Monday, March 30, 2009

"That's not a mouse!!!"

My fellow PK (Pastor’s Kid) last summer, on a tour of her house, pointed to her computer and proudly proclaimed, “That’s where the live!” She’s three.

One of the children that I babysit was so excited one day to show me a new story he was writing: “Come on!” he said, and hopped up into the computer chair and opened up his file on the family computer. He was eight at the time.

And me? I don’t remember ever not having a computer. From the tiny Macintosh, to the IBM 286, to the Pentium, and, eventually, through to the Mac on my lap right now, computers are as much a part of my ‘necessities’ as, well, my violin. It’s almost impossible for me to write coherently without a keyboard. And when you say ‘mouse’ my first thought isn’t of the mammalian variety.

Argue with me if you want, but for my generation and younger in the Global North, I don’t think I’m that much of an anomaly. Likely, we don’t remember that ‘first look’ at a computer. Likely, we more often react with frustration to our computers, not awe.

But while I was in Ghana I got to experience that feeling of awe for the first time in a very long time.

Computer education is just beginning to be required by the Ghanaian government. For the first time, there is curriculum being written, and schools are being faced with the need for computer labs, while perhaps a more pressing need may be that of a continuous power supply. And for two of the volunteers right now, the basics of computer education is part of their internship project for their Social Work degrees back in the Netherlands. And I got to be there for the very first ‘first look’!

Sister Fiona and Sir Mike brought with them three of the ‘One Laptop for Every Child’ computers, check them out if you’ve never come across them before here: Small and durable with both built-in wireless and a built-in handle, they’re designed as learning tools for children in developing countries.

But I digress…

Because the laptop is cool, but the look of awe on the children’s faces blew away any thought of the actual computers. It was four of the oldest children that were invited that first day; four children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years. And they couldn’t have had more fun!

They began with the ‘Write’ icon, learning how to type lower-case and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols. “Can you type your name?” They thought it was amazing to see their names appear up on the screen!

Then onto the ‘Paint’ icon, which brought back a flood of memories for me. They did amazingly well for having never used a trackpad mouse before. One of the children drew an elephant, one a person, Pastor Abraham even gave ‘Paint’ a try. And the most awe-inspiring ‘change-of-color-with-the-click-of-a-mouse click’ trick.

Then they got to play with the ‘Record’ icon. Possibly their favorite. Why? Well, because the children all love to have their pictures taken. If they know you have a camera their eternal chant will be “Snap me! Snap me!” (the sound the camera makes when the picture is taken). Normally it requires begging, but here, now, they were able to “snap me” all on their own, with their own cameras. Even better than that, they could take videos too!

All in all, it was quite the day of discovery. The only thing the children didn’t want to learn was how to turn off the computers and to put them away. “Can’t we learn just a little bit more, please Sister?” was their plea. “Next week,” was their answer.

My goodness, how they soaked it all in, so eager to learn!

There was only one thing the children really didn’t get: why the trackpad mouse was called a mouse. I think they thought we were joking, as ridiculous as the idea was. They were giggling and laughing as they replied to our most excellent joke:

“That’s not a mouse!!!!”


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