E-Paati: OLPC Progress in Nepal

   
   
   
   
   

On April 25th, 135 Class 2 and Class 6 students at Bashuki and Vishwamitra Ganesh schools received XO laptops. There were elaborate opening ceremonies that featured speeches from government officials and community members, students singing their school songs modified to include OLPC, and a whole lot of excitement among teachers, students, and parents. It's now almost three weeks later the pomp and circumstance of the launch are only a memory. Kids, teachers, parents, and implementation team are getting down to the business of learning. While three weeks are a short time, we have already learned a lot from these two test schools. Let me take you on a short tour of what's happening at Nepal's test schools and how we got here.


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A Promising Beginning

Before I get too much farther, I should let you know that I work for OLE Nepal -- the grassroots Nepali organization that is implementing these two test schools in cooperation with the Nepali government. E-Paati is in the title of this article because the teachers and students have taken to calling the XO by that name. The teachers found "XO" awkward to pronounce and quickly settled on the name E-Paati for the XO, a derivation of the Nepali word for a slate writing board. I like this name for the XO because it implies that a laptop computer is the next logical learning tool after the personal writing pad.

Here are a few quick observations:

  • The teachers are extremely supportive of the project and use the laptops as a daily classroom activity. They frequently ask us for more content and software. I will go into this in detail later.

  • Students are really enthusiastic about using the laptops and accompanying activities.

  • Parents and siblings are quite supportive, esp. siblings which are happy to have access to the XO's.

  • The kids are taking excellent care of their laptops and we have not yet had any lost, stolen, or damaged.

  • The kids in classes other than two and six are disappointed that they can't participate in this project but they haven't bullied or tried to take away the XO's from the kids that are.
  • The Goals of these test schools are twofold:

    1. Combine relevant educational content, laptop computers, and teacher training to improve education in Nepali schools.
    2. Develop a model for goal #1 that can be replicated across Nepal in a sustainable manner.

    Note that I refer to Vishamitra and Bashuki as "test schools," not pilot schools. The real pilots of OLPC will begin in 2009 at a number schools that will better reflect the diversity of Nepali schools. Both Vishwamitra and Bashuki are located inside the Kathmandu Valley.

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    The Beginning of Collaborative Learning

    Planning Pays Off

    We put months and months of work into content development, teacher training, and technical preparation. Our experience at Bashuki and Vishwamitra validates every bit of effort we put into these areas.

    Dr. Saurav Dev Bhatta, Bipul Gautam, Kamana Regmi of OLE Nepal put a lot work into planning the teacher training for the test schools. There were two parts to the training, 5 days off-site without the kids and 5-days on-site with the kids in the classrooms. When the training started, some teachers were a bit apprehensive about the idea of using computers in the classroom. Many of them had never used computers before. Once they realized that computers weren't going to replace them but were a tool for them to use, they enthusiastically embraced the laptops. Teachers came up to me continually during the training asking for different activities to teach mathematics, English, geography, Nepali, you name it.

    Too often teachers get blamed for the failings of an education system, be it in Nepal , Peru, or the United States. I have been consistently amazed by the creativity and dedication of the teachers from Bashuki and Vishwamitra, particularly given their extremely limited resources.

    Naming the XO E-Paati caused additional confusion as we had entitled our learning activities E-Paati and we subsequently had to rename them to E-Paath

    Ya Gotta Have Content

    Nepali teachers, like teachers everywhere, are under constant pressure to move their students through the required curriculum for each year. If they don't, their kids are more likely to fail the end of year examinations and have to repeat a grade. There are some fantastic activities for the XO such as EToys, Scratch, and TamTam to name a few. However, it is very difficult to make those activities conform to the grade-wise learning objectives. These activities are also too high level on their own to introduce basic concepts of numeracy and English literacy without extensive modification. So that's what we did. We used Etoys to create a suite of 47 (and counting) learning activities for English and Mathematics that we call E-Paath or E-Lesson. You can download E-Paath for your XO here.

    E-Paath on the XO helps teachers do their jobs better and helps kids learn things they want to learn. So far the teachers are using the laptops as part of their daily lessons.

    To learn more about teacher training, content development, and general pedagogy, read Saurav Dev Bhatta's posts on the OLE Nepal blog.

    I'll just mention briefly that our systems+power team put a lot of work into connecting the school to the Internet, setting up power systems, wireless routers, and setting up the School Server. These aren't matters that can be taken lightly. One of the challenges we faced is that OLPC itself has extremely limited Quality Assurance resources so we had to a lot of software testing ourselves before deploying the laptops and the supporting infrastructure.

