A Q&A With OLPC Australia's CEO Rangan Srikhanta

   
   
   
   
   

Resumen en español al final del artículo

If you've been following OLPC News for any length of time you'll know that I've been quite impressed with OLPC Australia's work which we've repeatedly covered here. At the same time I've never had the time to really dive into some of the details of their efforts. Therefore I'm very happy that we can now present this Q&A with OLPC Australia's CEO Rangan Srikhanta where he shares how the organization arrived at their current deployment approach, what impacts they have seen, and what some of their plans for the future look like.

I hope you enjoy reading his answers as much as I did and please don't hesitate to post any follow-up questions you might have for Rangan in the comments below. Also let us know what you think of this conversational format and whether you'd like to see more such Q&As and interviews with the brains and muscle behind the many olpc efforts around the world.

Now without further ado:


Rangan Srikhanta

OLPC News: What is your role at OLPC Australia and how did you get involved?

Rangan Srikhanta: I am founder and CEO of OLPC Australia. Prof. Barry Vercoe from the Media Lab co-founded the local enterprise with me.

Are you a completely independent organization or are you tied to OLPC Foundation and OLPC Association in the United States?

Legally we are a separate organisation to OLPC foundation/association, but operationally we have taken many cues from the global brand and operations to direct what we do here in Australia. There are of course many things that we do differently - and to OLPC's credit, they have given us the latitude to explore how this program can work in an Australian context.

What are the main goals of OLPC Australia from an educational perspective?

This is an interesting question and one that I have spent a few days thinking about. I see our organisation as a social enterprise with a focus on re-thinking social paradigms around education by providing a new perspective on how we can deliver education. So whilst I can rattle on about various educational theories, I have learnt that change occurs slowly and our role is better served providing an opportunity for all stakeholders (including parents and children) to completely own the program and decide how it suits them. In essence, with enough understanding of the XO, they will find ways to apply it to local needs. Early on we got into trouble trying to solve everyone's problem and trying to think it through for them - I don't believe this works at all.

There have been many discussions about how to measure the impact of educational interventions such as OLPC projects. What is OLPC Australia's approach here?

OLPC Australia has engaged Prof. Sarah Howard and A/Prof. Ellie Rennie to conduct an extensive evaluation into the 'One Education' initiative.

Phase 1: Updated Benchmark July 2012 will include the following analysis:

  • Attendance data
  • NAPLAN scores
  • XO implementation at the school level
  • Teacher and student anecdotal experiences using the XOs
  • Presence of OLPC Au programs (e.g. XO-mechanic, XOcertified, XO-champion)
  • Presence of OLPC Au programs in local media and/or outside the school

Phase 2: From July 2012, OLPC Au proposes to continually assess implications of XO use in learning, teaching and beyond the schools. This evaluation will include the data identified above, as well as:

  • Analysis of XO usage data (data mining)
  • Analysis of XO presence beyond the school
  • Key informant interviews with community representatives (2014 only)
  • Illustrative school case studies (2014 only)

OLPC Au will provide annual reports (July 2013 & July 2014) on implications of XO use in learning, teaching and beyond the school.

So what kind of impacts have you been able to observe in the schools that you have been working with in the past few years?

We've learnt a lot over the past few years. We have many challenges in our schools with a variety of factors undermining the effectiveness of any program (not just OLPC). Most crucially - teacher turnover. Statistically our remote teachers last on average 8-9 months. So for our early schools, the impact of OLPC was concentrated and not sustainable beyond a few local champions with a pre-disposition to the XO. We found flying out to schools and then moving on to the next school (after achieving full saturation) created a dependency which turned to silence after year because a whole new cohort teachers would arrive and there would be very little local knowledge to sustain the program - we would have no one to follow-up with - making our initial trip redundant.

As we refined our program and required schools to pass a budget and teacher professional development hurdle the outcomes have been much more favourable. Why? Because schools willing to commit funding and PD time to OLPC are ready for the change. OLPC becomes part of a range of strategies to make the school innovative - which in turn increases enrolments/attendance, teacher satisfaction and with our programs for children, student motivation/engagement. You can read the case studies by teachers at www.one-news.org.

You recently launched a new initiative called "One Education" and received $11.7 Million in government funding for it. Can you tell us more about these developments?

One Education is an initiative to make the educational landscape for primary school children more innovative and engaging. We believe that the XO along with teacher, student and parent development programs allows us to create a new narrative that should appeal to any classroom in Australia - or even the world.

Late last year we pitched to the Australian government to kick-off a pilot for 50,000 XOs. This pilot would be a $20m project that would including funding from schools, corporations as well as from government. The program will also provide at least 15 hours of teacher professional development (via moodle) to over 2,500 teachers, reach over 2,500 classrooms around the country - and the expectation is to kick-start a movement to make OLPC the program of choice for primary school children for the 560,000 disadvantaged children we have made it our mission to reach. The program is open to any classroom in Australia/Internationally but they will not be eligible for a government/corporate subsidy.

What are the biggest challenges that you need to address before you can turn OLPC Australia's vision into a reality?

I believe our greatest challenge is scaling our operations to meet the demand (2 months ago we were a 2,500 XO an year organisation, now we are proposing to do 50,000 in one year) that will be coming through our very small offices in the next 12-18 months. In Australia there high expectations on service delivery/support. We need to demonstrate that a social enterprise has the capabilities to compete with the major for-profit market players.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions.

Thank you for this opportunity.


Resumen en español: Si usted ha leido OLPC News para cualquier longitud de tiempo usted sabe que he estado muy impresionado con el trabajo de OLPC Australia que en varias ocasiones tambien hemos tratado acá. Al mismo tiempo, nunca he tenido el tiempo para sumergirse realmente en algunos de los detalles de sus esfuerzos. Por lo tanto estoy muy contento de que ahora podemos presentar este Q & A con el CEO de OLPC Australia Rangan Srikhanta donde comparte cómo la organización llegó a su enfoque actual en cuanto a la implementación, que impactos han visto, y algunos de sus plans para el futuro. Debido al hecho que es un texto bastante largo y la falta de recursos no podemos traduccir el texto en este momento pero si alguien quiere hacerlo estariamos encantados de publicarlo acá.

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2 Comments

Thanks a lot for the article, I found it very compelling. I would like to make a follow up question as to how tech support and teacher support are done. From what I read one of the initial problems was coming to schools after a year and finding out no one was actually implementing the program, but it seems that is not that big of an issue anymore. What approach do they use now to ensure proper tech support and continuous use of the technology?

Hi Daniel,

We distribute a supply of spare parts for every classroom delivery:
- 8 Keyboards
- 2 LCD Screens
- 2 Batteries
- Screw Driver set
- Online repair videos are available here http://vimeo.com/olpcau

We tie this into our XO-mechanic program where children become qualified after they learn:
- to repair the XO
- reflash the OS
- troubleshoot
- Set-up the XO-Power rack

So we have wrapped what is typically a very tedious task controlled by one individual - who often sits on a growing pile of broken XOs and many other devices; undermining the sustainability of our program - into a program that is fun and making the children to repairer of the XOs - not the breakers.

In a sense - we are also empowering schools to 'crowd-source' support by leveraging the XO's easy repairability and linking it to learning outcomes (and indeed life skills).

You can see a photo of a child repairing an XO here:
http://www.one-news.org/2012/02/one-education.html

Thanks for your question,

Rangan

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