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While deploying XO laptops in the far west

February 17th, 2015 By: Bishnu · No Comments

I was quite excited from early on. Our team of two (Basanta Dai and myself) were heading towards far-west Nepal on January 12th. It was my first visit to far-west – Bajhang to be specific, and my first experiences of deploying XO (E-paati) laptops. I had my bags ready with necessary stuffs for two weeks long visit. In addition of being a person who loves traveling, this visit had an important value of its own. We were deploying 300+ XO laptops to thirteen schools in remote location where most of the teachers and students were using computers for the first time in their lives.

After staying one night at Dhangadi, district headquarter of Kailali, we loaded our vehicles with laptops to be deployed the next day. We started our journey towards Bajhang at 9 in the morning and reached our destination Jhota Bazaar in evening where we were staying for next few nights during the deployment at nearby schools.

Starting our duties, we handed over the laptops to the school representatives and headed for deployment. We were working with two separate teams comprising of a technician and a volunteer. My team conducted total of six new deployments and one support visit while the other team headed by Basanta Dai conducted around seven deployments. We had systematically planned to meet after completing deployments in each cluster to share our experiences.


6+ hours of walking through inclined ways

Our adventure began by climbing a hill to the school from bazaar named Bagthala. We were heading for a support visit. We had two students guiding us on our way to school which was alarmingly inclined and narrow. I was quite surprised by the physical structure of the area where the school was located.

We visited our first school but the journey was not over yet. We walked for four hours more to reach another school. Teachers were walking along with us to guide us through our way. Returning back, it took us six hours of walk to reach our shelter. We were so tired and could not wait to have a good sleep. Next morning, we woke up to a beautiful snowfall on the nearby hill. The beauty took our remaining tiredness away.

While fulfilling our agendas of the trip, I also experienced new things about the people of Bajhang. People there, especially children, processes fresh rice (Dhaan) and flour on their own. Each evening they have their duty to process the rice for next morning. One of our meals was rice cooked from their own farm and it was delicious. Their Bajhangi language was quite different from that of ours – we were struggling to understand them. Some words were similar to Nepali words but some had twisted pronunciation. Overall, the people were warm and welcoming. We were glad to have received their kind hospitality.

Children preparing rice for next morning

After completing installation at first two schools, we headed for the next one which was near Deulekh. This area was easily accessible in compare to the previous ones. Two hours walk was the longest for us to reach to the school. Nevertheless, it was tiring. But again, it all disappeared in our arrival when we saw happy faces of students and teachers greeting us warmly. Fourth school had the largest deployment with 42 XO laptops along with fourteen desks and benches. We also had to rework the electrical wiring in order to make spaces available for furnitures and laptops.


Teachers using Epaati after installation

Like Deulekh, Chainpur area was our next destination. The pathway of 2.5 hours of walk from Chainpur to school was easy, but with no one to guide us, we had to enquire with the locals on many junctions. At the school, teachers were quite excited and enthusiastic about the laptop program. We were thoroughly motivated by their response.

As our next school was near to the same school, we decided to stay there for the night. Teachers had happily arranged our stay in their computer lab. The meal of evening (bread with curry and milk) was prepared at the school kitchen and it was really delicious. According to the locals, most people traveled to India and had worked there as cooks (hence, the reason for delicious meal).

Next morning we headed for our last school which was around an hour away from the current school. As it was located quite near to the mountains, we got to see snow covered ones too closely. The view was beautiful and refreshing. It helped us carry our work smoothly – we were enjoying the moment.
On our way back, we were feeling really cold and increased our pace a little to stop by a shop for a break. Narrow width path and the height of a hill was frightening during that time of the day. We had such an adrenaline rush. We would have gone down the hill in one slip. Even though we were very careful, our friend Sawal had a minor accident. He twisted his leg and had to use a walking stick to reach Chainpur.


School where 19 XOs were deployed

Apart from all the adventure of hiking up and down the hill, we successfully completed deployment and installation at newly selected schools of Bajhang. It still feels good to remember those faces of students and teachers delighted with the joy to use laptops in their schools.

On our way back to Dadeldhura, the snowfall delayed our journey but we managed to reach our hotel that evening. We also conducted support visits to two schools in Dadeldhura and I was so glad to visit our project schools of four years back. It was delighting to see the schools still applying this innovative approach to learning which was helping students learn different concepts interactively.

Our fourteen days long deployment journey had completed. Regardless of all the adventures faced during deployment, the satisfaction came with the completion of our duties which was eventually going to help students have access to quality learning resources which was missing in those areas otherwise. I hope to see some amazing improvement among the students in my next visit to Bajhang.

