Ghana Together XO Laptop Deployment Experiences

   
   
   
   
   

I noted a few weeks ago that Roxana Bassi asked those of us who had actual experience with OLPCs in "the field" to report some details. We have a very small deployment, comparatively, so our problems are minimal compared to many.

XO deployment preparations

I put out a plea on behalf of Ghana Together, a 501c3 engaging in charity work in Axim, Ghana, for donations of OLPCs from those who may have purchased them on the Buy One/Give One program. We were thrilled to receive 25. On April 7, three of us from GT travelled to Axim with the OLPCs. One of us is a computer scientist and the other two are experienced computer users.

We deployed the OLPCs in an orphanage owned by Western Heritage Home, Ghana Together's Ghanaian-registered partner NGO based in Axim, Ghana. We also gave one to the WHH Board Chair for demonstration purposes, as he is a Ghanaian businessman who travels the country extensively. The ages of the children range from 5-16 and attend a regular neighborhood school. They have had little if any prior computer experience.

We ran a clean build on every OLPC before we left, following Item 3, first bullet from Clean Install Procedure. We installed the activities as directed. We were very careful about this, since we knew there was no wireless internet in Axim, and very poor dial-up service. We spent two days learning the activities ourselves, and printing any manuals/instructions we could find - not nearly enough, but all the time we could spare.

Introducing the XO laptop to the school

We followed our policy of introducing all new initiatives to adults before engaging children. I had brought my own OLPC to Axim in spring of '08, had demonstrated it to the WHH Board and other community leaders, getting their buy-in.

We initially spent the better part of two days introducing the OLPC to the two lead staff members and two WHH Board members. They in turn introduced the machines to the children. We made sure the children knew their own adults were in charge, although we Americans did most of the teaching. All four had had some prior computer experience, albeit minimal.

We numbered each OLPC with an indelible magic marker, and assigned one to each child. I think they are still in shock that each has his/her own! These children have basically nothing by way of material possessions, after all. The first task was to rename the OLPC to his/her own name. We started with instructions about clean hands, don't give to small children (there is one 2.5 year old girl who didn't get one), be very careful about electrical connections, never wash the computer, always keep them at "Home", etc.

olpc ghana
Together with one XO laptop

XO use in the classroom

Then we plunged right in with "Chat". We believed that if they could learn Chat, they would be inspired to try everything else. It took all day, but we managed to get most of the children "chatting". It took us the better part of two weeks, though, to get across the idea of sharing activities via "Chat", but most of them understand it very well, now.

After that, we used a blackboard to introduce a new activity every day in a formal manner. But, meanwhile, since they were on school break, we encouraged the children to "play" with their OLPCs as much as they wanted, which was pretty much all the time. We were so pleased that these children, with no prior computer experience, caught on amazing quickly.

After about 2-3 hours, virtually all but the youngest had caught on to using both the touchpad and the mouse. We moved on to "Maze", which of course was easy and fun, and even the youngest caught on. Thus they learned to manipulate the cursor and basically use the keyboard.

Sugar activity difficulties

The most difficult concept to convey was the use of "Journal", especially how to open it to go back to prior work, and to delete activities no longer needed. It took us several days, much drawing on the blackboard, and basically working one-on-one with the children on this. Of course, the children outstripped their adult caretakers very rapidly, but the caretakers didn't mind.

We never quite got across even to ourselves what "Moon" and "Distance" are all about but we trust the basic intelligence of the kids to figure it out over time. And E-Toys was just too difficult to do in the time we had. To be honest, we adults hadn't spent enough time on E-Toys before we left to really be able to teach it. We really need to have someone master E-Toys and go back and really teach it properly over perhaps two weeks or so--it's a wonderful program. We're hoping that the printouts we left, plus their own intelligence, will enable some of the children to at least start working with it.

We wished for more Africa information in the "Browse" and "Wiki"--it seemed to be more oriented to Latin America. Also, the Wiki content is pretty adult for the target age groups (our children range from 5 - 16). In our case, the children have had little formal schooling until two years ago--the older ones could plow through the Wiki content, but given their background knowledge, we wondered how much of it made sense to them.

