MSI Love and Enthusiastic Volunteer Team― The reduce digital divide activity in 2009.

Foreword

Hope is like a road.
There was no road there to start with,
But as more and more people walk along the same route, a road takes shape.

Lu Xun

Background

MSI Love and Enthusiastic Volunteer Team .

In April 2009, MSI held an internal discussion meeting to consider how the company should go about fulfilling its duty as a responsible corporate citizen and making a contribution to the community. MSI has for many years now been making donations to charity, adopting streets and trees, arranging the provision of free school meals for needy children, providing financial support for community organizations, etc. For this reason, after the first few minutes of discussion the meeting participants lapsed into silence, unsure what MSI could do in this area that it had not already been doing for some time. After a while, a manager suggested: “Why don’t we volunteer? I don’t think we’ve done anything like that before.” This brief suggestion was the starting point for MSI’s Corporate Volunteering Activity.

Warm-up

Taking into consideration the fact that MSI’s core competency is computer technology, the large numbers of first-class IT engineers that work for the company, and the need to overcome the problem of the “digital divide” that has emerged as a result of growing inequality of wealth within society, it was decided that MSI’s first Corporate Volunteering Activity would be positioned as: “Reducing the Digital Divide – Computing Application Education Activity.” With MSI Vice President James Huang serving as volunteer team leader, a group of 40 MSI personnel from different departments, and with different backgrounds and areas of expertise, came together to form the MSI volunteer team. After a series of meetings and discussions, it was decided to adopt the suggestion of volunteer Leo and name the team the “MSI Love and Enthusiastic Volunteer Team,” and to adopt “MSI’s concern will help to cultivate tomorrow’s stars” as the activity slogan.

After several meetings with representatives of the Chinese Youth Peace Corps, it was decided that the MSI volunteers would provide computing instruction for two-hour sessions a week, for a period of 10 weeks, to 30 aboriginal children in Grades 3 to 6 from Hsintien Elementary School and Ch’ing-t’an Elementary School, using the IT classroom facilities in the basement of the Chung Cheng Public Housing in Hsintien City.

Preparation

Volunteers were utterly absorbed in making props and teaching aids.

Having never undertaken an activity of this kind before, it was very much a case of feeling one’s way and “learning as we go along.” Rene, who was in charge of project implementation, says laughingly that: “As this volunteering activity was very different from the charitable activities that the company had undertaken previously, before the project could get underway we each underwent 12 hours of training, read 5 books, and Googled the answers to a lot of questions that we had!”

Volunteers frequently discussed computer programs after work.

To make sure that volunteers could leverage their own individual skills, help out at times that suited their own schedule, and achieve personal growth from their participation in the project, volunteers could choose for themselves whether they wanted to join the “Teaching Squad,” the “ Design & photograph Squad,” or the “Activity Squad.” In the event, many volunteers joined more than one squad, and some got involved in every single aspect of project implementation.

To ensure efficient use of resources and avoid unnecessary waste, the volunteers carried out a search to see which surplus materials were available within the company. These included T-shirts, stationery, toys, environmentally-friendly shopping bags, stickers, mugs etc. that had been prepared for various company activities. Many MSI personnel who weren’t directly involved in the volunteering project contributed unwanted toys, stationery, T-shirts etc. from home. As a result, when the project came to an end there was still a considerable amount of unused material remaining.

To ensure that the instruction provided was of a high quality, with rich content, every Thursday afternoon, after finishing work, the volunteers would take a packed evening meal to Conference Room 3112 in the MSI offices to prepare for the next week’s classes. Teaching squad leader Adam, who taught three classes during the program, recalls how tongue-tied he was during the first training session. With an embarrassed laugh, he notes that having the experience of getting up in front of a class to teach has helped to improve his verbal communication skills, giving him an unexpected reward from his participation in the volunteering activity.