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From field assistant to a programmer

February 5th, 2015 By: Sabrina · No Comments

Transition must have been boring!!

Most of you must be guessing the above statement by the title of my blog. But, I am here to surprise you all.

As a passionate explorer, I am hooked with the anxiety and the butterfly effect I get when setting out for a journey. The feeling of a vicious circle of my daily routine slowly breaking while escaping into the unknown; it feeds my desire to learn and gets me going.

The field visits of OLE Nepal are an adventure on its own. Our project schools are located in diverse locations without any sign of basic infrastructures. Most of the time we had to walk long hours to reach our destination. The walks are comparatively easy then the next task; talking to people and making them aware and co-operative. There were times I slept above a barn and ate what was served. But after seeing the happiness reflected from the innocent eyes of the children who are fascinated with our E-Paath and E-Pustakalaya, it feels rewarding. And, on top of that, the work we conduct during field visits are truly satisfying for one’s soul. It encourages us to do more for them.

Then comes the transition…… It has been 3 months since my last field visit. After shifting from a technical room to developers room, I have been deprived of all the adventures. However, I am focused as the quote says,

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy ,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
- Socrates.

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working seriously ;)

I managed to find my own adventure in coding. While it is fun to go places and get our digital educational programs implemented, it is exciting, both as a learner and as a student studying Information Management, to be able to develop these interactive activities. I can not express my gratitude in words towards our development team who dealt with my constant curiousness and guided me throughout this transition process.

I am currently working on grade 7 math activities and so far have managed to develop two activities with the help of my mentors. I feel deep sense of satisfaction developing them as students of different schools in diverse parts of Nepal will be able to learn math with the help of these activities. I feel such because this particular subject has never been my cup of tea.

All in all, it will soon be a year since I joined OLE Nepal team as an intern. And coming back to discussing my transitions, I have had many in this one year. I gained a clearer perspective, learned interpersonal and technical skills, understood the outlook on education and ICT and much more.

It is all because of these transitions, I have evolved as a better person.

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Developer’s team

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Pustakalaya in our hands

February 2nd, 2015 By: Roshan Poudyal · 2 Comments

It is very hard to tell when and how the idea to create a mobile application for our E-Pustakalaya started. However, it certainly was the advantage of applications alike these being handy, easy and accessible that attracted us towards creating one for our E-Pustakalaya. This application would give direct and free access to the massive collection of books for avid readers and book enthusiasts. It would satisfy our goal of making the books available to many users as possible.

So it started and we developers of OLE Nepal got a new thing to learn about. Oh yes! We were all very excited about the app. Utility software we used for app development – Android Studio, was in beta version, but this Integrated Development Environment (IDE) was a great tool and we coded our app in this version. We remember there being two or three design proposals for how the app would look like, before we finalized one.

First, application programming interface (API) was created which would be used by our application to connect with the server and extract the required information to be displayed on the app. The development of the client side (mobile) application was conducted simultaneously. The difficult part was to understand the database of the books in E-pustakalaya. It really took us significant amount of time to figure that out.

After a months time, we had one more friend joining our team for its development. Now there were three excited ones ready to bring the app down to the android mobile. The application was growing faster and smoother. It started to babble and communicate with the server for what it required. It was definitely growing beautiful.

Almost ready to be deployed to the play store, we had developed a fully functional E-pustakalaya app which could now get the E-pustakalaya library to small handheld android devices. Users now would be able to explore the library under seven different categories, Arts, Literature, Course Materials and number of subcategories under each of them. Also the list of the books were sortable ascending or descending based on author, date and name.
 

Category

Categories with expandable Subcategories

We also added a search feature to the app which would be beneficial for users to find the books using keywords. Home screen displays three other useful categories which would show featured, user downloaded and latest books from the library.
 

Main page

Main page view


 

The user interaction of the application is practically standard which assures our users an easy navigating system. We had options on how to access the library online via “pustakalaya.org”, offline via school server  and some other internet protocols which could server the library content. Now, there is one more easy option added to the list.

 

Settings

Settings

 

A single banook selected can show you important details including name of the book, author’s name, book size (units referring memory size for storage), brief summary about the book, etc. A download button is shown if the book is not already downloaded, else option to open or delete the book are shown.

 

Book Details

Book Details Section

Thanks to all our OLE Nepal team who helped us test it, by allowing to install the application on their devices and to spot any bugs. Moreover, there were many fixes and improvements during the testing phase which made the app more mature in compare to other android applications on the galaxy of Google play store.

