Jamaican Parents Take Action


Resumen en español al final del artículo

For the one-year anniversary of the Jamaican OLPC deployment, the Alearning Gang enthusiastically went to work and learn in Kingston.

One moment particularly hit us during this week: talking with the parents of August Town Primary School was a surprising and memorable meeting.

The goal of this meeting was to involve the parents, cultivating their insights and attention around their kids' OLPC program. So we are all sat in a small circle, volunteers and parents and we started talking about the way kids use the laptops today at August Town Primary, and the circle just kept growing.

One mother, particularly confident, kept on talking for the others, speaking up saying that not having chargers at home is not very useful. Mark Battley from Ntugi Group talked about the way they do it in Kenya, but at some point, some magical moment... Mark asks "Dear Parents, what would YOU do if you were the teachers?"

And guess what? Every single parent in this room then jumped in to talk, not just the Parent Teachers Association who got the meeting started - each saying out loud what they want for their kids. And then spontaneously starting to organize among each other. We became invisible as they started to talk through their OLPC dreams, stating the obvious as well as discovering certain matters that no one had dared to mention before.

So they agreed together that: the laptops should be used in a safe place (which in this case is the library) and that an adult should be in the room to help - they do not want their kids unwatched.

Then one parent asked about the way to handle after-school hours with the laptops... How to share the laptop between three kids and three different homes? Last year, some parents had troubles with sharing of the XO as they would sometimes find broken laptops in their kid's hands and as they say "It was not comfortable". So what must change we ask? After long discussions, parents came up with the following:

  • Each family should buy their own charger, after all it's little, if the school buys the laptop the least we can do is to buy the chargers for our child! YES! Unanimous agreement!
  • Parents are responsible for the sharing of the laptop among the kids. XO laptops will go home with 3 different families every week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  • Several families and children volunteered to arrive at school 15 min early and remain 15 min after the school day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to ease the school's burden of inspecting the laptops for problems before handingthem out to the next kid.
  • Parents are going to learn how to use the laptop. "Because how can we control what they do if we don't know how to use the machine?" "Last year my son told me there was inappropriate content on the laptop from another family, but I could not do anything, cause I don't know how it works." "What if the kids teach us how to use it?" "Let's ask the children to volunteer and teach the parents after class!"

August Town Primary School pupils

I find it mind-blowing when most people would complain and blame the teachers or the program itself for finding inappropriate content on the laptop, these parents instead say that they want to learn how to use it -- so that they can use their parenting skills when their 8 year-old is using the computer!

Isn't this extremely positive? The kid is becoming the teacher for their own family, skillsharing with their own parents. While parents and students are volunteering together for this project, and parents spending their own money on chargers to extend the use of the machine at home: because they believe like us that this XO could change their child's life! THEY BELIEVE! This means that if the teachers don't trigger kids' learning on the laptop at school, parents are going to speak up again... They now are part of the OLPC dream!

At the heart of this story, as in the story of Simon in Kenya, as in the story of Justin in the Philippines, and many other children around the world, is the story of "Empowering the Community" taking its meaning.

It is not superfluous glitter on a well-run deployment, but real bits of leverage for action...

Laura de Reynal (Flickr, Twitter) is a volunteer with OLPC France and works with the OLPC project on Nosy Komba, Madagascar.

Resumen en español: En enero un grupo de voluntarios de la comunidad de OLPC viajó a Jamaica para visitar el proyecto de OLPC allí. Uno evento memorable para ellos fue la reunión con padres de alumnos del colegio August Town Primary School. Los padres desarrollaron soluciones para desafíos que ellos y sus hijos habían encontrado en cuanto al proyecto en su escuela. Fue un ejemplo del empoderamiento de la comunidad que representa un importante apalancamiento para la acción.


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Resumen en español al final del artículo

Earlier this year a couple of volunteers made a trip to Jamaica to work with the local XO deployment there, [more]

1 Comment

Laura, this is such a great article - thanks for writing it! For me too, this meeting was a high point of the week's activities.

The parents demonstrated great concern for their children getting the maximum benefit from the XOs. They let it be known when there were challenges that they would not be passive bystanders but would get involved to ensure that the OLPC project succeeded and the whole community benefited. They were willing to commit what little resources they had - and let us remember that these parents are from the lowest socio-economic quintile in Jamaica - to work with the school and their neighbours for the common good.

These good citizenship behaviours, in a vulnerable, inner-city community are certainly a positive if unintended benefit, of insisting on child ownership of the laptop, and not having enough laptops, so that 3 children have to share one!

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