainous Nagorno Karabakh.

Because your country is not recognized by the United Nations, you or your classmates do not receive crucial international health and benefits-as do most other world children-from organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, USAID, IREX, FLEX

Next, imagine what it is like living as a child in that region where there is a constant threat of war.Every waking day for these children is a “fear factor.”  Military convoys are all around you, your community is war-torn with bullet holes which still cover walls of your homes, churches, hospitals, and neighborhood.

Though you are currently in a ceasefire with neighboring, Azerbaijan, you recognize that your area is still vulnerable to attack. The constant visual presence of your army in your streets reminds you that your world is not safe.

Also imagine terror from another realm: the HALO Foundation is on the scene to remove hundreds of active landmines that surround your home, school or town. Since 2000, HALO Nagorno Karabakh safely located and destroyed over 50,0oo landmines and cluster munitions. Hundreds of more explosives remain.

Imagine that you go to school each day and as you walk into your building the first images you see are walls lined with photos honoring those killed in the war. Many of those photos are of your classmates.

Technology-especially computers-are novel and even a bit frightening to you. Your parents (still cognizant of living under Soviet mentality) fear there are special chips inside the device that track your every move.

Your connectivity to other children around the world is minimal. In fact, 90 percent of you and your peers lack connectivity to the outside world via computer. You basically  live in “technological isolation.” Television stations and news are also monitored.

Peace for your country is your hope. Conflict talks still continue but top international agencies-Amnesty International, Council of Europe, European Union, OSCE-warn that your region may well be the next place for armed conflict in Eurasian space. Threat of war is your daily reality. Just imagine!

And also imagine if you continue to live in a small, isolated, no-peace region unrecognized by the world and unable to benefit from the international experience. Education would continue to be a rote memory system. Your source of information would be limited and filtered.

But you share one common cord with children everywhere in the world: You know that education will provide you with a brighter future. A better education would provide you with the tools you need to pave your life.

And now you are given a laptop that just might be the answer to your hopes and dreams.

To continue reading …Computers Can Offer A New Educational and World Mindset  click here.

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