There are plans to upgrade our app with more interesting features in coming days. Do explore our “E-Pustakalaya” app and give us feedback on interesting features that can be added to the application.

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Connecting local writers to read-aloud books

January 20th, 2015 By: Sawal Acharya · No Comments

Children enjoy listening to stories. During our childhood, we remember asking our parents, grandparents or anyone elder to us, for amusing and interesting stories, simply because we enjoyed immersing ourselves in the world of fantasy. Besides providing pleasure, hearing stories has several benefits. It stimulates children’s minds, cultivates reading habits and increases their ability to think creatively. Despite being advantageous and captivating, new read-aloud stories are largely absent in our society. Younger people are still hearing tales, such as Kharayo ra Kachhuwa, Singha ra Musa, Dhukur ra Kamila, Kalu ra Bheda, which are marvelous but old. We can clearly feel the lack of new creations. Thus, with the aim of increasing the number of read-aloud stories and encouraging authors to write more of such stories, OLE Nepal has been conducting writers workshops. This sort of workshop had been conducted in Butwal, Pokhara, Biratnagar and Chitwan last year.

Participants were all from Nepali literature background. However, they weren’t well-versed in writing stories for children. Their target audiences were mostly adults. Hence, to make the participants understand the philosophies of writing children books, we initiated our workshop with significant presentations which eventually led to concentration on the writing styles.

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During the workshops, the brainstorming session was an interesting part where the participants had to think about the plot of their stories. To make this activity more enjoyable, we urged the participants to reflect on their own childhood experiences, identify subjects they found entertaining and base their stories on such subjects. Once the stories were completed, our team of experts along with the participants organized group discussions to evaluate the first drafts. The feedbacks and suggestions that emerged from the discussions helped in re-writing the stories. This cycle of evaluation and revision went until the best piece of work was produced. By the end of this session, we were able to produce new revised stories.

To make these narratives more engaging and imaginative, OLE Nepal will give relevant pictures to the stories making them visually appealing. Once the illustration is complete, the stories will be edited and published through our E-Pustakalaya.

 Challenges were expected. And, most of them arose from the fact that the writers were not used to children’s writing styles. It was hard to make authors write stories that touched the themes of fantasy, adventure and likewise. They mostly wrote about themes that were realistic and inclined towards giving some serious morals of life which is not really expected from story books for children. It was also challenging to make them write short stories as they were used to writing lengthy books. Furthermore, many of them wrote on a poetic prose rather than the preferred narrative prose. Nevertheless, through the dedicated efforts of OLE Nepal and our team of experts, we were able to conduct the workshop successfully. The program was highly fruitful in terms of encouraging the participants in writing more for children.

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Given their engaging potential and intellectual benefits, stories greatly improve learning experiences of young children. For OLE Nepal, which is dedicated to enhance primary level education, collection of stories provide children with wonderful options to choose from. Likewise, it will serve as another fitting medium to increase the collection of learning resources for children in our E-Pustakalaya. We eagerly look forward to organizing similar events in near future.

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Preparing XO-4 Laptops For Bajhang Phase II

January 9th, 2015 By: Peter Kayastha · No Comments

I enjoy watching Factory Made. I have always been keen in understanding and knowing the effort behind creation of products I use. They fascinate me. I got a chance to understand  similar creation of a product at OLE Nepal. It was to test 53 boxes of newly arrived XO-4 laptops.

It all started with an email about arrival of laptops from Mr. Upaya, our finance director at OLE Nepal stating “We are expecting 53 boxes of XO-4 laptops to be delivered probably today.” All the interns were invited to check external damage in XOs as well as to store them in a safe place. I found this to be a great activity in my learning process and skill development as an intern. Also, it gave me chance to know the laptops inside out.

 Exploring the product such as XO laptop was an extraordinary duty, for we do not easily get this opportunity. We interns got to delve into this system and prepare them for the Bajhang deployment. I feel content to realize our contribution in this process, giving students an access to digital educational resources. Saugat, Sawal and myself were assigned to test XOs’ basic hardware and update operation systems. Checking 53 boxes of XO laptops seemed never ending, but eventually it became interesting for us. Initially, we divided our work. Me and Sawal decided to unpack the boxes and test the laptops while Saugat primarily checked the charging ports of laptops along with its charger and cable. As a result of our team effort, the boxes that once seemed never ending were being tested and packed in no time.

