FUJI IN FIJI
Kids keen about computing
by ROB PATTISON
As a schoolboy, I collected stamps and dreamed of faraway lands.
That's how I discovered Fiji - the stamp showed its longitude (180 degrees West) and latitude (180 degrees south). It was almost exactly on the other side of the globe from my home in England. Now I live and work in Fiji, and try to use my Atari 400 to teach students and amuse myself here.
My non-Fijian correspondents seem to think that all we do here is lie on the beach and sip drinks from coconut shells. They can't believe that we are serious about computing, but we are! The first meeting of the Fiji Computer Club packed the hall with 160 people. Granted, not many of them knew anything about computing but they were all interested.
Sashi and Monica, pupils at Lelean Memorial School, Nausori, Fiji.
I now use my Atari in my classes at Lelean Memorial School, and the pupils are keen to learn. My wife has to chase them away after class. I guess they're hooked - like me. But living 2,500 miles away from help is not easy. I bought my computer and a 410 Program Recorder in England before I left there. The salesman guaranteed that my system would work with the television sets used in Fiji. Not so! But I finally found one here that wiIl work. Also, I had loading problems with the 410 right from the start. It took eight months to discover two blown capacitors and replace them. My elation over my first successful load could not have been much less if I'd won the Nobel Prize.
The first time I brought the computer to school, the students were dumb-founded. Many of them had never even seen a TV before, much less a comyuter. I ran a little homemade program to demonstrate some of the things a micro can do, and you could hear a pin drop. Then I booted a math-drill program and asked for volunteers. No one moved. Finally, a local teacher came forward and did it. The children slowly approached to watch, and soon they were vying for turns. Two hours later I had to beg them to let me eat lunch. The barrier was broken.
I first learned about computers and programming while working as an engineer on aero-engines at Rolls Royce in the United Kingdom. Later, I studied some microcomputers in development at Cambridge. When I saw the Atari on the commercial market, I was impressed with its design and capabilities. The price droopped just about the time I was departing for Fiji so I decided to take one along.
My new dream is to help students in third-world countries get the thrill from doing experiments that motivated me so powerfully as a youngster. The microcomputer is one tool that can help make that dream come true. For example, a computer costs less than an oscilloscope, but can simulate some of the things an oscilloscope can do. The next minute it can present something completely different.
Our computing efforts are not without local hazards. Two diesel generators supply power to the neighborhood of our school. When the operators switch generators, voltage sometimes drops so low that RAM is lost. Sometimes the local load reduces voltage, too. A recent hurricane flung trees across the power lines, and the voltage spike blow up a ROM chip on a friend's computer.
A colleage at the University of the South Pacific has an Atari 800 with disk drive - am I jealous! He brought it to our school to demonstrate some math programs. It was great to copy his code onto cassette for my students later on.
We teach in English, but that is the second language for our pupils, and that's one reason the visual aspect of computing is so important here.
A local merchant sells Atari game machines and cartridges, and we have gotten him interested in carrying the computers and software as well. But the market is not big. There is no broadcast TV in Fiji, so the only TV sets are those used with videotape recorders, closed circuit setups, or game machines. Still, the editor of the Fiji Times is a keen promoter of computers. We have thought about setting up some Atari systems for public access as a way of spreading interest. We would train someone to demonstrate them and enroll people for instruction. We are convinced that this approach will work here.