Over the past couple of years, the Costa Rican telecommunications industry was decentralized to allow for further competition, which in turn has resulted in further investment and innovation, and more connectivity for the average costarricense. Indeed, cell phones, whether prepaid or monthly all-inclusive plans, are the ubiquitous method of communication and are becoming more common for entertainment and information, which has been furthered by the first arrival of the iPhone in the market in 2012. However, despite this increase in technological innovation from the top-down, there is still a lack of access and knowledge of general computer skills, especially in rural areas of Costa Rica which becomes an impediment for average citizens to leverage the power of technology to perform tasks, for which are necessary to not only obtain and perform many jobs, but also to navigate the ever-changing technologically social world. This gap of access and knowledge between rural and urban communities and poorer and richer nations is known as the “digital divide”. Per Wikipedia digital divide is defined as “an economic inequality between groups, broadly construed, in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies.”
To address issues of digital divide in Costa Rica several years ago, Peace Corps volunteers (PCV) on the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Committee created a website http://www.navecomputacional.com to teach basic technology skills targeted, but not limited, to Costa Rican youth ages 7-13 (trainees have ranged as high as 60 years old!). The creative idea of the site is that it draws students interest by introducing the learning through space travel and that each module included is an “expedición” which will help them eventually complete their mission. The website includes tools for both students and educators and has facilitated training of 302 participants covering 18 communities and 12 organizations (144 females and 158 males). The objective of the website is to give tools to PCVs which allows them to teach basic computer skills which do not require anything more than a computer and an internet connection (optional as the site can be downloaded to an USB drive and transported to site) with no special software required.
The donation of funds by the Friends of Costa Rica will allow current and future PCVs to expand the curriculum offered by the site, creating new missions and expeditions for students as technology continues to evolve. Additionally, PCVs hope to share this resource with counterparts, schools, organizations and individuals so they can also teach classes on their own, making both the teaching and learning sustainable in communities after volunteers end their service. Peace Corps Costa Rica also hopes to share this learning tool with other Spanish speaking Peace Corps countries, allowing them to take advantage of the tool and collaborate in its development, broadening the reach beyond Costa Rica to throughout all Latin America.
The ICT Committee would like to give a hearty thanks to all of the Friends of Costa Rica for helping support this important project and for enabling PCVs and counterparts to help bridge the digital divide.