    Let Them Lead

    We're kidding ourselves if we think that we can go into a public school, change everything, and then expect the teachers to continue what we have started once we're gone. That's too often the mistake of pilot projects. They start off with a bang and some good press but they fail to empower local actors and create something that meets a compelling need. I won't be so bold to say that we have succeeded in "empowering local actors" and "creating something that meets a compelling need" but that's what we are shooting for.

    The teachers are leading this project at the individual schools. We try not to meddle or interfere in their management of their school. We do support and advise them.

    The Individual Schools

    Vishwamitra Ganesh

    This school, located in a wooded area in Jyamirkot, serves a mixed community consisting of Brahmin, Chhetri, Newar, Tamang and Dalit groups. The school has a core group of dedicated teachers who have been affiliated with the school for over 20 years. They have close relation with the parents and the community. People in the community put high value on education.

    Students from both grades were allowed to take the laptops home from the very first day. Out of the 38 students in grade 6 and 22 in grade 2, almost all of them were present throughout the first week of classes. The teachers conducted regular classes for the all grades during this period.

    Since the students had extra personal time at home with the XO’s they were very much familiar using the XO’s in classrooms. Even the second graders were navigating around the XO without much problem, and were able to get to the activities that the teachers were referring to. The sixth graders had tried out almost all of the activities on the XO. According to teacher Manoj Ghimire, the students like the English activities in E-Paath best of all the activities on the XO.

    The teachers at Vishwamitra have found that they can cover as much or more material using E-Paati than with out.

    Bashuki

    Between the two test schools, Bashuki is undoubtedly the more challenging one. The school located near a hilltop in Lakure Bhanjyang serves a community of Tamang people, an indigenous group that inhabit the hilly regions of Nepal. Most students come from poor families that depend on agriculture and menial work to make ends meet. The literacy rate is quite low, but the teachers are determined to change this. However, they face a daunting uphill task to educate children from villages where sending kids to school means losing extra hands to work the fields.

    Bashuki's School Management Committee (SMC) and school administration had jointly decided not to send the laptops home with the students during the first week. They wanted the children to get more familiar with the laptops before they take them home with them. Since the students had limited time with the XO’s during the week, they were not quite familiar with the laptops in the classroom after one week. Since the kids have taken the XO's home, they have made more progress.

    The teachers at Bashuki have told us that they can cover significantly more material using E-Paati than without them.

    My words here are really just a cursory overview of what's happening at the test schools. To learn more, I highly recommend Rabi Karmacharya's excellent blog post "First Week at the two Test Schools."

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    Opening a Whole New World to Young Learners

    Requests from the Teachers and Kids

    Here is just a short listing of the many things the kids and teachers have requested.

  • A typing tutor program

  • Make it easier to copy documents and files from the XO to a pen drive

  • Lots more English and Math games

  • For almost every single learning activity they want to see it, do it, hear it, and compete/collaborate with others.

  • Programs like Yahoo Messenger and Skype
  • Gettin' a Little Emotional

    Rabi Karmacharya and I have been working on OLPC in Nepal for almost 20 months now. We have put a lot of work into this project, as have others. At the launch ceremony for Vishwamitra, the students sang their school song which they had modified to include E-Paati. I have very roughly translated some of the lyrics here:

    Our beloved school Vishwamitra, Vishwamitra
    Our leading light Vishwamitra, Vishwamitra
    E-Paati is a special tool
    We will use it to improve Nepal

    You could hear the pride and devotion they have for their school. I just about cried. At the end of the ceremony, the teachers took the kids directly into their classrooms and showed them how to handle the XO's. Then they began using the activities. We at OLE Nepal hadn't instructed them to do this. We hadn't planned the opening ceremony. The teachers knew what to do. They had their own plan that in many respects was probably better than one we could come up with. The teachers, the kids, and the community were making OLPC their project.

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    The Future of Nepal?


    This article was written with assistance from Rabi Karmacharya. To learn more about the OLPC project in Nepal, visit the OLPC in Nepal page on the OLPC wiki and the OLE Nepal blog

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    3 Comments

    Namaste, I honor you and your work

    Wonderful article and pictures! Helps restore my faith in humankind and
    hope for the future.

    Namaste.

    Hello!

    I use Yahoo messenger on my XO by typing m.yahoo and it comes up with a mobile version. You need to hit refresh to see replies, but it works.

    I will be attempting to use your E-Paath, so I can show children in Colombia a few things when I visit there.

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