In both developing and developed countries, more organizations are adopting learning tools such as online courses and LMS service to benefit disadvantaged sectors of society. Take Project Rising Women in Argentina, or Project SITA in India, and UCLA Extension in the U.S.; three projects with altruistic and effective programs.
Rising Women is an Argentine nonprofit that works with a women’s shelter on the edge of the largest ghetto in Buenos Aires, providing a computer technology center to the women in the shelter. The project provides the women—often teenage, lower-class, under-educated, abused and/or homeless single mothers–with valuable computer skills that help them gain employment and provide resources to plan a life outside the shelter.
Are you an educator with experience using an LMS service or other computer technology? You might consider donating a bit of time to instruct people who would benefit tremendously from your knowledge. Project Rising Women’s volunteers are computer skills teachers from high schools and universities.
In India, computer skills training programs like the Project SITA enable the disadvantaged to create a better life. One of SITA’s tenets, increasingly understood by nonprofit organizations worldwide, is that marginalized groups do not want charity; they want an opportunity to learn and practice suitable skills.
The current discourse around the “digital divide” is often focused on technology rather than the human impact of the gap. But as Lisa Servon argued in 2002, the digital divide is “a symptom of a larger and more complex problem–the problem of persistent poverty and inequality.”
And the digital divide isn’t only a global phenomenon, separating countries into technological haves and have-nots. The divide exists in the richest countries in the world–and it’s often a big gap.
According to research firm Parks Associates, roughly 20% of Americans are disconnected from the internet and have never used e-mail.
LMS service educators working in free or low-cost computer learning systems act out of a deep conviction that better access to information and ICT skills, just like improved reading and writing skills, can enhance disadvantaged people’s ability to make strategic life choices and create the lifestyle they want for themselves.
One computer skills initiative was made by UCLA Extension to reach Los Angeles residents, some of whom had never clicked a mouse or looked at a monitor. The Extension team set up a cyber café, with 16 computer stations and a small snack bar. The course fee was $95 and covered 36 hours of hands-on instruction over 12 weeks. Upon completion, students of the Extension program received a certificate of technical expertise and could choose electives in personal finance, advanced computer skills and resume writing. Job interviews and internships were also offered.
ICT learning systems have the potential to strengthen organizational skills, improve access to information and social services, and promote economic opportunities and political participation. That said, it’s essential to investigate and understand the communities you’re trying to help. This goes for educators all across the board and across national and financial sectors: understand your target learners, or accept that your efforts may fail.
If you’re establishing a nonprofit ICT program in an indigenous community in Bolivia, for example, you’ll need to find out everything there is to know about the context in which the online training course will function. The same goes for an inner-city school setting, a rural immigrant community, and so on. Only when an ICT program is fully integrated into the broader community framework can marginalized groups reap meaningful benefits.
Within school districts, elearning courses hosted via an LMS service can address all kinds of problems facing schools today: limited course offerings, teacher shortages in certain areas, the increase of home-schooling, absence of AP classes in some areas, lack of physical space, and lack of funding.
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