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Technology to the Rescue for our Education System!

By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant

Some people may consider it as pathetic, even disgusting perhaps, that today’s super-advanced mobile technology has surpassed and replaced everyday human interaction. Raging over the internet this month is a picture of Albert Einstein, with a caption next to his picture, “Has this day arrived?” The controversial saying that some people attribute to Einstein, although it has not been proven, is one wherein he predicts that technology would surpass humanity and eventually create a generation of idiots. The fact is that today’s advanced technology is no longer science fiction, as it may have been in Einstein’s time, or even only 25 years ago. Regardless of whether we understand or accept it, advanced technology is now everyday reality in all corners of the world, including Belize. To know what I’m talking about, simply step onto any crowded bus, train, or mass transit system; walk through any open grocery store or mall; enter a crowded bank or Post Office to transact business; enter any popular restaurant to enjoy a meal, and casually glance around you. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see more people talking into cell phones, or checking Facebook and email on a Smart Phone or some type of hand-held mobile electronic device than you’ll see people chatting face-to-face with each other or looking directly into each other’s eyes. Casually look around in any public place and you’ll see a majority of people, young and old, with their faces buried in the latest hand-held and touch technology mobile fad; many of them will be seen and heard talking loudly into the cell phones, and paying no attention whatsoever to anything or anyone around them. What then has happened to everyday human interaction? Has it now been replaced by advanced mobile technology?

Virtual communication or instant messaging by robot-like people, during every hour of the day or night, seems to have taken over humanity. Actually, even during church services, many times you will hear a cell phone ring loudly or chime some disgusting show tune. Even more embarrassing, many times the owner will be heard screaming loudly into the cell phone, “I’m in church; I can’t talk!” All of this keeps happening, even after public announcements are repeatedly made at the start of each church service, “Please turn off all cell phones.” Even schools, starting as early as Primary, have had to introduce very strict “No cell phones or hand-held electronics” rules while trying to educate all students everyday. Yet, many students keep looking for every excuse under the sun to justify bringing their cell phones and electronic gadgets to school. Worse yet, as unbelievable as it may seem, more and more tragic and fatal road accidents are repeatedly being caused, in large and small countries, by motorists of all ages who insist on communicating by cell phone, texting, or doing both while driving. These are the stubborn and careless drivers who choose to remain totally distracted by technology from what they’re supposed to be doing: concentrating on driving and maneuvering safely on the road ahead of them.

Nonetheless, even though technology should not replace humanity, when harnessed properly (used at the right time and right place) technology can be used to help enhance one’s education, and help save our unique Belizean languages and cultures. The majority of young people in Belize today cannot fluently speak or understand Maya, Kekchi, or Garifuna. In this new century these languages are spoken by a smaller and smaller handful of middle-aged and older Belizeans. How, then, do we get our young people interested in learning, using, and preserving these languages that are not taught in our schools? How can we save our native languages and cultures from extinction? Technology can be a tool to help us preserve and pass on our rich native languages and cultural traditions to future generations.

Many Native American Indian Tribes in the United States have turned to modern technology to try to save their many tribal languages and prevent them from becoming extinct. Belize should do likewise, and turn to technology to help preserve its native languages that are not taught in schools, and that are slowly phasing out as more and more of our older Maya, Garifuna, and Kekchi (Ketchi) people grow older and die. What I especially like about the idea of turning to technology to help save our own languages is that it can also be a way to conquer the huge divide, or gap, between our young and our old people. Young people can provide the technical expertise to create game shows in Maya, Garifuna, or Kekchi; and our older people can provide the linguistic expertise – questions and answers in each native language. There are You Tube videos that can be made of older people speaking in Maya, Kekchi, or Garifuna. These could be uploaded or downloaded for everyday use, especially for young people who do not have access to, nor live near to anyone who speaks Maya, or Garifuna, or Kekchi. We could try to get our Belizean youth fully engaged in using flexible applications that can be downloaded unto their iPods and iPhones. We could use applications that our young people are already well-acquainted with and would use. Why wait only once a year to see annual Festival of Arts productions of Belizean songs and dances (folklore) to appreciate our varied cultures and languages when we can access them everyday through the use of free or low cost technology?

Yes, advanced technology has its pros and cons; but it can be a very powerful tool to use in order to help revive and revitalize Belize’s endangered Maya, Garifuna, and Kekchi languages. I am not a professional linguist, nor do I profess to know all the native languages that we speak in Belize; but as an educator I will continue my unabashed polemic cry for continuing change in our Education systems. I recall, with envy, the many hours that my father used to spend conversing in fluent Maya, with his many older friends who would visit Belize City from Louisville, in the Corozal District up North (bordering Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula). Though I never understood a single word of Maya, I was always impressed with my father’s polylingual abilities. Having been born and raised at Louisville Farm (now a town) in the Corozal District he fluently spoke Maya, Spanish, and English, even though he attended but one year of high school – a boarding school in Belize City at the time. I also fondly recall my mother’s tales of young children passing her home in San Ignacio, Cayo District every Halloween night during the 1930’s, with cup in hand, begging for “Ish Paza Pa La Calavera” (sp?) which was a type of corn meal eaten by local Indians. To conclude, as with any use of technology, we should always keep in mind that any instrument of modern and advanced technology is just a tool, never a substitute. So, in order for us to learn and properly use any language, whether old or modern, we must first have genuine will power and discipline to study and learn that language. Most importantly, no tool of technology should ever be allowed to replace our genuine humanity.

Author’s Note:
These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!

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