The Oaxaca Project:
Creating a Cyber Community
This paper was presented at CCALL3: Third Canadian Conference in Computer Assisted Language Learning. Université Ste. Anne. June 23-27, 1998.
The Mexican Government, with NAFTA now a reality, is committed to improving basic education for “basic education stimulates the productive capacity of a society and improves its economic, social, political and scientific institutions.” President Ernesto Zedillo signed these words, along with 31 State Governors and the General Secretary of the National Teachers’ Union, in the document: A National Agreement for the Modernization of Basic Education (18 May 1992). Later, in the same document it states that basic education “promotes a more equitable distribution of income; stimulates more national consumer habits; elevates respects for human rights, in particular the position of women and children in the community; and facilitates social adaptation to technological change.”
Zedillo’s education reforms mean the complete reorganization of a highly centralized national system, including curriculum, texts, methods, and teacher education. Quite simply, the Oaxaca Project is a partnership between Canadian and Mexican partners (St. Thomas University [STU], the University of New Brunswick [UNB] and the Centro de Idiomas [C de I] at the Universidad Autónoma "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca [UABJO]). Enhanced literacy programs, improved use of information technology, poverty reduction, and good governance will facilitate making Zedillo’s changes “a concrete reality.”
What exactly is UABJO? UABJO is the Universidad Autónoma “Benito Juárez” de Oaxaca. Benito Juárez, a lawyer from Oaxaca, was the first indigenous president of Mexico. He was also the greatest reformer of the Mexican education system and he strove always for equality of opportunity for his people. It is no surprise that UABJO, named after Benito Juárez, continues this egalitarian tradition offering education at affordable rates to all the population of Oaxaca. But more, much more: UABJO is the heart and soul of development in Oaxaca.
It is the second largest employer after the State Government and, as the only State University, it represents learning, culture, development, opportunity, and progress for all the people of Oaxaca, especially the poor. To develop UABJO is to develop Oaxaca, for UABJO is at the heart of all development plans for the State of Oaxaca. Oaxaca has been declared one of the most underdeveloped areas in Mexico. Bordering on the State of Chiapas, it has been targeted for development by the Mexican Government. The UABJO Administration has begun a campaign to upgrade more teaching faculty at UABJO; currently only 10% have PhDs; a further 15% have Masters Degrees; some 40% still do not possess qualifications related to their areas of teaching. 6 of the 85 members of the Centro de Idiomas Faculty are upgrading their qualifications right now. More will follow in the immediate future and STU and UNB wish to assist UABJO Faculty in this process.
The STU/UNB/UABJO Exchange has been in place for four years (1994-1998). Initially, the Director of the C de I, Lic. Claire Cabedoce Melaine, travelled to the University of New Brunswick, at the invitation of the UNB Faculty of Education, in the Fall of 1994. She also visited the Spanish Section at St. Thomas University. In the Fall of 1995, Dra. Amalia Cruz Reyes and Lic. Piedad Ortega Ramírez visited the campuses of STU and UNB and were involved in a series of lectures and classes at both institutions. As a direct result of this second exchange, Prof. George Haley of the Faculty of Education at UNB received an invitation to form a team of Education Specialists who would visit Oaxaca in November/December 1995. The faculty exchanges continued in 1996 and during the visit of the Canadian team (Moore/Haley) to Oaxaca, the need to develop the Human and Institutional Resources of the Centro de Idiomas was perceived. It was clear immediately that the funds in place were insufficient for major resource development (human and institutional) and for the changes in curriculum being contemplated; therefore, it was decided to seek various means of alternative outside funding.
But what is literacy? The Oaxaca Project team have agreed to use the definition of literacy employed by the Organization for Economic and Commercial Development in its publication: OECD International Adult Literacy Survey: Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society: “Literacy refers to a particular skill namely the ability to understand and use printed information in day to day activities at home, at work and in the community.” When we say “literacy”, especially in the context of Oaxaca, we refer to the five levels and three types of literacy highlighted by the OECD. In addition, we added computer literacy.
- prose literacy
- document literacy
- quantitative literacy
- computer literacy
the teachers who graduate from UABJO will teach at all five levels indicated in the OECD report, including the most basic one of alfabetización [i.e. providing the alphabet to those who lack it]).
