Believing in Dreams: Dokeos and One Laptop Per Child


My name is Yannick Warnier, and I'm kind of the South America regional manager of the Dokeos project, a GPL e-learning software of which the complete history (including the original project) dates back to 2001, pretty much the same age and objectives as Moodle. In Dokeos, we focus on usability. We've become pretty good at that, following loads of user reports. We have a reported 1.4M users all around the world.

Dokeos on the XO laptop

I've been in the Dokeos lead developer's position for five years now. I've lived for 24 years in Belgium (home), then in England for 4 years, then (and until today) in Peru for 2 years. This article is pretty much related to the latter country.

I'm a freelance web developer, or this is how I would describe myself if I abstracted the fact that I am now the busy owner of a 12-strong company in Lima, Perú, which dedicates its efforts in a proportion of 90% to development of open-source software (in opposition to with open-source software), and 10% to closed-source developments and usual business tasks. I work and breathe with open-source software. I organize a lot of local open-source software groups meetings. There's no such thing as "free time" for me right now.

In essence, I just love open-source software. Why? Probably because it is, in my limited view of a freelance developer, the best way ever to reduce the gap between the poor and the rich, and between the educated and the non-educated.

This is why I also got a pretty strong interest in OLPC for a long time (I don't remember how I discovered it, but I think it was around 2004).

Over the years, my interest in the OLPC project fluctuated a lot. Mostly when I came to Peru, it just dropped incredibly when I saw how under-used the laptops were, here. I think the article from Kiko Mayorga is pretty to the point and sadly true.

Anyway, last year I made contact with Hernan Pachas and Sebastian Silva, kind of the flagpoles of the OLPC in Perú. We never really got a chance to work together, but Sebastian has the kind of spiritual force and motivation the project needs. He sort of pushed me into a proposal to help OLPC-Sur (OLPC mailing-list for South America) by providing what I could do best: helping the teaching efforts by providing my knowledge as developer of Dokeos.

So I did (which was welcomed with a varying level of enthusiasm). Then I realized I would probably never be able to handle such a huge community (there's about 100 e-mails per week on that list), but the will is still there, and it's in my head to do something about it. Time will tell how that converts to something real.

Then I met Sebastian again, at the end of March, and I took the opportunity to check whether the latest development version of Dokeos worked on the OLPC (he always has a few with him). So I took a bunch of pictures to write a little article about it on the Dokeos Latinoamérica's blog. Then something magic happened. Ana Elena, a teacher from a primary school in Uruguay, commented on the blog that she actually used the Dokeos + XO combination quite regularly in her school.

We contacted her by phone because we were in the planning of a large e-learning event here in Lima at the end of June, and we wanted to see if her project was going to be of interest to our community and... well, it is. She sent this video:

The kids are basically saying that they like to use the tool (Dokeos) and how it allows them to share documents, to hand homeworks to the teacher and to work in groups. The teacher then explains they'd like to give access to the parents, in a way (we don't have that yet in Dokeos but that comment wasn't lost to me) because the children want to show their work to them. The children then follow saying how the tools they use are useful to them. The girl ends saying "I take pictures and I publish them".

I'm not the emotional kind, but that one took me by surprise and my eyes filled with tears. It was just free software taken over and converted into something... beautiful. Beautiful in the sense it all felt right together, in the sense it finally closed the circle.

For a few years now, I have been working on Dokeos. I have spent countless days and sleepless nights and invested so many ideas and love in the project, trying to prove at the same time that I could be a good developer, that I could help people, that I could live an exciting life, that my efforts would help building a better world and finally, that free software made sense.

Sebastian Silva of FuenteLibre

This is it. People I don't know about, who don't have the same resources as I do, who received help from all around the world to get access to the technology, who don't have particular technical skills, are able to use our software freely, and teach their children with it. In 10 to 20 years, these children will be responsible, educated adults, ready to make this world a better place, ready to tackle the climate problems we are still causing now, and ready to make free software even better.

This article is not so much about the OLPC or Dokeos, it's about believing in one's dream, because now I believe in it... there can be miracles, if you believe.

I think the OLPC is a great project and I hope I'll be able to contribute a little more in the coming months. It might not work exactly like expected, but in the end, from where we are now, there's plenty of room for improvement.

I take the opportunity to mention again the event we are organizing at the end of June (25th and 26th of June) in Lima, Dokeos User Days, where we want to draw the attention, between others, of the Peruvian Government and public institutions on the feasibility of more cost-efficient and just plainly efficient teaching methods with e-learning. We're planning on having 800 people there, so it's going to be the biggest e-learning event in Peru ever, with loads of opportunities to get to meet people and prepare plans for world education (as opposed to domination).

If you are visiting Lima and you are looking for contact in the local free software sphere, have a look at our events page, I will be pleased to see you.

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