By Leah Shadle on behalf of One Laptop Per Child
In the heart of Nicaragua lies the largest lake in Central America, Lake Nicaragua. Millions of years ago, a volcanic eruption formed a curious island in this freshwater lake composed of two volcanoes — Concepcion and Maderas — the former of which is still active. Concepcion has an altitude of 1,610 meters, which makes Ometepe the world’s highest island on a lake. Volcanic ash has created an extremely fertile island and the volcanoes are visible everywhere on the island. Ometepe is truly a paradise, with its tropical, lush and magical air and soil.
In addition to the natural brilliance of the island and its volcanoes, Ometepe recently became the first digital island in the Americas. To put that in numbers, 100% of its 5,000 elementary school children and all teachers received a laptop connected to high-speed Internet, as part of the One Laptop Per Child educational initiative. Participating students and teachers receive OLPC laptops and the training and support needed to truly realize the potential of these machines.
Want to visit Ometepe Island and other amazing Latin America destinations with a local guide? Don’t miss this epic trip!
What Is One Laptop Per Child?
One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit organization created to provide children with the digital learning tools and ecosystem that empower them to create their own knowledge and to become the agents of change in their communities and globally. OLPC’s founders — world-renowned leaders in technology and education — are driven by a firm belief that laptops have a unique ability to leverage children’s innate curiosity and desire to learn, to develop critical thinking skills, and to foster a life-long love of learning. OLPC works to educate and empower children so that they can create a brighter future for themselves and for our world.
Thanks to a partnership with the Fundación Zamora Terán (FZT), a non-profit organization based in Nicaragua, more than 45,000 OLPC laptops have been distributed to children in Nicaragua, including 5,000 students living on Ometepe. FZT was founded by banker Roberto Zamora and his wife Maria Josefina Terán, who have achieved an educational transformation through their philanthropy. Together, they work tirelessly to ensure that every child in Nicaragua, Central America and around the world has access to a connected OLPC laptop computer and related educational program. Their program has delivered OLPC laptops and an innovative educational program to regions of critical poverty in Nicaragua and beyond.
In the seven years since the beginning of the OLPC educational program in Nicaragua, FZT has proven that investing in education and technology results in a social transformation that truly changes the educational landscape and provides children and communities with enhanced opportunities for success in the increasingly global world.
First Digital Island In Latin America
In 2009 Ometepe was under consideration to be named one of the seven new wonders of the world, even passing the first two rounds of evaluation. Today, thanks to the efforts of FZT and its supporters, Ometepe holds another honor: the first digital island in Latin America. Here exists an educational paradise with a population that is connected to the world.
There are 34 schools on the island of Ometepe. Several new schools were opened by the Ministry of Education of Nicaragua because many children had to travel a great distance in order to attend class. Thanks in part to the OLPC program, the Ministry of Education decided that children needed new workspaces in which to use their OLPC Laptops and decided to invest in local communities and teachers.
Students on the island also participated in an intervention program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), focused on strengthening basic reading skills. This program, in combination with the recently integrated technology, resulted in the development of improved reading skills in students and teaching methodologies in teachers. Participating students showed an improvement in phonological awareness, reading and dictation skills, thanks to the hours of support given to children, teachers and principals.
An Educational Paradise That Produces Champions
Students from Ometepe regularly compete in competitions sponsored by the Ministry of Education. In 2016 the community organized an educational celebration in honor of students who participated and won various competitions at the municipal, departmental and national level.
One such student was Steven Joel Martinez, an 11 year old sixth grade student from San Jose del Sur, Moyogalpa who won second place in the national mathematics competition.
“The test was easy,” said Martinez. “At the national level I got a little nervous because I saw that my competitors were good. There were students from private schools, but I continued to advance. I wondered how I got to this place, but I think it was thanks to my teacher, my family, my OLPC laptop and with God’s help.”
Thanks to the support of his teacher, Ronald Paizano Barahona, programs on the OLPC laptop, and the support of FZT, Martinez was able to prepare and advance through several stages to win second place.
Professor Ronald Paizano Barahona also supported his daughter and student, Genesis Paizano, a classmate of Steven’s, who won the departmental Language Arts competition in Rivas.
“I tried to work with the students to develop their individual skills,” stated Paizano Barahona. “They have the ability to become champions at the international level, and this motivates me. Students from Ometepe now have an opportunity to shine. Now when students from the island participate in such contests, everyone knows that these students are prepared to win.”
The winner of in the poetry competition in Rivas is also from Ometepe, Itzel Francela Perez Garcias, 11 years old. She attended Our Lady of Guadalupe in Moyogalpa, which she described as a “small but nice” school.
“My mom has a cell phone, but we can’t use the data,” said Itzel Francela. “So, I connected my OLPC Laptop and searched YouTube and found a video of a girl performing the ‘Triumphant March’ and I learned the intonation. I recorded myself reciting the poem to correct my errors and improve my presentation.”
Maria Roberta Flores, winner of the national contest for reading in 2012, attended fifth grade at the Ruben Dario school in Altagracia. She now celebrates the achievements of other students from Ometepe.
“Ometepe shines with the achievements of each one of us,” she said. “We are people who have achieved things in life; we set and achieve our goals. I am proud to be the first winner from Ometepe since the implementation of the OLPC program. I am happy for all of the children here. My advice to them is to work hard, but also to be happy, and even if they don’t win, to be confident that they have already achieved something remarkable.”
Educational Paradises From Coast To Coast
In 2015 the FZT expanded its program and began the digitization of Great Corn Island and Little Corn Island, two islands known for their white sand beaches. Thanks to the support of several donors, FZT has provided all children on these two additional islands with the OLPC Laptop and related educational program. Students are developing academically in addition to improving their Spanish and English (along with the native language of Miskito or English Creole).
The alliance between One Laptop Per Child and the FZT has developed and strengthened thanks to the support of several sectors in Nicaragua. Throughout history, Nicaragua has been known for its educational achievements. This program is an effort to continue this trend. In order to provide students with a 21st century education, technology and modern teaching methodologies are required in the classroom.
If you visit Ometepe and ask ask a local child about the island, the response you will likely here is “Ometepe shines.” Through various projects in the schools and community, residents are filled with pride. Visitors are encouraged to come and experience an oasis of peace. Ometepe is truly a paradise, and now it is a digital island that invites tourists to see that the future of a country starts with a quality education for all.
If you are looking for an exciting travel destination, choose Nicaragua for your next adventure. Be sure to visit Ometepe, the first digital island in Latin America. If you are looking for white sand beaches, don’t miss Great Corn Island and Little Corn Island, two educational havens in paradise. You will certainly find that Nicaragua is unique, beautiful, and tranquil. Most importantly, it is preparing its children for the future.
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