The origins of Computers Without Borders date back to the fall of 2010 when founder Ron Berglund saw the film Waiting for Superman in Minneapolis. Superman was an “indie” directed by Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim. The film tells the story of several students from impoverished areas in Los Angeles, Washington, Harlem, the Bronx as well as an affluent corner of Silicon Valley who entered lotteries to win scarce seats at charter schools. The odds are extraordinarily long, since these charters are among the best in the country. The film’s climactic scenes reveal how the fates of its vulnerable characters are decided — in some cases by a ball plucked from a bingo cage. Guggenheim’s film illustrates some of the reasons so many urban schools in America have failed students.
Among other things, the schools often held onto too many bad teachers, whose labor unions protect them. The film includes footage of idle educators with their heads on tables in one of New York City’s notorious “rubber rooms,” where teachers who were suspended for incompetence or behavioral infractions spent months, or even years, awaiting hearings. Shortly after watching Waiting for Superman, Berglund traveled to Belize and brought the book version of Waiting for Superman along on the trip. He read the book on the planes and buses he took to get to Belize via Cancun, Mexico. During his lengthy Belize visit he kept kept wondering about the schools. “If the schools in America are in such bad shape, what are schools in the undeveloped world like?” he wondered. During his visit Berglund met with several school administrators, principals and teachers in San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye. He quickly learned that computers are urgently needed in Belize.
The first school he visited—St. Peter’s High Academy in San Pedro Town—had about 100 students currently enrolled and not a single computer in the entire school! They had a room all set up for their computer lab and a router capable of networking up to fifty computers—but at this point had absolutely no PCs! When Berglund asked Frank Nunez, the principal at St. Peter’s if there was anything he could do to try to help the school, Frank practically begged him to try to help him get some computers for his school. The other schools in San Pedro Berglund visited told him a similar story.
While he fully realized that excellent teachers, curricula and educational materials were all vital components of a quality educational system, it quickly became apparent to Berglund that the children of the developing world will be unable to compete with their counterparts in the developed world unless they also have the benefit of computers and computer education. And—if a lack of computers in the schools is a problem in Belize – it is certainly a problem throughout the rest of the developing world. Shortly after returning to the US in the spring of 2011, Berglund established a Minnesota nonprofit company called Computers for Third World Schools, Inc. d/b/a Computers without Borders. Subsequent visits to Guatemala and the Philippines quickly confirmed his suspicions that computers were urgently needed in impoverished schools throughout the world.