United Way Strengthens Innovative Learning Opportunities for STEM in Latin America

Brittany Cowan

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the role of technology in education. As hybrid and remote learning became essential for many to stay safe, United Way of Latin America & The Caribbean and Lenovo partnered to provide quality resources that bridge the education gap in the region.

Together, United Way and Lenovo created a plan to impact more than 12,000 students and 500 teachers across six countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, México, and Peru. The plan is focused on combatting two issues in education: student dropout rates and equipping the next generation with the right skills to join the workforce.

ARGENTINA

In Argentina, the project was created as a “tailor-made” Learn by Doing Students and teachers enhanced their digital skills and knowledge related to STEAM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) through hands-on training.

“In our country we identified the most valuable schools in Buenos Aires neighborhoods because the impact of the pandemic was greater in those populations,” said Jorge A. San Martin, Executive Director at United Way Argentina. “Giving them technological resources allows those students to find motivational tools in current circumstances.”

BRAZIL

One of the primary aspects of United Way’s initiatives in Latin American & The Caribbean countries was addressing the unemployment rates of younger generations. In Brazil, the pandemic increased unemployment rates amongst individuals of 14-17 years old to 42.8%, and 18-24 years old to 29.7%. High rates of unemployment compound the challenges of the pandemic in these populations. Within the Skill for Life – Digital project, United Way Brazil seeks to make young people reflect on their life projects, taking into account the context in which we live, the accelerated need for digitization, and the social reality these young people experience.

Virtual volunteer coordination online in Brazil -- multiple people video chatting on screen

“When we look at young Brazilians in a situation of social vulnerability, so that they are productively included in the country, we understand that we need to face 4 major structural challenges: school dropouts, labor crisis, racism, and digital gap,” asserted Gabriella Bighetti, Executive Director at United Way Brazil. “In this cycle of the program, we are also raising awareness with young people and mentors about structural racism and how it affects the construction of the identity of young people in a situation of vulnerability.”

Through interactive classes and learning modules, Brazil’s task to combat these disparities correspond to increase the younger population’s awareness of gaining employment and socio-economic skills to foster success in the workforce.

CHILE

Across Latin America, the ramifications of the pandemic caused changes in the lives of educators. United Way Chile created STEAM in Your School: Imagine, Create and Design, supporting educators and professional caregivers. The organization’s complimentary Youth Program aims to enact collaborative work amongst students and educators to build back the bonds that were altered during the pandemic.

Video chat screenshot in Chile

“In the case of the educators who are in charge of guiding, teaching and caring for the students, it is necessary to provide all kinds of care, not only physical, but also mental and emotional,” said Alejandra Fuenzalida, Executive Director at United Way Chile. “At this time, more than ever it is important to have training and guides that prepare educational teams to face moments of crisis, which are totally new for the population.”

COLOMBIA

In the case of United Way Colombia’s project, An Alliance to Transform Education, leaders align with educators to reinvent their way of teaching while piquing the interests of students to shift their learning styles surrounding STEM.

“We work to make the education of the future happen now, so that students, in some way, have greater and better skills, so that in the end they can make their life project, dreams and goals come true,” said Cristina Gutiérrez de Piñeres, Executive Director at United Way Colombia.

MEXICO

United Way Mexico’s project, Driving STEAM: Science to Share, aims to present professional and academic development opportunities that encourages students to ignite an interest in STEAM curriculum while identifying the socio-economic matters that impact students’ learning. According to Nancy Lara, Executive Director at United Way México, the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) determined that students scored below the OECD average in reading, math, and science. Only 1% performed at proficient levels in at least one area.

“Through the modules, students are encouraged to propose, design, develop and disseminate projects that contribute to the well-being of their community, thus allowing them to feel empowered agents of change,” said Lara.

PERU

Reaching students is a contingent goal across each United Way project. In Peru, students are still learning virtually, and challenges continue arising with connectivity access. Over the next three years, United Way Peru will host Technology to Build a Dream, which curates learning models to ensure that students and educators refine their digital skills for sustainable learning remotely.

“The United Way Peru intervention intends for secondary school teachers and students to improve their digital skills through functional and sustainable learning,” said Alessandra Leverone, Executive Director at United Way Peru. “In the case of teachers, it is expected that through different tools they can create digital content to transmit information to their students in a contextualized way with current times.”

With the pandemic creating a new environment for learning across the globe, Lenovo appreciates the shifts in technological and educational interconnectivity. Through fostering conversations and interactive programming such as United Way’s Latin American & The Caribbean initiatives, profound impacts are made within the learning styles of students and reimagined teaching experiences of educators.

“Technology has rapidly changed every facet of our society, including the education industry,” emphasized Lara. “Today students grow up with internet-connected devices at home and in the classroom, which changes the way they learn. Future education technology will transform learning by giving teachers and students a variety of new tools to work with.”

For more information about United Way’s Latin American and Caribbean initiatives, please visit unitedwaylac.org.

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