Skype for Global Education Disparities?


Advancing technology defines the evolving nature of human communication. Our interactions rely increasingly on our cell-phones, computers, and most significantly, the internet. As an Anthropology student, I have started to notice a few ways ethnography has taken hold of this recent phenomenon. Recently, I was surprised to find a podcast called “Socializing Through Pokemon Go,” which you can find here.

I have heard about the anthropologist conducting an ethnographic study inside the game of World Of Warcraft. The tool-belt of ethnographers is changing. Pen and paper still dominate the anthropologist’s choice of arsenal when doing participant observation and note-taking. The voice recorder freed the anthropologist from the bounds of time, allowing for more “in-the-moment” experiences that can be recorded at the press of the button. Now, every person has a camera better than the most expensive cameras ten years ago in their pocket attached to their cell phone. Get this: we even have computer software that uses voice recognition in real time to transcribe personal narrative. Although these new tools are far from perfect, they allow for qualitative data to be recorded faster, more efficiently, and with ease. Gone are the days when the anthropologist must spend hours each day recording notes in a notebook, missing out on key events that might transform the shape of their research entirely.

I am sure that communication technology will be on my tool-belt, but it will not replace my old tools. There is something about the classic pen and notebook that allows for more freedom compared to new devices. Until the notebook and pen is emulated perfectly in the digital landscape, I will continue to use them. On the contrary, the frequency that I use my tools will change. Being born early enough to remember the turn of the century (I was 5 years old) has given me a distinct appreciation for both advancing technology, and the gadgets we’ve used for millenniums. However, the old means of gathering qualitative data can be restrictive.

I was sitting at a coffee shop called Nhà Sàn with three local high-school English teachers. They had invited my family and I to have coffee with them during our stay in Đắk Lắk, Việt Nam.

Dak Lak, Viet Nam

We visited for hours. Three hours, to be exact. They were so interested in hearing about our lives and where we come from. It also gave them a chance to practice speaking English, since tourists rarely come to this part in the Central Highlands. As we talked, they brought up some issues I was unaware of. The division between location and education opportunity was distinct. Being able to speak English opens up many career opportunities in many countries in the world, including Việt Nam. Especially so because of Việt Nam’s transnational history with the United States and other English-speaking countries. Children begin studying English in school in 6th grade, and continue studying the language until they graduate high school.

Children growing up in the Central Highlands, away from the tourist trade and the big cities, gives them little opportunity to speak with a native English speaker. The division between those that live in a rapidly developing city such as Sài Gòn or Hà Nội versus those that live farther inland generates a widening gap between social classes. Unfortunately, I cannot stay in my wife’s hometown and help students practice their English all year long. As one who is naturally inclined to identify problems and search for solutions, I started thinking about what I could do to help less-fortunate students receive access to speaking English with native speakers.

One solution I’ve come up with is developing a partnership program between schools in Việt Nam and schools in the United States through web-based video chats.

What advantages would this bring for the students in Việt Nam?

  1. Cultural Awareness
  2. Practice speaking English with a Native speaker

What about for the students in American schools?

  1. Cultural Awareness
  2. Opportunity to learn about foreign countries outside of history textbooks
  3. Opportunity to practice speaking a foreign language

Possible issues:

  1. Might widen the class gap on the local level
  2. Technology availability issues, internet issues
  3. Timezone issues
  4. Age-group

If you made it this far, please comment any insights you have on this topic. Thanks!

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