Tuesday, March 17, 2015

“……and please, we need a whiteboard.”

Locally whiteboards are referred to as “pizarra acrilicos “, and nearly every school and pronoei we visit asks for them.

The older schools in remote desert villages were equipped with essentially two types of ‘chalkboards’. The most basic and least expensive was simply an area on the wall of raised, smoothed and painted plaster outlined with a wood frame. This type of chalkboard dates back to the mid 1800s. The purpose of the wood was to hold thumb tacks and to attach a shelf for chalk and erasers. When cracks or pitting developed, all that was necessary was to add another coat of plaster and paint. The primary school in Conchucos has plaster chalkboards. It’s been a few years since they’ve been refreshed but based on the readability of the writing they seem to be serving their basic purpose quite well.

The second type of chalkboard is the more familiar one constructed of fiberboard. This too is an old technology, dating to the late 1800s. Most of the schools we visit have fiberboard chalkboards. And most of them are decomposing and pitted and no longer serviceable, like this one we replaced with a whiteboard in the village of Casa de Madera. I do not know about the availability of new fiberboard chalkboards in the Lambayeque Region. Based on the number of whiteboard manufacturers in Chiclayo, my guess is fiberboard availability is limited.

From a basic need prospective, plaster and fiberboard (if available) are probably the more practical options. Plaster and paint is cheap. Colored chalk is cheap and available everywhere. There are no environmental issues that I know of with those options, though some teachers have complained about chalk dust (that reminded me of my days as an ‘eraser monitor’ which means I had the privilege of taking erasers outside at the end of the day and banging them together to remove the dust). Whiteboard markers are plastic, more expensive and the aroma is pungent. So if the old technology is less expensive, less complicated, serves essentially the same purpose and is perhaps more environmentally friendly, why do school directors want whiteboards?

Part of the answer to that question is that school directors and teachers naturally want the most modern teaching aids available in their classroom, and in remote villages the relatively new whiteboards are considered state-of-the-art. Another reason can be found in Chiclayo classrooms.

Some classrooms in a few of Chiclayo’s newer and remodeled schools have electronic interactive whiteboards. Directors and teachers from the small village schools occasionally attend conferences in Chiclayo schools. They see these electronic marvels in use. They hear about the learning advantages for students. Perhaps they know a teacher who is lucky enough to have one. And they dream that maybe someday they will have one in their classroom. But until that day comes, to them a “pizarra acrilico“ is a step up and the next closest thing.

When discussing needs with school directors we do offer suggestions, and sometimes negotiations take place but ultimately the decision as to what they want is theirs. Our role is to say either yes, we can help you, or no, we can’t.
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My thanks to Amy for prompting this post

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