February 10, 2015

Serving Raspberry Pi in Nicaragua

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Technically Speaking, Column #66
Serving Raspberry Pi in Nicaragua
by Derek Schuurman
February 2015

A trip to Nicaragua in December gave me an opportunity to visit a number of Christian schools that are part of the ACCEN (Association of Evangelical Christian Education Centers of Nicaragua). I traveled with a former student, Dave Stienstra, who is currently a partner missionary with CRWM (Christian Reformed World Missions) working with computers at Nicaragua Christian Academy. At each of the schools I visited, I immediately asked to see the computer facilities. I was curious to see how Christian school teachers in Nicaragua were doing when it came to computing and education. 

Many of the schools face the numerous challenges that come with using old and outdated equipment. It was not uncommon to find labs cobbled together with a rag-tag collection of vintage computers, many of which were 10 years old or older and running out-of-date software. This should make us rethink the practice of “donating” old and outdated computers to developing countries. Besides being expensive to ship and difficult to maintain, these old computers fail and eventually become e-waste in places that lack facilities for the proper disposal of electronics.

My trip was organized by EduDeo Ministries, and my visit culminated in a four-day workshop for a group of local Christian computer teachers. One of its purposes was to introduce the teachers to a nifty new, little computer called the “Raspberry Pi.” I encountered the Raspberry Pi a few years ago, a device targeted to hobbyists which is about the size of a deck of cards and which can run a full desktop operating system. The small device includes four USB ports for connecting a keyboard and mouse along with a variety of other peripherals, an ethernet adapter and a monitor connection.

The Raspberry Pi promises to be more appropriate technology than the old and outdated computers I had observed on this trip and on previous trips to places like West Africa. It runs on roughly 2.5 watts of power and can be purchased new for around $60. Because of its size, it can be shipped overseas easily. It has no fans or moving parts and instead of a hard drive it uses a single microSD card for storage. It runs a version of the Linux operating system and includes a wide variety of open source educational programs. We brought 30 Raspberry Pi's and distributed some among the workshop participants; others were placed in a Christian school as a pilot project to see how they would perform over time. If the project proves successful, I hope to work with EduDeo to help provide more Raspberry Pi’s to other Christian schools currently struggling with outdated equipment. Because of the low power requirements, we also hope to explore a solar-powered solution for places without reliable power.

Service to God

The other purpose for the workshop was to share how a Christian worldview relates to computer technology. Although we were eager to introduce the Raspberry Pi, we had to take care not to promote the notion that technology is the answer to challenges in education and poverty. Instead we explored a Christian perspective of technology and suggested that its meaning is in service to God. The workshop included two extended devotional times with scripture readings and discussions. Each day was centered around separate biblical themes: creation, fall, redemption and restoration.

At the close of one devotional time, I shared with the group that my school was facing a significant budget crisis and there had been a decision to close my department. The group of teachers immediately offered to pray for me, and surrounded me and placed their hands on me in prayer. Although I did not understand all the words that were spoken in Spanish, I was moved by their prayers on my behalf. The blessings on this trip flowed both ways.

The trip to Nicaragua was a privilege; it was a delight to get to know some of the teachers and to visit some of their schools. I saw firsthand the challenges that many of these schools face a when it comes to using computers in education. It is my hope that some of the things we were able to share will help equip Christian school teachers as they teach about computer technology and seek to do so from a Christian perspective.

Derek Schuurman has been a professor of computer science at Redeemer University College for the past 12 years. A longer article about using the Raspberry Pi will be published in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.

This article originally appeared in the February 9 issue of Christian Courier. 


Learn more on the Raspberry Pi Computer:

$35 Raspberry Pi computer sells out on launch (CBC, 03/12)

Raspberry Pi 2 computer that will run Windows 10 on sale for $35 (CBC, 02/15)

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