The Rotary project in Honduras to set up RACHEL Digital Library systems in two schools, Liconas and Pajonal, has completed the installation phase. A third school was added during rollout of the systems. The real test will come when the students return in February.
The project was managed by Fernando Martinez of the Rotary Club of Comayagua, with Brian Mather of the Comox Rotary Club and Gerry Beltgens of the Rotary Club of Ladysmith serving as project coordinators from Canada. To support the project, 45 refurbished CTL Chromebooks, two RACHEL Plus Servers, 50″ television sets, power conditioners, routers, and other components were purchased from 5020 District Grant funds supplemented by the Rotary Club of Victoria Harbourside and the Mid Island Group (MIG) of Rotary Clubs.
During a field trip to the schools, Fernando and Gerry concluded that the capacity of the existing schools would be better served by smaller installations. As such, they reconfigured the project to include 15 computers per class, leaving them with 15 spare computers. Fernando contacted the director of a school in Flores, a community within the boundaries of Comayagua, and after meeting with the director and the mayor, they agreed to a third installation at the Flores school. For this installation, the team utilised a donated RACHEL Pi unit, smaller version of the RACHEL Plus, which is capable of supporting a classroom of 10 computers or 20/30 students working collaboratively.
The budget (US funds) for the project was $10,000 for equipment and training and $3,000 for classroom and electrical upgrades. However, the Rotary Club of Comayagua was able to reduce costs by having interact students refurbish desks and chairs and by having them paint the classrooms as needed. Electrical costs were also lower than expected, which allowed the team to add a third school to the project. Unfortunately expenses for Juan Reanda to travel and stay in Honduras were higher than expected. Fortunately, the reduced costs for the upgrades helped offset these additional expenses and so far the project is under budget.
Two of the schools had previously had computer labs (2007), but as the equipment aged and the government stopped providing funding for Internet connections and software/hardware upgrades, the labs stopped being used. The RACHEL Digital Library systems are a more sustainable solution, as they do not require Internet connectivity and the software is upgraded at no cost. This should help ensure that the systems remain functional and continue to benefit students in the long term.
A follow-up and support program is being developed in coordination with stakeholders to ensure that the RACHEL Digital Library systems are well-maintained and continue to benefit students over several years. Mundo Posible, which is located in Guatemala, will provide remote support, while teachers at each school have been assigned responsibility for their own systems. The longer-term plan is to identify a teacher who will become a good support leader and train that person to become the Comayagua region support contact. There is also money in the budget for a part-time program support person. Hardware support is handled by keeping five Chromebook laptops in reserve.
Teachers were enthusiastic about the RACHEL systems and took 2 to 3 days out of their holiday time to attend training sessions. It was clear that they were excited about the wealth of educational materials available on the RACHEL servers. The school year in Honduras runs from February to November, and the RACHEL systems will be put to use for the first time in February 2023.
Overall, the Rotary education project in Honduras has been well-planned and well-executed, and has the potential to have a significant positive impact on the education of students in the region. The team should be commended for their efforts in bringing this project to fruition, and for finding ways to reduce costs and increase sustainability.
The enthusiasm of the teachers and the access to a wealth of educational materials on the RACHEL servers bode well for the success of the project in the coming school year. It is hoped that the RACHEL systems will help improve learning outcomes and provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their studies and beyond.