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Clicking open aworld of learning

Christina Preston reports on an impressive Chilean outreach programme

A nationwide multimedia net-work is promoting un-dreamed-of learning opportunities for poor pupils in remote regions of Chile. Under a joint Chilean government-World Bank project, the most poorly-resourced schools were linked first into the Apple-based network system. By the turn of the century, it is planned to connect all the secondary and half the primary schools in the country.

Under the Programme for Improvement of Educational Quality, the Enlaces (Link) Project is challenging traditional teaching and learning techniques.

Some immediate effects have been recorded in the Mapuche community. These indigenous people have never had a written language and new alphabets are being developed to record their threatened culture. But these have been overtaken because the Enlaces team are encouraging the Mapuche teachers and children to record their lives in multimedia click-and-point software that can be shared on the network.

Mapuche children have recorded software on their natural environment and homes. Legends and songs will follow. Multimedia software with sound and graphics, photo and video is the more natural medium for oral tradition.

This prestigious modern method of preservation has had great impact on Mapuche children's keenness to be associated with the Mapungen language. Some had only spoken Spanish in school, afraid of being marginalised. In contrast, they are now planning a national sound and picture dictionary and inventing new words. The older generation are reassured, self-esteem has risen and the students' command of Spanish has also improved.

The irony is that the Mapuche schools, which had perhaps five books each, are now moving to a networked research culture which permits access to current databases on-line and CD-Rom storage, all to be downloaded to colour printers. The people are jumping 500 years of books and reinforcing their oral culture with multimedia essays.

One reason for the Enlaces project's success in remote regions is the network software. It is based on the metaphor of the village town square, La Plaza, which is familiar to every Chilean. Places to visit in the village square are increasing all the time, with the Post Office the place to send messages all round the world.

At the museum, new software and CD-Roms provide a wide range of replicable teaching and learning materials. The cultural centre is for international conferencing and the kiosk is where children and teachers can now publish their own multimedia newspapers and books.

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