“Damn” shouted Saugat grabbing our attention, “I just got an electric shock.” It was the first defect detected during  our testing process. This event broke the silence in the room and we started talking about childhood mishaps with  electricity. I did not have any similar story to share but was listening to their stories with great interest.

After one and half days of work, we completed checking 31 boxes of laptops leaving only 22 boxes of XOs. This time around, we could not resist but to take it easy. Sawal discovered a print mistake in keyboard. MAYOS. We figured the word was Shift in Spanish. There is a saying “If you find two mistakes in a row, you are likely to find the third one.”  Continuing our last few boxes, I finally got my share of errors. It was a non functional screen rotate key. Therefore, all faulty machines were separated in a box and we gradually ended our testing activity.

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Apart from checking the defects in the laptops, we also upgraded the operating system of the XOs for deployment. After the upgrade, operating system now provides Nepali interface along with E-paath and other necessary activities in the laptops. Initially, we interns were upgrading the XOs and eventually new volunteers for Bajhang also assisted us making it a good team effort. With helping hands, we successfully updated operating system of 260 laptops in one and half day, fully preparing the XOs for deployment.

Now these XOs are on their way to the schools and I cannot wait and see students using these laptops in my next visit to Bajhang.

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Balancing the act of duty and wanderlust

January 6th, 2015 By: Sabrina · No Comments

It was 5 a.m. and the sound of an alarm clock woke me up. I got up, got ready, grabbed my bags, and headed to the OLE Nepal office where my colleague Deepa was waiting for me. For a head start, we had packed all the necessary equipments, laptops, stationeries and other documents properly a day before and I couldn’t help but feel content that all the things were moving as per the plan. We both were feeling robust as we picked up those heavy bags and loaded them on and off from the taxi and throughout our travel. We knew domestic flights are always late. While waiting at the lobby of the airport, listening to the music  and flight announcements both at the same time, I was trying to make a visual image of the school and the people whom I will be interacting with for the next five days. We were going for XO laptop deployment in the Arun Jyoti Primary School in kaski, Pokhara.

The librarian of the school Miss Hari Maya Neupane was waiting for us outside the airport. We engaged in a quick introduction and headed to the school. On our way, miss Hari gave us insight about the school and the library Ria’s Reading Room, which was established on a foreign aid by Wanda in the memory of her mother.

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Arun Jyoti School, Begnas, Sundari dadha, Kaski.

I was startled by the beauty of Pokhara as we reached Sundari dadha (hill) where the school was located. We could see both the Begnas lake and Rupa lake in each side, resting calmly in between those magnificent hills. We quickly unloaded all the XO laptops and all the other equipments in the library and headed out for lunch.

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View of Rupa(left) and Begnas(right) lakes from the school.

Our official interaction started with an introduction with the teachers and about XO laptops. As Deepa was conducting the session. I quickly unboxed the offline server and my tool box to set up a network. I placed the server, switch and router in a safe place, connected with RJ45 cables. All thanks to the trainings I received in the office, setting up a network was like piece of a cake. During my introduction, I used simple vocabularies to explain our technical system. I was glad to sense some enthusiasm among teachers who were listening actively.

As we learned about the absence of proper security in the school, we could not help but carry all the laptops to and fro from the librarian’s house we were living in. Despite this hassle, we were glad to see the natural beauty of Sundari dadha. Luckily, we had a room that faced the Rara lake.

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Teachers exploring XO laptops during the training

With the feel of fresh air just outside of our window, we planned our day each morning, followed by proper examination of the laptops. We were juggling our times to meet the requirements of the plan in between the power cuts and ongoing internal exams in the school. However, these early morning preparations helped us to maintain our cool in between the training hours. We basically focused on E-paath activities during power cuts and helped them understand the concept of E-pustakalaya and its use during the power available times. As a refresher to the hectic trainings, we made teachers sing their favourite local songs which they sang very happily. You can listen to them singing here.

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Deepa Thapa helping the students explore XO laptops

Another round of training was provided on the basic knowledge of operating, safekeeping and troubleshooting the XO laptops. I explained about the school server, intranet and the network in the simplest language possible. The teachers were also made to do overall process of connecting the server to its power, linking switch with the server and then to the router. This process made them more comfortable with the device and helped them understand the networking better. Following the training on the integrated teaching techniques, we also organized a micro teaching sessions of 15 minutes, where teachers used both the course books and XO laptops while demonstrating the techniques. We trained two students on using the E-Paath activities and asked them for feedback. You can watch their video here.

