It takes more than a global pandemic to stop these innovators from taking action.
Since the start of lockdowns, children in Latin American children have lost an average of 174 school days, according to UNICEF, four times more than the rest of the world. The crisis is serious, but so are the innovators. These trailblazers from Central and South America are using creative solutions to serve their neighbours amid COVID-19.
Meet Jean, founder of Connection with Education
In Jeanâ€™s neighbourhood, climbing trees is more than just childâ€™s play â€” itâ€™s part of their search for an internet signal. Few families in this region of Ecuador had internet access to their learning materials when the pandemic moved schools online. So, where service is scarce, students took to the trees, risking their physical safety out of desperation to connect to virtual classes.
As an alumnus of Compassionâ€™s programme, Jean has grown up understanding the power of education to transform a life, and with it, entire communities. Now an adult, he is determined to share this gift with children facing increasing obstacles amidst a pandemic.
Jean is launching â€śmini-centresâ€ť distributed throughout various communities, giving children access to internet coverage and technology to complete their coursework.
Through his digital platform, Connection with Education, Jean can provide children with virtual challenges to complete as they learn new skills in musical instruments, sports, and vocational clubs. He designed the curriculum using these interactive challenges to teach adolescents marketable skills that will make them competitive job applicants in the future.
Meet Katherine, mobile printing entrepreneur
As it turns out, a pickup truck and a printer might be all it takes to help solve a communityâ€™s crisis.
When COVID-19 caused schools across the world to shut down, Katherine noticed children in her community in El Salvador growing depressed. In neighbourhoods where internet access is scarce, and printers even rarer, virtual learning is complex, to say the least.
â€śWithout the necessary resources to print their materials from home, many did not have the courage to finish the school year,â€ť Katherine says. Determined to change this, she began loading up a printer onto her churchâ€™s pickup truck, driving to various regions around her home so that children could print their online materials. With her church community supporting her efforts, she has now helped more than one thousand students complete their coursework since the start of the pandemic.
From five-year-olds to university students, young people throughout her community have succeeded in the virtual classroom.
Meet Dennis, Digital Education tutor
For most families in rural Peru, where Dennis lives, working from home is not an option. Many are single mothers who must risk exposure to COVID-19 to provide for their families by working in the streets selling goods. Children are left to teach themselves their lessons at home, struggling to find internet access in a region where service is patchy at best.
With the creation of his digital education centre, Dennis provides internet access and tutoring to more than a hundred families. At the centre, students can complete their coursework by using the computers and printers supplied for them.
Dennis has also organised an educational support programme that distributes library books and supplemental learning materials to the community each week.
Parents are included in this programme, too. Dennis equips families with parenting resources, inviting them and their children to join devotionals through Zoom.
â€śWe have learned from them that it is important to link parents in the education of their children since they are ultimately the ones who are responsible,â€ť Dennis says.
Meet MarĂa, encouraging women in STEM
According to MarĂa, access to technology in many communities in Ecuador is non-existent. Sheâ€™s actively changing this with the launch of ConCiencia, an organisation that invites young women to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
After completing her education in engineering, MarĂa became passionate about empowering women from indigenous communities, specifically in STEM. Believing that women are capable of incredible contributions to this field, sheâ€™s made it her goal to encourage youth to discover the world of science.
ConCiencia was â€śborn from a very strong need for a quality education for all, including the less favoured sectors of our country,â€ť she says.
Her current focus is building relationships with communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Here, ConCiencia has begun hosting workshops that allow underprivileged youth to participate in science experiments.
ConCiencia empowers young women to develop leadership skills and curiosity in a field where theyâ€™re often underrepresented by providing educational materials to these communities.
Meet Juan, robotics teacher
Juan believes that education doesnâ€™t have to be boring. In fact, by creating a club for his students to spark their own interest in robotics, heâ€™s demonstrated that playing is the new learning.
As a teacher in Ecuador, Juan saw first-hand the dramatic impact of the pandemic on his studentsâ€™ excitement for school. As a result, many kids began facing boredom and isolation, in addition to other educational obstacles. Juanâ€™s created a solution to meet these needs with his robotics club.
By offering digital learning programmes and in-person gatherings that allow students to create their own bots and play with electronics, the club stirs a passion for learning. Children who participate have the chance to dream up their own innovations and apply their knowledge in practical ways. For example, in a recent project, students designed home alarm systems for their familiesâ€™ houses.
At the end of the day, the club is about much more than robotics.
â€śIn our club, we invite them into community, help them in their homework in all subjects, and monitor their academic record and family environment,â€ť Juan says. â€śI have seen the energy, enthusiasm, dedication, creativity in the students to create their own robots. That joy is indescribable and motivating.â€ť
These innovators have shared their inspiring solutions with the Christian Collective for Social Innovation (CCSI).
The Christian Collective for Social Innovation has invited innovators to apply to the 2021 CCSI Challenge, addressing the educational crisis in Central and South America caused by COVID-19. Compassion International is thrilled to be partnering with Baylor University in the launch of CCSI.
Award grants and provide additional support and promotion to help incubate ideas and accelerate the innovatorâ€™s way towards scaling their solution through the Compassion International network. Our long-term expectation is to impact the lives of millions of children, families throughout the world, beginning in Latin America.
About the Author: Madeleine Fossler is a senior at Baylor University studying marketing and entrepreneurship. She is currently working as a Strategic Partnerships Intern with Compassion. As a follower of Jesus, she is passionate about the power of words and education to change lives.