EDUCATIONAL ROBOTICS TO IMPROVE DIGITAL LITERACY AS A WAY TO BRIDGING RURAL WORKERS AND TELECOMMUTING
Universidad de Costa Rica (COSTA RICA)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2014 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Conference name: 8th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 10-12 March, 2014
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:This paper reports results of:
1-a project to evaluate the feasibility of telecommuting in Turrialba, a rural zone of Costa Rica, and
2-a project that tried to improve digital literacy by means of educational robotics, as a way to generate a more skilled future workforce.
This efforts also encompass the idea that rural workers with a higher level of digital literacy will likely be more able to foray in telecommuting, and that some companies could hire these tele-workers who in turn would not be forced to migrate from rural zones looking for jobs.
A major economic problem in Turrialba is that workplaces are scarce and workers must travel every day out of the city to work far away. So, telecommuting could stop or at least reduce the migration of engineers and other professionals with digital skills, thus helping to improve the local economy.
The two projects revealed important gaps about knowledge, access, infrastructure, and use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that would separate future generations of rural workers from opportunities in the knowledge society and in telecommuting.
Low levels of digital literacy were obvious in Turrialba, a rural town with around 70,000 inhabitants, living in the Caribbean area of Costa Rica, 65 kilometers East from San José, the capital of the country. Students had limited access to information technology in spite of the Educational Technology Program (ETP) developed in the country since 1987. One indicator of the situation was that robots or robotic kits had never been included in the syllabus followed in Turrialba. However, a diagnostic with statistics about digital literacy in Turrialba was not available. Consequently, a more accurate diagnostic was a key element of the telecommuting project.
Literacy rate is 96% in Turrialba, where the public ETP covers 20 primary schools and high schools out of around 170 educational institutions in total. Due to the urban concentration, those 20 schools cover 40% of the students in grammar schools and 60% of those in high schools in the area. While those percentages are important, most educational institutions and students are still excluded. In addition, approximately half the grammar schools have only one teacher, who is in charge of all pupils in all levels at once. Each of them have 30 pupils or less, who live in isolated communities distributed in a 1664 km2 territory where 96% of roads are not paved. In most schools with computers, students only have access to Internet when they attend courses in a computer laboratory.
Turrialba is a rural area where 66% of the people use cell phones, 52% of households have a landline telephone, and almost 25% of households have access to computers and Internet. However, the bandwidth availability is a barrier to develop telecommuting because broadband penetration is around 3%. The feasibility for the development of telecommuting in Turrialba was weak, because infrastructure, access, use and knowledge of ICT were limited, particularly in schools where future generations of knowledge workers and teleworkers should be educated.
During the diffusion of educational robotics as an innovation for teaching-learning processes, around 40 students from some grammar schools and high schools, including college students and teachers, had their first encounter with robots.
A lesson learned is the need for a strategic thinking of education and ICT in relation to economic and social growth.
Keywords: Telecommuting, development, robotics, digital literacy, economy, information and communication technology.