Science, Language and Technology: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

08/18/2011 10:52 am ET | Updated Oct 18, 2011

Having double majored in Biomedical Science and Spanish as an undergraduate, I learned about the widening disparity between the developed and developing worlds and also witnessed an unhealthy chasm between science and the humanities. Consequently, I came to appreciate that while science and technology are instrumental in the development of rural areas, greater strides will be achieved by intertwining the sciences with the humanities. Moreover, I learned that beyond our borders is a NGO, Fabretto, that works each day to provide this type of balanced education for impoverished children in Nicaragua.

After nearly two decades of civil war, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Children frequently constitute the main source of labor on farms, resulting in a 60% school dropout rate. Rural labor by children however, is only a short-term solution to an extensive problem like poverty, yielding only temporary results at the child's expense. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Under Nicaragua's existing educational system, students attend school four hours a day. Children enrolled with Fabretto however, receive after-school lessons that supplement the public school curriculum, effectively doubling their number of hours of learning. Fabretto serves over 6500 children in various rural communities through a variety of education, health and nutrition programs. The staff members with whom I have spoken are passionate and committed to providing hope and a better future for each child under their care. In our conversations however, they noted their own limited resources. With rising rates of poverty and insufficient government resources to invest in youth, it is paramount that Fabretto continue to expand its work. Currently, Fabretto is participating in the global giving open challenge. Fabretto's project Educate 720 Children in Poverty, Esteli, Nicaragua will provide teacher training, school materials, and support for the nutrition program.

Like Fabretto, I believe education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and that the merging of science, technology and language is a key stepping stone in education and the development of rural areas. Science seeks to understand the world we inhabit and is the key to innovative solutions. Technology, when used effectively, enhances the learning process and engages students. The final educational component, language, has implications far beyond grammatical rules. Language is at the core of human interaction. Ultimately, education not only serves to provide students with an invaluable subject knowledge base, but to also equip them with the skills necessary to bring about desired changes in their communities. The learning skills for success in the 21st century include: creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration. Aware of the value of both the sciences and humanities and 21st Century Skills, Fabretto implements a Continuum of Care Model, serving students for an extended period of time from pre-school to young adulthood, with programs that target various sectors including education, health, parent education, nutrition, culture, arts, music, and sports.

The cycle of extreme poverty is systemic and long-term. Interdisciplinary education is the answer. It is mutual learning -- between disciplines, between cultures. It is seeking integrative solutions. Often, science is seen as an array of cold, hard facts, removed from humanity, and although the heart is a strong, muscular organ whose rhythmic contractions circulate blood to the body, it is that same organ whose rhythm alters in a mother, as she sees her 12 year old son toiling in the field. Biologically it sustains life, yet its psychological counterpart is at the core of our emotion and of our humanity. Rather than continue to define the boundaries between the sciences and the humanities, we should seek to understand that each discipline is equally important; each addresses a different facet of life. Serving the children of Nicaragua and confronting our world's starkest issues demands "creative scientific" solutions and grounded intellectuals. Fabretto's legacy is rooted in its ability to address the realities and needs of the communities, creating solutions from the bottom up. Ultimately, the children of Nicaragua require more than intellectuals or technicians; the success of future development programs requires a deep understanding of the needs and struggles facing these communities, and the ability to collectively construct viable solutions.

As a graduate student I hope to work with Fabretto and to continue to educate others about the importance of both the sciences and humanities. In essence, the humanities, but stories in particular, allow us to view the world through different lenses. As future scientific discoveries create options, it is this widening of perspectives achieved through narrative that will help students to make informed choices that better their communities. Amidst progress, it is the thoughtful arbiters of scientific solutions who will be in the ideal position to address the issues of their communities and of Nicaragua as a whole.

As we examine individuals across cultures, we observe the same underlying biological needs and human desires; only through an understanding and a dialogue of both spheres, may we become arbiters of effective change.