The volunteers racked their brains to find ways to make the computing classes as interesting and exciting as possible for the children. This often involved showing a side to themselves that their colleagues would not normally see; for example, they might integrate songs (accompanied by guitar) into the classes, tell jokes, or finish the class with a dance. The goal in all of these efforts was to attract and retain the interest of the children.

By June 2009, the preparatory work – which included training the volunteers, collecting materials, making props and teaching aids, writing and trying out the teaching materials, inspecting the computer classroom, trying out the software, etc. – had been completed; the first teaching practice session was held on July 6, 2009. Volunteers April and Claude, who were acting as teachers for the practice session, kept breaking into fits of laughter or forgetting what they were supposed to say next. Looking back, Rene recalls that she had to hide her nervous and focus on building up their confidence, while praying that the activity would not turn out to be a disaster. The first formal class was coming up on July 11, 2009; how would it turn out?

The first class, and the following nine weeks

The volunteers were blessed with good weather for the day of the first class (July 11, 2009); the sun shone brightly all day. The volunteers assembled at the MSI offices at 8:30 a.m., and had arrived at the Chung Cheng Public Housing by 9.00. They taught two hours of computer classes, from 9:30 to 11:30, with a 10-minute break in the middle. From 11:50 to 12:20 the volunteers had their lunch and discussed how the classes had gone; at 12:30 they returned to MSI .

So did the first class go well?
“Of course not!” laughs a volunteer. “We couldn’t have been that lucky.” “It was one problem after another.”

So the classes had started.
As most of the students weren’t familiar with the location where the classes were being held, none of them had arrived by 9:30 when the classes were supposed to start. Laughing, and showing none of the worry that she must have felt at the time, Rene recalls that: “At the time I was worried that something had happened to the children on the way to the class, but I was also feeling sorry to the volunteers who had worked so hard to get ready for the class. I really did feel very upset.”

One by one, the children arrived, and the class got underway, half an hour late. There were 17 volunteers present, along with 26 students.

The class got underway, and a new problem raised its head.

The children who had turned up for class were not the same children who had registered. Rather than teaching a group of children in Grades 4 – 6, the instructors found themselves faced with a group that included children from First Grade to Seventh Grade. Given the dramatic difference in the students’ level, how could they teach the class? As Activity squad leader Bryant puts it, “Of course we just had to brazen it out and keep going! And keep making adjustments as we went along.”

Having got through this nerve-wracking experience in an unfamiliar environment and completed the first class, what was the next step?

The volunteers racked their brains to find ways to make the computing classes as interesting and exciting as possible for the children.

Given the dramatic variation in the students’ abilities, it was decided to adjust the course content so that two-thirds of the material was relatively easy, and one-third comprised more challenging material. To get and keep the students’ interest, the classes made extensive use of animation, and the instructors made sure to give the children plenty of opportunity to have a go at creating animation themselves. “Letting the children try it themselves helped them to stay focused, and they progressed faster,” explains volunteer April. The instructors also made an effort to talk to the children in their own idiom, and integrated singing and jokes into the class to keep the students’ attention and win them over.

As more than half of the students were elementary school children in Grades 1 – 3 who weren’t yet familiar with using a keyboard, the original ratio of 1 instructor to 3 students was modified to 1 instructor to 2 students, requiring 15 volunteers to teach each class instead of the original 10.

Enthusiastic volunteers do their best to teach children.

The next problems that the volunteers had to face involved students who couldn’t concentrate, students who wouldn’t do what they were told, and students who used the computers to play computer games or access pornographic websites. If the students couldn’t stay focused? Provide encouragement instead of punishment. If they wouldn’t do as they were asked? Provide more and more encouragement. What if they were playing games or viewing pornography during class? Two verbal warnings, and then the third time they were barred from using the computers for one class. So how effective were these measures?

“Not bad! Not being allowed to use the computer is quite an effective punishment for children!” explains volunteer Ab, who is himself a father of two.

So it was a constant process of adjusting the curriculum, and tweaking the teaching content. Every Saturday morning at 9:30 the volunteers would greet the children, and then at 11:30 they would say goodbye to them, and starting getting ready for next Saturday’s class.

