intel_cm3_2“It’s Friday night, and six Intel employees, sitting in a row, are sweating buckets,” Jason Cheah recalls of his first day in Vietnam.  “We’re sitting in a wide open courtyard in an orphanage, surrounded by what must be 80 children, from screaming young toddlers to brooding older teens. Suddenly, the kids break out into coordinated song, and the still night air reverberates with a popular local tune. We can’t help but attempt to clap along with the rhythm.”

Cheah and five Intel colleagues were starting an adventure in Quang Tri, a rural community in the middle of Vietnam. The night before they had spent their first night in Vietnam in a Quang Tri hotel attempting to check office eMail at 10:45 p.m. while trucks, 8-wheel trailers, scooters, and all manners of buses rumbled by outside.

The six volunteers, three from the United States and three from Vietnam, were there as part of the Intel Education Service Corps, a new Corporate Social Responsibility initiative designed to help children and teachers in underprivileged communities around the world learn how to use laptops and video camcorders to strengthen their education and enhance their lives.

Supporting the Intel team was Tad Kinkaid, the director of Orphans Overseas, a Laos-based non-government organization, and his team.  Tad’s team was deploying 10 Intel-powered classmate PC’s at this orphanage, with Intel’s volunteer employees providing help in the form of set-up and training. It wasn’t easy; with back-to-back training classes and a seemingly endless routine of setting up and configuring the laptops, the volunteers were dead tired.

“But tonight, looking up at a cloudless sky and surrounded by kids singing their lungs out, aching muscles, bleary eyes and sore throats are temporarily forgotten–everyone’s beaming wide and clapping along,” Cheah wrote in a blog of his experience.

Back to the beginning

As part of Intel’s ongoing commitment to improving education through the effective use of technology, Intel launched the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) in September 2009.  The program is designed to be a short-term career development opportunity for a select group of Intel employees to travel to a developing country to directly support the deployment of classmate PCs, custom designed to provide powerful, rugged computing performance and software applications to support teaching and learning. The PC features the Intel Atom processor–built for low power consumption and designed specifically for a new wave of devices optimized for mobility.

As of mid-2010,the IESC has deployed more than 50 Intel employees in nine teams to work with non-governmental organizations in countries such as Bangladesh, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Kenya, and Vietnam, setting up Intel-powered classmate PCs and training teachers and children in their use.  To date, the program has benefited more than 15,000 students and hundreds of teachers.

The pitch to potential volunteers has been simple: “Have you always wanted to get involved with Intel’s efforts to improve education?  Are you looking for an opportunity to apply your unique skills to a high-impact volunteer project?  Do you want to make a difference in the lives of children in a developing country?”

Before deploying, volunteers receive approximately 30 hours of virtual and face-to-face training during a four-week training phase.  Although there is a large prepared curriculum, volunteers also have the opportunity during training to work with their team members to prepare their own lessons and materials to be used on the project. The training phase of the project is conducted in parallel with an employee’s existing role at Intel.

The in-country assignment lasts two weeks, during which time volunteers set up necessary hardware and software, as well as teach students, teachers and/or parents to use the Intel-powered classmate PC. During the deployment, local transport and lodging is coordinated by the NGO and volunteers live and work under the same conditions as locals.  Volunteers will also be encouraged to share their experiences with the broader Intel community via blogs and other social media while on assignment.  For the two-week in-country phase of the project, employees are expected to arrange coverage for their permanent role at Intel.

During a two-week post-deployment phase, volunteers are responsible for presenting their project results at Intel.  Volunteers return to their existing Intel roles during this phase and are able to conduct their post-event activities in parallel with their regular responsibilities.

Connecting in Bangladesh

Four other Intel employees recently took on the task of introducing computers in two primary schools in a remote corner of Bangladesh.  Working with Save the Children USA, they installed 60 classmate PCs donated by Intel’s World Ahead program and provided basic computer training.

In a knowledge-based society, digital technology is a gateway to economic and social progress. Yet two-thirds of the world’s people today live in countries with less than three percent PC penetration. Billions do not have access to high-speed communications, a good education, or meaningful digital content and services.

The Intel World Ahead Program aims to enhance lives by accelerating access to uncompromised technology for everyone, everywhere. Focused on developing communities, it integrates and extends our efforts to use technology to help people improve their lives, societies, and economies.

