OLPC Peru is Still Far From Our Goals

   
   
   
   
   

Hi everyone, I'm Kiko Mayorga, I am an electric engineer / artist / teacher, living and working in Lima, Peru, a country that has bought one of the biggest lots (260,000+) of OLPC machines in 2007 and 2008. Wayan asks me to further explain what I meant with this comment on Impressive and Tantalizing Results from OLPC Peru:

olpc subsidized sales
Pointing to a OLPC Peru future
I thought we actually still cannot even e-mail the responsibles of digete's 3500 "innovation rooms" across the country... we don't even have a list of e-mail addresses from teachers using XO, we have less than 5% of the 200,000+ machines connected to the web, so we don't even know where they are now..., and we have very few reports of success...

Last December while I was on necessary vacations (I'm a freelancer), I was feeling like looking back to education and to the countryside of Peru. Somehow I watched some spots on TV from the ministry of education in Peru, advertising on the OLPC program in the countryside. I felt uncomfortable with the mood of the report, so I decided to dive further for information on the web, regarding the process of this interesting initiative.

Googled around "OLPC Peru", searched on Youtube, and what I could mostly find, were amazing examples of non-connectedness between reality and publicity. Found some creepy videos, shot in our very own (Peruvian) governmental-advertisement mood, telling whatever sounded most convincing to some advertisement agents working far outside the core of the project.


Sad Realities

That kind of sad reality doesn't disturb me that much now, as I'm already very aware of how precarious the decision making processes happen in a country like ours. It's not surprising that after our whole economy had been freezing for over 30 ( ? ) years, now suddenly that there's a public treasure, we don't really have a clue on how to make important decisions to spend it right, nor even how to implement the most basic structures everyone would expect inside a state...

As a very clear example, about one year ago, the ministry of education sold the former building they were occupying for 15 Million Dollars. In the next months workers in the ministry needed to be moved to temporary "offices": a dozen family houses spread over the district of San Borja, being each one totally disconnected from the next one, and so leaving the different departments of the ministry completely apart from each other.

For example: "primary school department" in one building and "ed-tech department, called here DIGETE" some blocks east from it. The most amazing in this, is that the "moving" of the offices costed itself 14 Million Dollars. So now I would rather say we have no ministry of education at all... It does not work: It's spread and wasted. (sounds dramatic, but it's close to that)

Far from our Goals

So you can already start to imagine how chaotic the OLPC deployment here actually is. I get completely frustrated when understanding this, and I feel really that we need a lot of help to get this initiative running. We are still very far from being able to getting the most out from the OLPC Peru program.

In the following on this letter, I don't want to blame anyone or complain. I just want to explain, after Wayan's request, how far we are from what the Peruvian OLPC project leader/responsible, Hernán Pachas, stated a few days ago. You can read his interview here.

I don't want to blame anyone, I just want to communicate and get sure, that everyone outside Perú can get informed about how this answers totally bias from the reality and shouldn't leave any of us satisfied and thinking "everything is running well with OLPC down in Perú".

As I Googled last December, I found almost no community, forums, blogs reports, or whatever. Two years have already passed since the project was announced and started to be implemented, and still one could not find the expected information.... just a rather silly jingle, some interesting points of view, and some interesting and and objective blog reports from Carla Gomez Monroy.


I started to meet some friends who got interested in joining an XO rescue-plan. We met 6 or 7 times, and brainstormed on what we should do around OLPC. As we kept researching we could just find out that not much had been done. We knocked the doors from the ministry of education, and even if we were kindly attended, we were actually told that "volunteers do disturb" and that "they don't have time to waste with volunteers"...

Of course they don't have the time for volunteers if they first have to find their own colleagues spread over the whole district, lost in little houses. And worst...of course they don't have time for volunteers, if they keep "pretending everything is running the best way" and try to "convince the whole world that OLPC Peru is enforcing reading comprehension by 50% since it started" as Hernan states on his interview:

Interviewer:Have there been improved levels of reading comprehension?

Hernán Pachas:Reading comprehension of children in primary levels has been improved by approximately 50%.

Now... one simple question: What would for example mean that reading comprehension has been improved by approximately 100%. That kids understand the double of what they did before? That they now "understand all" of what they read? That they have the "double" of culture they had before? Does it make any sense -or is it even possible- to try to quantify how much the OLPC project reinforces reading comprehension?

Raising digitally alphabetized kids is probably the first thing we should get out from a laptop -sorry- ed-tech program. That for, the basic resources needed would be internet connectivity, some nice and functional open source browser activities and faith on constructivism.