They have few to no textbooks in school, so just reading something on their own for comprehension is a little used and difficult skill. But that's the point---with the OLPC they will learn to do that! The amount of information available on it, even without internet access, is really impressive.

olpc ghana
Looking closely at XO issues

XO laptop hardware issues

We found the jumpy cursor problem did pop up, and were glad we'd brought mice and pads, which helped. We did find the 4-finger/corner salute and rubbing hands together briskly and touching a large object also helped.

We had a local carpenter design and build two nice cabinets with holes for charging. The power is iffy in Axim, but the four prefects take care of that (oldest "leaders"). We've asked a friend in the UK to send high quality power strips for 220 volt, since the Chinese-made ones available in Ghana are really poor quality and fail easily.

Overall impressions

Today, a bit more than a month since they first put their hands on the OLPCs, their Assistant Manager and mentor, Patrick, told me via phone that they "use their OLPCs every day. They are doing so many things with them. They love them." We personally believe these wonderful machines have the power to transform lives for the better and not just children's lives. In our case, we labeled two machines "Staff/Guest", and they are being used by two staff members who are not very literate at all, plus curious adults are coming to try them out.

We leaders of Ghana Together and Western Heritage Home are so proud that we introduced these computers in Axim, Ghana. These ARE the children for whom these machines were, and these children showed us that it's a perfect fit. We thank all the brilliant people who conceived of and developed this computer--a miracle--and those who donated them to us.

If anyone wishes to contact us, especially anyone from Ghana, please do so via Ghana Together website or you can email me directly. We have heard rumors of two other deployments in Ghana, but know nothing about them.

And if anyone else can bear to part with their OLPC, I can humbly say that our organization, Ghana Together, although small, is extremely capable, responsible, a duly registered 501c3, and very closely tied to our Ghanaian counterparts. I can say with absolute confidence that we will put them to good use.

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7 Comments

I think Maryanne was too polite to mention that I think they are still interested in acquiring donated XO laptops. If I understand correctly, there is another deployment at the beginning of August or the end of July.

I'm also guessing that used USB devices like mice, USB memory sticks, or USB ethernet adapters you may have accumulated might also be useful if you don't need them. (Total speculation on my part.)

Maryanne is correct? May I post your US mailing address?

I don't mean to post this at the expense of other charities that are accepting XO's. (Feel free to broadcast that again.)

You are correct, Andrew. I didn’t want to be soliciting too directly. We would like more XO laptops. We have another team going at end of August and two others in late September. Those teams are not computer-specific, but our Ghanaian partner organization, Western Heritage Home, is hiring a computer technician/instructor for the vocational computing lab, and to shepherd the XOs and two staff members there have had quite a lot of training and experience now. And yes, used USB devices are much needed, but we have found that USB mice with cords work best---no need for batteries, which are a big challenge in Axim. Memory sticks (small megabyte capacity is fine) and ethernet adapters that work are very welcome. Since I wrote the post, a local Nzema East District Education Dept official has visited the home and spent several hours with the three most skilled children. He is very interested, and has asked me for more info. Needless to say, we can probably use as many XOs as people are willing to send us. The children in Axim are EXACTLY the children these machines were designed for.
Also, at the risk of making myself really obnoxious, we are also looking for good used laptops with minimum 256K memory, hard drive, one USB port at least, and “XP ready” and charger cord. We also help with their vocational computing lab for young adults and community people---top priority identified at a Town Hall Meeting we hosted about two years ago. We have a grant from Microsoft for 50 MS Office licenses so the application software is in place. We need computers running XP.I would say rather than post our GT mailing address, contact me at [email protected] and we can discuss any donations first. For more about our 501c3 status, etc., see http://ghanatogether.org. Thanks.

Maryanne. Thx for the interesting article. I am wondering why you ask 'XP' ready if you can freely use Ubuntu Linux with the free software OpenOffice.org. I think it's more liberating for those people to use free and open source software in stead of closed software. I think of the development of the Extramadura region in Spain which has chosen to use free software for example.