Note that in this region of Oaxaca, as in other countries that participated in the IALS survey, literacy, employment, and poverty reduction have proven to be very closely related. UABJO, which provides poor people with access to state education, is central to all development in Oaxaca. By developing the human and institutional resources of UABJO, UABJO’s ability to teach the teachers to teach literacy will also be developed. By teaching the teachers to teach life long learning practices, especially with information technology, a self-sustainable human resource will also be instituted.
During the December 1997 meetings in Oaxaca, it was decided to target 2 Canadian International Development Agency principles: Basic Human Needs (Education) and Women in Development while access would be provided to programs in a third area: Good Governance, Human Rights and Liberal Democracy. Under Basic Human Needs, Basic Education will be improved. The Oaxaca Project works towards an improved resource center (library system, computer centre and multi media resources); a new diploma for the teaching of Spanish to combat illiteracy; a new Certificate in Computer Literacy; and an MEd program at UABJO preferably delivered by electronic means for teaching literacy; design and delivery of computer skills and multi media programs, all targeting teacher training and program design for improved literacy and the teaching of literacy. As a result, increased numbers of UABJO’s graduate teachers will reach a wider spectrum of pupils and offer, together with improved literacy, a commitment to life long learning through information technology. Training in information technology will be central to the development of all new teachers at UABJO. Quite simply, by training more and better teachers of literacy (the plan is to double the size of the graduating class of teachers over the next five years), the Oaxaca Project will help lessen illiteracy, increase employment and reduce poverty in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Results for Community Development
(Where UABJO Graduates Teach Literacy)
Other UABJO Faculties
- Law, Business, Medicine
- Business and Professional groups
- Tourism Hotels Artisans Taxi Drivers Waiters Markets
- Oaxaca City Schools
- Oaxaca State Schools
- Distance Education Rural Schools
- National Service Teaching
- Community literacy programs
In order to improve Human Resources, it will be necessary to develop the following:
- the capacity to train other people in teaching literacy;
- expertise in course design aimed particularly at a continued advancement in methods of literacy teaching;
- expertise in evaluation (formative and summative);
- abilities for the expansion of skill and knowledge transfer (a) between the Mexican and Canadian Communities and (b) from teacher to student within UABJO;
- leadership roles (particularly among women, who form 60% of the staff and the students at the C de I);
- expertise in drafting grant applications;
- realistic and practical planning over an initial five year time frame;
- methods for the implementation of innovative practices in the workplace;
- a maintenance team able to upgrade, expand, and improve the Information Technology (IT) systems which are in the process of being installed;
- an academic team who can (a) use, (b) implement, and (c) design their own multimedia literacy teaching programs;
- a plan to enable UABJO to enter fully into the Mexican National Distance Education Network, as both a user of, and a supplier of, electronic information.
This will necessitate (a) the installation of, and basic training on, Information Technology equipment; (b) training for use of IT equipment in basic literacy teaching; (c) training for maintenance of IT equipment; (d) skill and knowledge transfer within IT methodology as a means to improve the delivery of teaching and literacy programs; (e) building a website on which to develop literacy teaching.
At the most BASIC LEVEL, faculty in Oaxaca will be able to access the WWW, use word-processing programs, and employ e-mail for teaching and learning. At the INTERMEDIATE LEVEL, faculty in Oaxaca will be able to use spread sheets, manage data bases, and integrate the WWW into their teaching of literacy. At the ADVANCED LEVEL: faculty will be able to design their own WWW site and will be able not only to utilize the WWW in the planning of their teaching and learning programs, but also to design these programs for themselves in joint projects elaborated with international team members. As a result, faculty in Oaxaca will be able to contribute to the Mexican National Distance Education Network with its outlets in Oaxacan schools.
Clearly, the above program will also contribute to the internationalization of the Canadian universities in all aspects of their mission as well as to the promotion of Canadian University expertise in higher education, for UABJO will be developing teaching and literacy programs jointly with STU/UNB.
In addition, and this is key to the development of language teaching, a joint meeting place will be developed (on the WWW) in which students and faculty from both universities can exchange information and complete joint projects on current social and educational issues. To this end, Mexico has been targeted as an interest area within the STU-UNB learning community and official agreements for further cooperation have been signed by all three universities and by both national embassies. As a further development, STU and UNB are currently developing education modules covering various aspects of Mexican-Canadian relations, for the necessity of developing new techniques for the delivery of improved teaching is recognized on all 3 campuses. Eventually, links will be constructed between the teaching of Spanish within the New Brunswick University and High School system to the jointly maintained Oaxaca Project Website. Meanwhile, faculty in Oaxaca will have access to and use of distance education packets in, for example, Literacy and Cultural Studies, Social Work, Human Rights, Gender Studies, Native Studies, Liberal Education, Model United Nations, Distance Education, and Information Technology.
