Nepal: ICT in Education and OLPC

Huge disparities in quality of education and access to education characterize the Nepali school system. Schools in rural areas, mostly government run, compare poorly to schools in the cities. These government schools not only suffer because of the digital divide, but also lack the quality in teaching and tools to enhance the learning process. In fact, forget the “Digital Divide.” The “Quality Divide” between “school-haves” and “school have-nots” is far more pressing. As the majority of students at primary and secondary level attend government schools, these discrepancies translate to poor outcome, and low quality of education. Thus, it is important to introduce reforms that aim to not only provide equal opportunity of education, but also to improve the overall quality of education for all. But how to achieve this goal? It is a daunting task, especially for a developing nation like Nepal to consider radical changes to its educational policies. I believe that Nepal can use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to improve the quality of education, and expand access to education. OLPC, along with e-libraries, open-courseware, and other initiatives can radically enhance the quality of education in Nepal.

What we know

A major indicator—although, it can be argued that it is a poor one—of the status of education up to secondary level (grade 10) in Nepal, is the School Leaving Certificate (SLC). Students take the SLC exam at the end of grade 10 to mark the completion of requirements set by the government, that a student has successfully completed at least 10 years of primary schooling. The data compiled over the last decade shows that on average a meager 38 percent of the total examinees pass the test. Among those who appear for the exam about 80 percent come from public institutions, of which only about 41 percent succeed. The 20 percent that come from private schools have around 88 percent pass rate, and on average score 18 points higher compared to those from public school. What it shows is the lack of quality, and disparity in education among schools in Nepal. Equally deterring is the lack of use of technology—chiefly computers—in public schools. While most private and some public schools in the cities boast a meaningful incorporation of computer courses in their curriculum, it comes as no surprise that most others claim to have never seen one. The answer, to how to improve the quality, and narrow the digital divide in education is not simple, but ICT seem to have answers to some of the problems plaguing the education system of Nepal.

The value of ICT in education lies in their capacity to deliver educational material that induces a self-learning process that simulates creative and innovative thinking. It is generally agreed upon that it induces a collaborative, and self learning environment that teacher-centered and whole class lecture methods lack. Indeed, examples are abound in American, and European institutions where this method is already preferred. Teachers simply act as facilitators rather than instructors. The idea is not to curb the need of a teacher, but to let students learn through discovery.

It is important to understand that the role played by ICT in the educational system of a developing nation like Nepal. It would be naive to think that by simply providing a technological tool to some kid in rural Nepal will actually improve his learning ability and outcome. In fact research already shows that “educational materials in electronic form are most useful when it is directly linked to curriculum”. It becomes more relevant to teachers, and students when it has components of curriculum in it. The growing popularity of the use of ICT in e-libraries, e-learning, and distance learning are good examples.

There is no statistical evidence, however, that proves a positive impact of ICT on the quality of education, or on the learning outcomes. However, it is no reason to conclude that it can not. Only a few decades ago the notion that the internet would change the way do business, interact and communicate among other things would have been a laughable proposition. For most the internet has now become ubiquitous.

Technology has the ability to bring change, and for developing nations it can become a cost effective, and accessible tool to improve the quality of education. Many countries are already focusing on implementing ICT in education. A majority of educational projects funded by UNESCO, World Bank and other private organization [some resources] contains an ICT component. It is done with a belief that ICT is a viable option that has the potential to improve both education and lives of many in these developing countries.

One Laptop per Child in Nepal

The OLPC initiative can play a vital role to make ICT-based education sustainable in Nepal by becoming a cost-effective, and affordable means to reach population in rural areas. More importantly it has a large open source base, that enables localization, and modification, which adds a sense of ownership. But the challenge is more than to simply give laptops to children, it is to understand how it can enhance the teaching and learning process. The laptop by itself is a great tool for learning. It is durable, and child friendly, and is all about collaborative learning, sharing and communicating. But the best thing about it is that it empowers local groups like OLE Nepal to make this project our own Nepali, Thai, or Nigerian project.