"... Spanish region Extremadura is an excellent example how free software may be used in the development of education, culture, economy of people...." source

Links:
-> gnuLinEx;
-> Plan de Alfabetización Tecnológica y Software Libre de Extremadura;

-> ES: Extremadura's Open Source system offers first web services;
-> Extremadura: the Open Source region

> XP ready

Don't let this stand in the way of donating your XOs. If I understand correctly, I don't think Maryanne intends to install XP on your XOs, (which probably couldn't run it without more memory anyway). Your XO will not be used to promote windows in the developing world.
That said, I might at least consider the option of installing linux alongside windows XP on the same computers, so at least you can expose people to open source alternatives.

I wish I could delete this post (6/08).

Oh dear, I am confusing the issue. No, no no, a thousand times NO. We want and have only the original OS on the XOs. No XP on them, no plans for XP on them. No desire for XP on them. No pressure from anyone at all here or in Ghana to put XP on them.

We are mostly interested in the "activities". We like what we see, and hope they propel the children forward in their learning and in their "opening up" to what the world might be beyond their town. And we'll watch for new activities and add them to the arsenal as we can.

The original OS on the XOs works fine and for us. We are not developers and are probably not sensitive to every in-and-out on this. For us, it sort of fades into the background and does its job well and provides the needed engine to run the computers, activities, etc. Thank you who ARE developers. We are not at all part of the discussion about operating systems but we appreciate that a lot of very smart, dedicated, thoughtful, and sincere folks are wrestling with these very important issues. We stand in their good graces, and are grateful for what they are doing, and will open our minds to how they make sense of it.

I guess I stupidly added the "XP" bit, because in another completely separate program for adults only (secondary school graduates and working adults), our partners in Ghana have a small computer lab with a few used Dell and HP laptops with XP on them. This has NOTHING to do with the XOs and is even in a different physical space with different adults in leadership, but under our Western Heritage Home partner's "umbrella" of programs. We're not interested in this for children at all. This is a completely separate program. ANd that's why I should not have included it in an OLPC News site. Forgive me, please.

By way of explanation, we work with the Axim community broadly--not just in one area. For example, we've helped "mid-wife" a secondary student tutorial program to help SS graduates pass the rigorous exams to be able to go to University (only about 2% in the District now do). We helped connect some folks here and folks there who finished off a partially finished concrete building and made a nice "head start" type program for 40 children 3-5 years of age, whose parents are basically not literate. We have managed to put 56 "veronica buckets" (hand-washing stations) in 19 schools, none of which have running water. We've offered HIV-AIDS classes, have played a liaison role with a potential Engineers Without Borders water project in town, and so forth. We brought 500 lbs of science equipment to the school the orphanage kids attend, all of which fit their science curriculum, grades about 4-9 in US terms, but for which they had no equipment.

And, at this time, we are helping create a nice little computer lab for adults, with currently 9 laptops and we could use maybe a dozen or so more. And they happen to have XP on them.

This is grassroots at the local level. We sponsored a townhall meeting, and one of the "desires" was for a small but well-maintained computer lab for what we here in the US would call "adult continuing education." In Ghana, businesses are getting into using computers and so for people in this rural area, computer skills are getting to be important in the job market. With our partners there, we focus on infrastructure, education, health/sanitation, and training for adults, and care for orphaned and vulnerable children.

If our partners there decide to use Linux, that's OK with us, and we'll help with that.

Thanks to all for caring so much. Your passion moves me because I know it comes from your hearts' sincere desire to make the world a better, happier, more just place.

Maryanne


No problem Maryanne. I was not assuming you would try to use XP on an XO laptop.

It would be nice if those laptop's for the adults also would be liberated :-) With a taste of linux. Andrew's suggestion of dual-boot, linux besides XP works nice I understand.

I don't know the 'Veronica buckets' yet. I do know Hy2U a project of Demotech of which I know the founder, Reinder van Tijen here in the Netherlands.

Keep up al you good work ! Thank you for sharing the things you all do. :-)

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