REACH THE WORLD COMES TO THE BVI
By - Nancy Terrell
(reprinted from The BVI Beacon - 2001)
One of the joys of living on a boat is meeting interesting people and learning of opportunities I never knew existed. Such was the case the other day when, walking down the dock, I noticed a sailing vessel, Makulu II, a 43, Nautor Swan, at the slip across from ours. Onboard were several young people, all in their 20s, polishing equipment and generally cleaning up the vessel after what appeared like more than a few days at sea. The first person I met was an extremely positive and energetic young lady, Erin Myers, the captain of Makulu II.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, Myers has sailed all of her life, was captain of her college racing team and a winner of the ICYRA Single-handed Nationals. She is now leading her crew of five on a two-year sail around the world in a mission linking students and teachers in low-income communities with the rest of the world. Makulu II is a school ship that, through highly qualified electronics, visits children throughout the globe and connects them with schools affiliated with the program. Through anchoring in foreign harbours both the children visited and those in schoolrooms in America are learning about each other in an effort to connect children in a global community.
A non-profit program, supported by private grants & funding, Makulu II is the second of its type to circumnavigate the globe. The first was REACH THE WORLDs 1997-1999 circumnavigation Makulu I, when more than fifty public school classrooms in seven states worked with the expedition. Makulu II is now expanding upon the first and offers even more collaborating classrooms support & professional development opportunities linking education worldwide.
As a former teacher I agree with their goal that one day, every classroom in every community, throughout the world, will have the training and resources necessary to link the entire world through digital means. The fact that they are now accomplishing this on a ship, manned by university graduates and sailors, each representing a different field of study, is truly impressive. This program, completely digitally based, provides an online learning environment through the use of computers. The students involved exchange information, in partnership, with communities where educational and cultural opportunities are limited.
Students in schools connected with the program communicate with the elementary schools visited by the teachers/sailors on Makulu II. They learn more about other cultures and belief systems in the hopes that emphasis will be placed on how much alike we all are rather than how different. Working mainly with children growing up in low-income areas, the program is designed to give children who would never have the opportunity to travel and visit other areas of the world the exposure they need to know what is happening beyond their schools and neighbourhoods and to see themselves as valued members in a global community. Just think of the opportunities to improve self-esteem here.
For children growing up in low-income areas sometimes computers emerge as a barrier to opportunity. The "digital divide" separates them from developing the skills necessary to acquire challenging, high-paying skills & jobs. REACH THE WORLD feels that this inequity is as powerful a barrier to self-determination for underprivileged children today as segregation was for the generations that came before. They feel that the root of this divide begins in public school classrooms.
Myers tells me, "In recognizing the need for children from poverty areas to be exposed to the technology required in jobs they will hold in the future, this program helps to develop these skills in not only the children affiliated with the program in the United States but the children we visit en route on our ship. Over the last decade, the number of jobs that require technological aptitude and higher-order thinking skills has grown twenty-fold. In school, technology-enriched learning has emerged as a means to introduce students to the world in ways that were formerly unimaginable and are critical to preparing students for life after school. Technological literacy, global education and higher-order thinking skills are prerequisites for success in today's world and Makulu II is a forerunner in teaching this.
Some data that she provides shows me that the average ratio of students to computers in America's public schools is now seven to one, compared to 25:1 just a decade ago. 'Now that we're at the point that we have technology in about 80 percent of our classrooms, it is time to look at the content that can be delivered using technology tools. When it comes to technology, however, all students are not created equal. Only two percent of children in low-income rural areas have Internet Access in their homes and public schools. More than 50 percent of minority enrollment averages 10.5 students per Internet computer as compared to 6.4 in schools with less than five percent minority enrollment.
Content is the critical missing element in most technology initiatives. It is easy to put hardware in classrooms, hoping that it will "get used." In under-resourced classrooms, however, it is often difficult for teachers to integrate technology into learning. Developing the right content to fill computer screens is even more difficult, and requires a sustained commitment to teachers' agendas, support and professional training. REACH THE WORLD's mission is to bridge the divide between computer hardware and content. Using real-world expeditions as a premise, our crew uses network technologies to create expedition-based, online learning environments for both students and teachers."
RTW is one of a handful of companies working to develop virtual expeditions that use distance-learning technologies in allowing students to learn about primitive areas of the globe. It is the only such company that focuses exclusively on underserved communities where educational and cultural opportunities are severely limited. Their materials are a resource that broadens and uplifts traditional school programs and, according to Myers, the program aims to impact directly on students' skills, confidence and motivation during the critical elementary and middle school years, preparing them to reach their full potential as part of a global community. We also work to help educators adapt to teaching a technology-enriched setting. Together, we will work for fundamental change in the distribution and delivery of educational resources that introduce children to the world beyond their classrooms, and to the world of potential in themselves."
The Floating Classroom is the center of curricular materials related to the Voyage of Makulu II. Teachers from the RTW network of schools collaborate with crewmembers to develop core curricular projects based on the itinerary of the voyage. Projects are categorized as Itinerary-Based Activities or Comparative Studies. Project pages outline each project and link to the relevant expedition data.
Comparative studies are semester-or year long collaborations between RTW expedition crewmembers and collaborating classrooms and include studies in Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics Sciences and the Arts. At the beginning of the semester, teachers and expedition crewmembers chose research themes to explore around the world, from port-to-port, region-to-region and environment-to-environment. Crewmembers collect data on these themes, and each week, post the data collection logs to the project pages. BVI schools were on a holiday break when the Makulu II was in port; however, the crew still made friends with locals and enjoyed snorkeling & beaching as well as Caribbean cuisine.
I waved goodbye to the crew as they left Nanny Cay Marina, who had donated free dockage to the group while in the BVI. I felt better just knowing that so many young people care about the state of the world and the children in it. I will definitely be following this expedition as it circumnavigates the globe.
For more information as to how your school can participate please go to http://www.reachtheworld.org/sitemap.html on the Internet.