Through his pioneering ‘Halls of Learning’, Marvin G. Hall, a trained teacher and information technology specialist, has embarked on a mission to bring robotics to all the children of Jamaica – not just the privileged.

In 2003, Hall left the comfort of the suburban classroom where he first introduced robotics, to dedicate himself to his vision of providing all children with the opportunity to ‘lego their minds’, and explore the innards of technology, even those who could never provide adequate monetary compensation for his efforts.

In the summer of 2005, Hall launched Creations Lab, where persons as young as nine years old enrolled for courses of the highest international standard in robotics, video games programming, digital music and 3-D animation. With the 100 scholarships funded by the National Commercial Bank Jamaica, Creations Lab welcomed children of all backgrounds to the computer labs of Hillel Academy where the courses were being taught. Eleven of these scholarship awardees were selected to be trained for a LEGO robotics competition to be held in San José, California, that October. In preparation for this, Hall established a learning centre in Jones Town, where he acted as manager, coordinator, coach, instructor, mentor and benefactor, to the trainees.

And neither rain nor a hail of gunshots could stop them from coming out for their lessons in robotics.

Financial Support

The Bank of Nova Scotia provided the financial support to send seven children from Jones Town to the competition in San Jos̩, California, where they were the sole representative from Jamaica and the Caribbean. Their resilience paid off, and they won the judges award, which afforded them a tour of the Google campus Рcertainly a life-changing experience for children who might have never received such an opportunity.

Reuters Fellow

While in California, Hall learnt of the Reuters Digital Vision Programme (RDVP), at Stanford University in California, which is a research fellowship that targets individuals who work with technology in underserviced communities in developing countries.

“From a field of over 500 applicants, I was one of 17 chosen to join the RDVP as a fellow for the 2006 to 2007 academic year. I was the first Jamaican participant and the Caribbean’s sole representative,” he told Flair.

The RDVP fellowship affords him access to the resources at Stanford and the Silicon Valley community without having to face the rigours of academic pursuit. “We attend weekly seminars delivered by invited persons from Silicon Valley, which all helped to support our goals of making social change while integrating sustainable business models, and also present our projects to a select group of Silicon Valley leaders and esteemed Stanford faculty,” he said.

Hall explains that having the Stanford name attached to your project gives some measure of credibility, “and you will be listened to,” he says.

In California, he is closer to a wealthy community of philanthropists and angel investors, one of whom might offer financial support to carry through his vision.

Ambitious project

All this is part of his effort to establish a permanent robotics learning centre in Jones Town, and some day schools across Jamaica.

He admits, “This is quite ambitious, but I am driven by a desire to provide continuity in what already started in Jones Town, and to effect my vision of every child, regardless of their background, having access to high-quality learning experiences.

“Now I am overwhelmed with the opportunities,” he says. “Six months ago, when I first took the children and began coaching them, even after I took them to California, I didn’t know this is where I would be,” he continues.

“When we build the robotics centre in Jones Town, it will be the first of its kind in Jamaica, and these at-risk youth will be given the chance:

To use technology in an engaging learning experience
To work together to solve problems and
To see a bigger world outside of the hopelessness, violence and poverty that often surrounds them.”
Having visited robotics workshops in countries like Singapore, and more recently China, Hall insists that, “we need this in Jamaica because our children aren’t any less smart than any child in China, or anywhere else, just less experienced.”

See: http://hallsoflearning.blogspot.com for more about the robotics team from Jones Town, and http://www.hallsoflearning.com for more about Halls of Learning.

Pulled from the Jamaica Gleaner
http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20061127/flair/flair1.html

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