Improved Teaching at Centro de Idiomas, UABJO
GRADUATE PROGRAMS @ STU UNB & MEd @ UABJO
LICENCIATURA PROGRAM @ Centro de Idiomas UABJO
DIPLOMA PROGRAM @ Centro de Idiomas UABJO
LANGUAGE AND LITERACY PROGRAMS @ Centro de Idiomas UABJO
Plans are in progress to improve the institutional resources at UABJO in terms of both hardware and software. This means initially the installation and maintenance of an independent WWW server for Centro de Idiomas. This will link directly into the current computer laboratory which is presently under reconstruction and development. There will be faculty training programs (a) in basic computing techniques (b) in using multimedia for teaching and (c) in multimedia production. At present we are also planning, with the aid of Lic. Irma Domínguez Solorzano of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, to construct a joint website (STU, UNB, UABJO, UNAM) for the interchange of information and programs. In addition, there will be an electronic resource library at the C de I with a literacy centre, resources for teacher training in literacy, and access to STU / UNB long distance education programs. Via the website, UABJO faculty and students will have access to, and provide input to, current programs in STU and UNB including Environmental Issues, Human Rights, Native Studies, Gender Studies, Social Work, Liberal Democracy Studies, Model United Nations and so on.
At the same time that these facilities are being built, with the aid of a major international development project, plans are in progress to develop human resources and managerial skills. In addition, faculty will design and implement new Distance Education programs in teacher training and literacy, including the planned MEd in teacher training. Finally, in addition to the regular exchanges which have already taken place, there are other “hidden” benefits: international planning, realistic goal setting, formation of timetables, report writing, grant application writing, greater cooperation, greater teamwork, taking charge of project at both ends, expanded interest in Mexico by Canada and in Canada by Mexicans.
New Teaching Packages to be Developed and Integrated Jointly by UABJO / STU / UNB:
COMPUTER LITERACY TRAINING PROGRAM
1. CERTIFICATION IN BASIC COMPUTER LITERACY
2. INTEGRATION OF MULTI MEDIA TECHNOLOGY INTO LITERACY TEACHING
3. DEVELOPMENT AND DESIGN OF MULTI-MEDIA PROGRAMS FOR LITERACY TEACHING AND LEARNING
4. INSTALLATION AND MAINTENANCE OF EQUIPMENT
5. DESIGN OF CRITICAL AND ANALYTICAL MODULE ON DANGERS OF MULTI MEDIA
5. WEB PAGE WEB SITE DESIGN AND UPKEEP
6. CD-ROM DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
DISTANCE EDUCATION PROGRAMS
WEB AND INTERNET ACCESS TO
1. TEACHING LITERACY
2. TEACHER TRAINING AND LITERACY
3. CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT
4. MEXICAN-CANADIAN RELATIONS
5. HUMAN RIGHTS, GENDER STUDIES, NATIVE STUDIES, SOCIAL WORK etc
6. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Clearly this is an ambitious project and one that needs major national and international funding. While actively seeking such funding and awaiting the results of sundry grant applications in Canada and in Mexico, international cooperative work by electronic means continues. Thus, this academic year (1998-1999), students at St. Thomas University are again exchanging e-mails with their Oaxacan counterparts. Projects in the second year Spanish class include signing into Spanish chat rooms, reading Mexican newspapers on the WWW, translating newspaper articles from Spanish to English and / or French, following an item of news (for example, Chiapas, Hurricane Mitch, the anti-drug war, the Salinas Gortari case, separation and independence issues) through the Canadian and Mexican Press and writing essays, in Spanish, summarizing the readings. In addition, traditional CALL projects continue: computerized language exercises and testing, audio and video tapes, e-mail submission of written and creative work via the class web page (currently under construction thanks to a group of interested students).
The object of all this activity is to break down the classroom walls and open the Spanish-speaking world as much as possible to New Brunswick students. They in their turn will be twinned with Oaxacan partners and will open the bilingual world of New Brunswick, Canada to students from Oaxaca.
Return to Scholarship of Teaching