Of course that was a core point in the original OLPC mission, but somehow, amazingly Peru has decided to go against all recommendations, stating that a very 90s-style "asynchronous connectivity" , mixed with "chasqui-style" physical data traveling would make it. (Oscar Becerra mentions the revolutionary Peruvian approach to OLPC connectivity close to the end of this video)

Start by the Beginning

The fact is that still after two years in Perú not more of 5% of the XO laptops get connected to the internet. The sad thing about this is that we actually cannot get any feedback or user reports, nor the kids can get their software updated.

That could be not that bad if we had constant communication with at least the teachers. But then the next problem is that there's not a way to get in contact with them. The ministry has not a mailing list system for writing to the teachers. And worst than that,, the former "plan huascaran" (pc enabled ) classrooms that are now converted into 3200+ "innovation classrooms", having each a coordinator, but then again, there's no way to reach them.

Some time ago I was told, they use their hotmail or gmail accounts and send emails to the coordinators in batches of twenty. This way a single letter needs currently to be sent out 175 times before it reaches all of the coordinators of "innovation classrooms". (what of course gets done very seldom).

Last month, Koke Contreras started a group of independent / open meetings with teachers from the lima-near sierra region (huarochiri). It was amazing to discover how little communications the teachers get or initiate. The truth is that the laptops are isolated and deeply lost, and certainly the kids and teachers are trying to make use of them on trial and error style... I wonder how much time it would take them to get connected to digital alphabetism if left like that, on their own...

olpc peru
Escuelab hacking the XO laptop

Escuelab starts incubating

Now we're holding this type of meetings every Saturday morning at the escuelab, a new lab we're independently running in the centre of Lima, incubating the development of initiatives around XO and education (among other culture & technology subjects).

There, we're not pretending to appear celebrating how good it goes with OLPC in Peru, but rather to get real impressions and real feedback from teachers, and to start researching, designing, promoting infrastructure implementation initiatives, to get towns connected to the web, with DIY wireless data links, training people to pull wires and install access points, etc... and well... I think most of the ones of you reading to this point certainly can imagine the long way we have to go from now...

So, ideas, actions and volunteerism is highly appreciated and welcome! Whoever would like to visit the escuelab, or come to test a project, or plan to organize an internship /volunteering program related to culture and technology, please feel free to mail me at kiko at escuelab dot org.

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7 Comments

Who is Alta Tecnología Andina? Any link with the Intel? (it might help being open and transparent about your non-governmental employer)

I'd say, how about going down to the schools and ask the teachers, students and parents what they think? Do some tests on them.

Questioning if computers can help in learning is pretty obvious to answer that yes they do enormously no matter how well they are used.

Sure Internet connection is preferable, but outside of Lima, I haven't been to Peru, but I can imagine that it can be hard to have Internet everywhere for cheap ($0.20 per month per student). So even asynchronyous, updating the ebooks, applications and other contents once in a while by a USB stick delivered by mail to the village. That should be extremely good already. Cause a USB stick can contain thousands of very interesting ebooks for children to learn in the Spanish language, and that's what the OLPC was designed for. To work today right now, no matter the Internet availability or not.

I hope though that XO-2 can bring WiMax Mesh networking support to have a better range on the laptops and thus to even cheaper and more easily provide Internet connection on all of them.

@charbax

Hahahaha,,, no nothing like a link between ATA (Alta Tecnologia Andina) and Intel.

Alta Tecnologia Andina is a peruvian non-proffit working for over 14 years in culture and technology.

I´ve been recently invited to take part of its directory board, together with Jorge Villacorta and Jose-Carlos Mariategui.

ATA is founded through partnerships with the Prince Claus Fund and the Agencia española de Cooperación Internacional.

Escuelab is a new project from ATA, and i´m in charge of it.

I hope that´s transparent enough :) but, you can further ask if you want!

>>"Questioning if computers can help in learning is pretty obvious to answer that yes they do enormously no matter how well they are used."


I agree with that. I wouldnt care that much about objective evaluation. I´d just make the process more transparent, sincere, and open to volunteers and interested contributors.

>> "So even asynchronyous, updating the ebooks, applications and other contents once in a while by a USB stick delivered by mail to the village. That should be extremely good already. Cause a USB stick can contain thousands of very interesting ebooks for children to learn in the Spanish language, and that's what the OLPC was designed for. To work today right now, no matter the Internet availability or not."

Right.. It´s still a very good thing. Just worried that the tool (XO) becomes to a toy when we are not able to print or upload somewhere the contents created. Ok reading is still very positive, and USB sticks can carry a lot of stuff... But (phisically) "mailing" things isn´t that easy in the countryside. And the attemps from the ministry to prepare information bundles are still very slow. We would need masses of USB sticks, and a logistic follow up...

But still, I just wouldnt stop trying to get them connected to avoid further delays in the success of the program.

