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:
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.
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...
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.