I’m currently on a school trip to Thailand and Laos with students from my school. We spent the first couple of days in Chiangrai, but the majority of our time is in Laos. We are based in Luang Prabang, but will be heading out tomorrow to a village two hours away where we will be working on a community project, helping to lay the foundations of a Kindergarten for the villagers. This will mean five days without Internet access for all of us. I think this will be the longest stint I’ve had off the grid in a very long time – no tweeting for me. Let’s see how I cope with that!
We’ve been blogging about our trip to help keep our school community and the students’ family and friends informed about out travels. Follow this link if you’d like to take a read – Beyond Boundaries: Thailand. It’s a great way of reassuring our school community that the students are in good hands and enjoying themselves. Many parents have left comments and have indicated their appreciation for what we are doing.It’s time consuming at the end of some pretty long days, but more than worthwhile, especially as the students will be able to access it after the event and reflect on what they’ve done.
I was last in Asia in 2008, when I visited China with students. Back then, I was amazed at the industrialization of that country. Laos is very different. Tourists have only been allowed entry since 1992, and the country is one that seems to be heavily invested in its traditional village origins, but one grappling too with a 21st century world that is butting up against tradition at what will be an unrelenting pace. Already the growth of mobile technology is evident. People have what seem to be mostly Android phones (cheaper than iPhones) and mobile phone towers were dotted along the Mekong River providing access to signal and the Internet. It seems everywhere you go, eateries are offering free wifi to attract the tourist dollar. Even in what seem to be remote villages, wifi is available in tourist accommodation.
You have to seriously wonder what the impact of this access will be on many people who are still at this stage living a village lifestyle where a large majority of children don’t receive an education past Primary School. We visited a couple of village communities as we traveled down the Mekong River and I was struck by the apparent impact of Western or modernized neighboring Asian countries on the young people living there. I saw low hung jeans with the rim of boxer short underpants exposed, stylish hairstyles, T Shirts with English writing emblazoned upon them, high heels on some girls and a bit of a longing in their eyes to know more about us, and to use the devices we had with us. As they gain access to the Internet through mobile devices, will we see them take full opportunity of the ability to self direct their learning through them?
Our guide has an interesting story. He became a novice Monk at a young age as it was an opportunity to obtain a good education and live a principled life. He left at 19, and an entrepreneurial spirit saw him learn English by himself by listening to the radio for half an hour four times a week. He was very grateful to an Australian woman who volunteered her time to teach English and was under her tutelage for three months. He became a Mahout (elephant trainer) for three years and then began helping tourists out in Luang Prabang. The tour company he works for now saw his talent and offered him a job. His aspirations don’t end there – he wants to buy his own restaurant next year in Luang Prabang. Given his story so far, I have no doubt that he will achieve his aim. He loves the Internet and all that it offers him in terms of connection and learning opportunities. How many more like him are sitting in the villages of Laos? Determined young people with a desire to live the lives they see played out via their access to Tim Berners Lee’s creation. My guess is there are plenty, and I’m also betting the fire in their belly to live life differently from their forbears is stronger than the desire many of our students have. Our students, my own children among them, are living very different lives and are somewhat complacent within them.
I’ll leave you with this (if this app will allow me to add it to this post.) This is what greeted our eyes as we walked along a village road alongside the Mekong Delta. If this isn’t proof positive of a burgeoning new world invading an old one, I don’t know what is!