>> "I hope though that XO-2 can bring WiMax Mesh networking support to have a better range on the laptops and thus to even cheaper and more easily provide Internet connection on all of them."

I stick to XO-1.. It´s the one we bought (260 000 units!),, we need to take advantage of that hardware,, even if it´s beeing discontinued.

thanks for your reply!
Kiko

Kiko's very interesting post illustrates a general problem with the olpc idea.

Olpc has the intention of improving the poor state of education in developing countries.

The idea is to do this through one-to-one computing. Now to do this the education ministry in a country has to impliement the olpc program in an effective, effecient manner.

Here's where the problem comes in. In most developing countries education is so poor in part because the education ministry, and the government as a whole, is in-effecient and incompetent. And if it can't do a good job with standard education methods, then why should it be expected to do so with a wildly-innovative computerized education one? To put it another way, if the government was effective enough to impliment olpc the right way, it would have already made standard education good enough so that olpc wouldn't be needed, or at least not nearly as much.

I think there are two sorts of answers to this problem. One is that olpc will hopefully stir up enough interest that it will gradually improve and move ahead anyway.

The other answer is that what is going to happen in a few years is that the hardware is going to be so cheap in a few years that the citizenry will just go ahead and buy and use it on its own.

Nice thoughts...
both things will happen : )
i hope,
Kiko

Hola!

Sounds like the government is afraid of vollunteers learning the truth about the OLPC XO. I think the XO's could have been purchased, but never shipped out to the schools. It seems like their chaos in other areas of their responsibilities leads me to make my statement! To prove or disprove the XO being in use, I would think official numbers would need to be checked.

At the end of the day, when a country tries to fly before she even knows how to walk , these kind of things would surely happen.

OLPC is good provided those hardward bought are cost effectively used like getting them to community centers or for a teacher (not students) to be used in classes projected using a projector (this way students would pay more attention rather than looking at their own laptop and be distracted.

Education is more than able to access the Internet and able to take pictures. The main purpose of schools are to learn the many subjects not waste time trying to find "something" interesting in the Internet! We all know for sure for those with Internet access, how difficult to find the right contents for a specific subject suitable to a certain class of certain levels and this OLPC project is getting children to waste time on the Internet instead of learning the "ABCs" of education.

Having a laptop per child is not even implemented in developed countries, I just cannot imagine it can work in third world countries where financial resources are limited.

Alan

Kiko,

You're not alone in communications infrastructure problems.

http://www.wired.com/politics/security/news/2009/04/fleetcom

Brainstorm (things you can throw in garbage, but please keep thinking of ways to make your systems work): We'd all prefer 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 bps communications. But 1,200 bps betters 0 bps. Look into sound-card digital systems. PSK-31 seems too slow for much beyond, “I'm here.” Perhaps better sound-card communications modes have been developed.

Request AMSAT add a transponder (or repeater) for you to a future satellite. Lower bandwidth satellites in lower orbit have been successfully used with homemade ground stations. This may be neither legal nor practical. But worth checking?

http://www.amsat.org/amsat-new/index.php

Try growing your own group of data-communications problem solvers: Ask Radio Habanna to beam a Spanish version of their “Dxers Unlimited” program toward Peru. Professor Arnaldo Coro (the host) encourages learning communications technology through building inexpensive antenna, receiving, and transmitting gear. If you could use some inexpensive means of communicating town-to-town, try emailing questions to the program's “Ask Arnie” segment.

http://www.radiohc.org/Distributions/arnie.html

My smallish nine-year-old grand daughter habitually packs around a case containing enough CD-ROMs to store a 1000-book library. Use the Internet Archive to build a library usable via ad-hoc networks.

http://www.archive.org/index.php

Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria takes some time getting some of their communication research publications (REPORTES TÉCNICOS) into Spanish. Find volunteers to produce “provisional” translations. The publications can assist volunteers in learning communications technology.

http://www.inictel.gob.pe/index.php/investigacion/publicacion

Often English versions appear long before Spanish versions.

http://www.schmarder.com/radios/tech/index.htm

http://web.telia.com/~u43200663/

http://www.ramonvargas.webs.com/

If Peru does have provisions for unlicensed town-to-town radio, request possible solutions be translated and redesigned for local materials and skills. For example, the creatures of the Radio-Shack Special understand issues of unavailable materials and design for what is available. It could be redesigned for sound-card digital and almost any VHF or low UHF spectrum segment you're allowed to use.

http://www.electronics-lab.com/projects/rf/007/index.html

Whenever someone does solve a problem, send out press releases identifying the problem, the solver, and the solver's affiliation.

Please keep looking for solutions.

Thank you,

Steven

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