An unexpected problem – Swine Flu

As the weeks passed, the volunteers became more confident and experienced, and the students became more and more punctual; soon, all of the students were arriving before AM9:30. Rather than referring to “the third student along in the fourth row back,” the volunteers were now able to call each student by name. And rather than watching the clock to see how long they had to wait before the class was over, the students had become so enthusiastic about the program that, when it was time to go home, they would ask the instructors if they could stay for a bit longer and do some more practice.

Week One, Week Two ... Six weeks had passed. The seventh session had originally been scheduled for August 29, but on August 27 one of the students’ parents telephoned to say that half of the children had come down with flu symptoms, and so that week’s class would have to be cancelled. This was around the time when the H1N1 epidemic was at its height, so the volunteers had no choice but to cancel that week’s class. But what if more students got sick? Should they postpone the classes? Call a temporary halt to the program? Or end it early?

The volunteer team held an emergency meeting, at which it was decided that, while abiding by government regulations and ensuring that the health of the volunteers and the children was not put at risk, the classes would still go ahead even if only one student turned up.

New procedure before class: taking temperatures, disinfecting, and making sure that masks were worn.

So more jobs been added to the list of schedule that the volunteers had to perform every week: taking temperatures, disinfecting, and making sure that masks were worn. The program continued, although the percentage of students attending each session fell to around 60 – 70%.

Bringing the program to a close

Rene recalls that, when the program reached its final week, she experienced two contradictory emotions – a sense of relief that the responsibility had been lifted off her shoulders, and a feeling of regret that they could not continue teaching the children.

Students eagerly raised their hands to answer question during class.

On September 26, 2009, as they had done for nine weeks, the children arrived and took their seats. As this was the last session, there was to be an award ceremony, and the volunteers would be showing a film they had made to record the past nine weeks.

Laughing, volunteer Lucie recalls that the children weren’t really able to concentrate on the class, because they were looking forward to receiving their awards. With the class over, the students were asked to line up beside the dais and then come up to be presented with the awards. Having received the gifts that were presented as awards, the children couldn’t wait to open them up and see what they were. The children waiting to go up to get their awards kept plucking at the volunteers’ hands to whisper: “When will it be my turn?” or “Do I get an award, too?”

The awards ceremony was followed by the screening of the documentary that had been made to record the program. Seeing themselves on screen, the excited children rapidly calmed down, and their eyes remained glued to the screen throughout the showing of the 9-minute film. Apart from the film’s background music, there was complete silence. When the film was over, no-one spoke for some time.

“Can I keep my name badge as a memento?” asked Hsiao Yi (not his real name), who had earned himself a reputation as a troublemaker. “I’m sorry it’s over; can’t I come to class again next week?” Suddenly, the children were all talking at the tops of their voices again. By the time the volunteers had calmed the children down and answered all their questions, it was already noon. Instead of saying “See you all next week,” the volunteers said: “Farewell.”

Postscript

Globalization has forced many Taiwanese companies to relocate their operations to China or Southeast Asia. This trend has led to rising unemployment among manual workers in Taiwan, and income disparity between rich and poor has become more pronounced. Not only do unemployed workers suffer from a reduced standard of living, their children’s education is affected too.

Although two hours of computer classes a week for ten weeks will not necessarily lead to any dramatic improvement in children’s academic performance at school, it was readily apparent to the volunteers that the children’s computing skills had improved dramatically. They have become courteous, and more self-motivated; they actually enjoyed coming to class, and were happy to help their fellow students. Surely these are the kinds of benefits that are most important?

The volunteering activity we have implemented in 2009 just the beginning, not the end. As volunteer team leader James Huang puts it: “Education is like farming; if you keep working away steadily, eventually you will see results. Although we are electronic manufacturer, not teachers, but we are more than willing to do our best to help those children and give them a chance to make dream come true. ”

「Cheese!」As time goes by, no matter what the future brings, it will hold a small space in our mind.