Hi, my name's Amal Chandaria, and I'm one of the four students from Upper Canada College who researched, designed and deployed an OLPC laptop implementation program at the Ntugi Day Secondary School in Kenya in March 2009.
A few weeks ago, Connor Cimowsky and I created a video documenting our trip, its challenges, and its successes. The National Middle School Association's invited students to submit short films to a contest for their annual conference this week in Indianapolis. The videos had to address the conference's theme: 'Making a World of Difference'. Since we felt our trip really embodied that theme, we decided to submit our video . The thrilling news is that our film was selected to be screened, and, this Saturday, will be shown in front of an audience of 7,000 people at the General Session.
Our video took us about 45 hours to complete and we are extremely proud of it. We feel that it really gives a good sense of the purpose and achievements of the trip. One of the challenging aspects of making the film was finding a way of compressing the huge scope of our trip into a short movie. However, we overcame these obstacles and are proud of the final product. We hope that you enjoy watching it!
The main purpose of our trip was to provide the Ntugi Day Secondary School, through the use of computers and the internet, the same access to knowledge as we do at our school in Toronto. To do that, we had to find a practical, sustainable and economical model which could then be used in other schools with similar challenges (ie. no power, no internet infrastructure).
Despite a few mistakes along the way, we finally overcame most of our technical difficulties and developed a package which was sustainable (solar power), economical (OLPCs) and practical (use of existing Safaricom mobile phone network in conjunction with CradlePoint wireless routers). This is detailed in earlier posts which you can read here and here.
Before we'd first left Canada for Kenya, there were some who felt that the project was too ambitious. They told us that rural Kenyan students weren't ready for the technology and that the project would most likely fail. We were worried, but were reassured by our hosts and partners in Kenya, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and by the school's principal, Jacob Mbijiwe. Faith Riunga, who runs Lewa's education programme , had selected the school, and she and Mr. Mbijiwe had helped them prepare for our arrival. Together with our peers at Ntugi, we proved the doubters completely wrong! The students were more than ready for the technology and it was great to see them embrace the new resources with such enthusiasm.
I guess we'd all had preconceived ideas about the level of the education at the school. We'd thought that, because of the scarcity of textbooks and other resources, that the Ntugi students wouldn't be at the same academic level as we were at our school in Toronto. However, upon our arrival, we realized how wrong we had been - the students were learning exactly what we were learning in chemistry, math and several other subjects! The only problem was that the students' ability to do research was limited to their textbooks. Now, however the students are able to use the Internet to find answers to their questions.
To give you a sense of how ready the Kenyan students are for change and technology, take a look at this short clip of our friend, principal Jacob Mbijiwe. He recorded this message to our own school's principal, Dr. Jim Power, in July.