These five days went with the blink of an eye. The last day of the program was basically reserved for Q&A session where the teachers shared their concerns about the XO laptops. It was reassuring to see teachers fully familiar with the XO laptops. The students and teachers all gathered up to explore the green boxes full of knowledge.

Miss Hari was one of the most enthusiastic learners among the teachers. She also had an advantage of learning a bit more than the other teachers while we stayed in her home. She also took us on walks around the Rupa and Begnas lakes. We also went boating in the Begnas Lake after the training period. Hypnotized by the sun set and the overall beauty of the surrounding, it was hard for us to think of returning back. They say travelling is to go to unfamiliar places among the unfamiliar faces and to leave a part of you there among the unknown. And for us we had established a connection, not the connection of the server and the routers but a connection of hearts with the place and the people.


Farewell by Arun Jyoti School teachers

Being a computer student, all I had to do was to understand and communicate with the electronic devices and computers. After joining OLE Nepal and assisting in many field visits, my timidity has taken over by immense self-esteem and confidence in myself. I wouldn’t say that I have completely changed but the internship has definitely upgraded my skills. I have been fortunate to learn so much from this internship and about the importance of teamwork. And, not to forget about my public speaking, which has certainly improved. Now while looking back, I just cannot wait to headway with another exciting field visit.

 And that’s me with the students of Arun Jyoti School

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A Day at the Open Learning Exchange (OLE)

December 18th, 2014 By: Bibhusha Karki · No Comments

“ Disparity in the world is growing resulting to lack of opportunity. A single donation of money and food without a targeted solution is not the answer to reducing disparity. Give people a real chance! A basis to climb the ladder!  Basic education is the answer to do well in school and in life. If we do not act now, the disparity will increase causing resentful society. Give an opportunity to succeed.”- Rabi Karmachyara

Working at OLE has given me the experience of launching various ideas in form of pilot projects that are related to access to education. In this process I am amongst amazing people that are passionate about making a difference in the world. Recently, OLE team in Boston has an opportunity to meet with OLE Nepal’s Executive Director Mr. Rabi Karmacharya who has pioneered technology-integrated education in Nepal’s public schools through a comprehensive program in partnership with the Government of Nepal. Believe it or not, OLE Nepal started as a small conversation amongst friends interested in using technology for education and evolved into an organization. These conversations led to a conclusion that educators are a priority and technology is a tool for quality education.

In 2008, OLE Nepal was launched in two schools with a very small budget and a signed memorandum with the Ministry of Education of Nepal. Currently, OLE Nepal is successfully integrated into 100 schools in Nepal, spread across the entire country; making it clear that right ideas and sincere efforts can definitely lead to success.

What makes this organization unique is that it uses technology to enhance the learning process in schools by integrating technology, teacher training and free educational content that is accessible even without the Internet.

These interactive education materials in form of games and other media resources that enhance learning in an engaging process that has increased class participation, creativity and problem solving skills among the children. Additionally, teachers, parents and community members are equally engaged to understand the learning process so that there is no fear of technology. It made me happy because through this process quality education materials become accessible even across different geographic areas and socio-economic strata. When asked about the practicality of this idea Rabi said, “Many millennium generation middle class children across the globe are growing up by using tablets and computers. Why have not give a similar opportunity of a technology integrated learning to kids in rural areas?”

I was a little surprised when we discovered that the growth process of OLE Nepal was not linear. Instead, it was like navigating through maize. One had to go through successes, experiments, and drawbacks. I was inspired after I found out that OLE Nepal has succeeded in creating awareness among policy makers, education institutions and government that technology can have a positive impact in schools if it is integrated in the learning process.

Our conversation went on about the future of Open Education Resources (OER), which concluded that it is bringing a revolution. Tertiary education has already changed as it has made people around the world get access to their desired classes through Internet. It is also certain that as Internet reaches out more people so will the use of OER. I was also among those independent learners that are taking classes online free of cost. I discovered that the initial goal of MIT to share its education resources openly was to provide teachers access to quality materials for their class globally. But the evaluations showed that 42% of the people using MIT’s OER were actually independent learners! Because the content was learner focused. Even teachers teaching these classes had an incentive to reach out to million of students globally. Our conversation confirmed my belief that using open education resources in schools is the next revolution. I am a rebel, so it made me delighted to be an agent of this next revolution.

In the end, when I asked Rabi about his most memorable incident, with a very infectious smile he said, “ If you let kids be kids and learn, the positive energy and the interaction is contagious. This is my source of motivation and inspiration.”

For more information about OLE NEPAL

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