“We were able to bring a spark of excitement and hope in the lives of a thousand students and their 19 teachers in a small town near the western border  of Bangladesh, where electricity is undependable and many kids do not get three square meals a day,” said Intel employee Bibhuti (Bob) Banerjee.

Arriving from 3 different U.S. locations and India, the four employees first met face to face as a team in their Dhaka hotel over breakfast, before spending the day at Save the Children USA’s Dhaka office to discuss the project and finalize their plans.  Save the Children USA told them that only 2 of every 3 children entering 1st grade will go on to 6th grade in Bangladesh.  The Intel groups came to help launch the classmate PC pilot program with the objectives of improving classroom scores and reducing dropout rates through the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in primary schools.

After driving to Meherpur, Bangladesh, they spent the next day visiting Ujalpur and BM Model Primary Schools to set up the classmate PCs.

There were about 800 students in grades 1-5 in two primary schools to be trained in 3 days and the Intel team had only 25 classmate PCs for each school.  The team started brainstorming. Was it possible to train all of them? Should they select a few from each class? Did it make sense to train grade 1 students? How about dropping grade 5 students, as they are leaving school in 3 months time? Finally they decided to give every student a chance to work on a classmate PC, by sharing it among two or three students for a 1 hour session.

Students in a queue entered the classroom, rushed to occupy seats and grabbed the classmate PCs to experience them. The Intel volunteers started with basic introduction of the computer: What is the screen, keyboard, touch pad, etc., and then showed students how to play a keyboard learning game (press the letter written on a balloon to burst it).

“They were playing with so much of excitement that the classroom became uncontrollably noisy,” said Surya N. Misra, one of the Intel volunteers. “Soon there were calls from everyone as we didn’t tell them what is to be done to enter next level of game. Once we trained them to press the spacebar twice to enter next level, they never asked help again…these children were really smart and fast learners.”

Securing Volunteers

To ensure that the volunteers in the Intel Education Service Corps will function well, meet the needs of the host country organizations, and are adept with teaching technology, they must have at least one year of Intel service, secure their manager’s approval to participate, be able to commit to the full program, and have had a successful most recent evaluation.

In addition to these required elements, Intel looks for volunteers who have:

  • Demonstrated passion for service, teaching, and education
  • Excellent team skills, both as a member and as a leader
  • Flexibility to adapt to the local environment and living standards
  • Ability to function well in diverse cultural settings and organizations
  • Comfortable working in front of large groups
  • Knowledge of local language and/or culture
  • Demonstrated expertise aligned with differing volunteer roles, such as ability to set up and maintain school-wide wireless networks (both intranet and internet), classroom teaching experience with K-12 students, or PC programming or IT support experience

Contributing in Kenya

The Intel volunteers arrived in Kenya on a Sunday night Kenya time, after 3 plane transfers, missed connections, and lost baggage. They flew to Kisumu on Monday morning to be received by Alphonce Okuku, Director of Kageno Trust, at the Kisumu airport and arrived at Rusinga Island, on Lake Victoria, on a Monday afternoon after a car and ferry ride.

Kageno Trust has a solar-equipped vehicle that’s used to charge up to 14 Intel-powered classmate PCs and a teacher’s PC. It also powers a wireless router that connects the teacher’s computer to the classmate PCs. Rusinga Island has no electricity or running water, so the computer program facilitators drive the vehicle to schools around the island to give students an opportunity to have hands on computer training.

The Intel team’s goal was to train the coordinators to effectively use the classmate PCs in the classrooms. “We were all very impressed at how respectful the students were. The moment we entered their classrooms they would stand up, get chairs for their honored guests and even called us Sir/Madam,” recalls Intel volunteer Lucy Kuria.

There were 6-12 students sharing one classmate PC, but the students made sure that each one had a turn on it. Many of the students were too shy to ask questions at the beginning of class, but would send more questions than their teacher could handle on the chat tool of the collaboration software.

At the end of every class, the students would always plead with the volunteers to stay another hour or visit them at least one more time. Some went as far as offering to go to class on Saturday and Sunday for a chance to learn something new on the computer. “All the students we met asked us to send our regards to everyone in America,” said Kuria on her blog from Kenya. “So if you are reading this from the U.S, wamosi.”

Bill MacKenzie is a communications manager for U.S. Corporate Affairs with the Intel Corporation.