Clotilde Fonseca: Poetry Teacher and Visionary

What sort of poetry professor winds up in a Logo class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab? If that professor is Clotilde Fonseca, she is a visionary who very early in her career identified technology as a galvanizing force that could help improve the prospects of Costa Rica's poorest citizens.

Early in her tenure at the University of Costa Rica, Fonseca felt a pull toward work in social development. She grew to believe that educational technology is the best possible tool to accomplish that work. "Access to both learning and technology," she declared in a 2002 interview in Harvard University's ReVista magazine, is "a fundamental precondition to equitable development and a sustainable democracy."

Today, Fonseca is executive director of the Fundación Omar Dengo (FOD), a private nonprofit organization based in San José, Costa Rica, focused on educational innovation and the social benefits of new technologies. Along the way, Fonseca participated in the MIT Media Lab in the 1980s, attended Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where she earned her master's degree in public administration in 1992, and worked as executive president of the Costa Rican Social Assistance Institute, which is in charge of the country's antipoverty programs.

Under Fonseca's leadership, the FOD oversees the Ministry of Education's National Informatics Education Program, which is responsible for Costa Rica's education-technology guidelines for grades K-9. The organization also offers a variety of other programs for teachers and students in youth democracy and citizenship education, media literacy, student media production, robotics, constructivism, and workforce education, delivered via the Internet and through conferences and workshops.

FOD staff members develop these initiatives working in partnership with local and national education agencies, private companies such as Microsoft and Intel, and international organizations like the World Bank and UNESCO. The programs have reached more than one and a half million Costa Ricans.

Fonseca and her colleagues want more for Costa Rica's children than access to machines and commercial software; instead, they want to use technology to "bridge the gap between school-based learning and civic action," writes Maya Carlson, a Harvard medical professor who has worked with the FOD. Children are "citizens with a responsibility to find solutions and express their views," adds Carlson, a fact that demands "socially and personally meaningful appropriation of technology."

Mary Kadera, a former teacher, is a freelance writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and volunteers with local environmental organizations.

Next article in "The Global Six 2008" > Laurie O'Donnell

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