So whats going on with the OLPC project in Nepal?
OLE Nepal and the Department of Education of Nepal along with other local organizations are working on various aspects of the OLPC project. OLE Nepal is implementing the OLPC pilot (read about the schools) in April 2008, and is steadfastly working with various sectors of the community to take the project forward. The Danish IT Society have supported OLE Nepal’s efforts by signing a MoU with OLE Inc., to raise funds for laptops for Nepal. The Danish government through its embassy in Nepal is funding the pilot. The Ministry of Education along with its partners is also actively involved in build infrastructure required for the project. A few remoteMakwanpur districts are is already connected to the Department of Education through wireless technology, and work is in progress to connect more.

OLE Nepal is also putting major focus in developing learning activities—that are linked to the national curriculum—to be used with the laptops. Constructionist Education does not mean giving children a blank slate and expecting them to invent the calculus. So teachers and curriculum experts are guiding the development of these activities. In fact OLE Nepal is partnering with the Department of Education of Nepal, to develop such activities. The two signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work together to create these activities that meets the learning objective specified in the curriculum while allowing the students to use their abilities to learn by their own.

The activities are interactive in nature, and can be modified by teachers even with minimal programming knowledge. This gives the teachers the ability to change things according to their needs, enhancing the teaching process. One can easily find the similarity between these activities and the actual text book, only now it is more fun to learn. Not only does this help to convince the government, the teaching community, and the parents who would otherwise find few if any reason to spend the already stretched budget on OLPC, it more importantly promises to students a chance to better education and creative endeavor.

The OLPC project has received a positive reaction from different sectors of the community. Teachers like the potential the project promises, students who have the used the activities like what they see, and the government seems enthusiastic about implementing it. One point that critics usually raise about the OLPC project is its lack of attention to actual educational activities in the laptop. But the OLPC is looking to put its laptop on hands of population around the world, and creating educational material that addresses global population is not best done by an organization based in a wealthy western city. This work is best done by local organizations. The work done by OLE Nepal can be taken as an example, and similar work can be collaborated for localized use with the laptop.

The initiative taken by the Ministry of Education to integrate the OLPC project into the national system has already taken some steps forward. But much more needs to be done to actually see the results. Network infrastructure, internet access, long term financing, human capital, the general awareness about modern technology are a few things that needs immediate attention. Training teachers to effectively utilize the technology is equally important. We need more people to come to Nepal to work for projects like this, especially young Nepalese living abroad. I give example of all our volunteers who have the vision, and the commitment to make a difference.

Four Villages One Goal: ICT4D

I just came back from a six day trip to four villages in Kaski district. These villages are in the mountainous region outside Pokhara. My mission was to add educational resources like school wikipedia, e-books, and the learning activities, among other things, to the schools in these villages, and to show students and teachers how to use and utilize them to enhance learning. In the process I leaned a lot about what information technology means for these villages, and how it is being used for education and development.

schooltolka1.JPGmtannapurna.JPG

A little information about these villages and schools:

Village name: Chandrakotnetworkmap.jpg
School : Sangam Secondary school
Number of students (approx): 300
Number of teachers: 12
Number of computers: 5

Village Name: Magh Jaun
School : Tanchok Primary School
Number of students (approx): 150
Number of teachers: 6
Number of computers: 2

Village Name: Bhichuk
School: Bhichuk Primary School
Number of students (approx): 100village.JPG
Number of computers: 2

Village Name: Tolka
School : Himalaya Secondary School
Number of students (approx): 400
Number of teachers: 12
Number of computers: 2

All four schools have internet access, and are connected to each other and to a larger network of many other villages through the efforts of the Nepal Wireless project. So what does it really mean for these schools to have computers, and internet? “It means that our kids wont be like us,” says Heetman, a teacher at Himalayan Secondary School in Tolka. “I had only heard about computers until we got one a while back.” Its not about a bigger change. For the villagers it is more about being able to do smaller thing, like reading todays news online, and being able to type a letter. However, we should not expect any positive outcome in education in these schools because of these computers. As a matter of fact, most of the students i talked to complained that, they do not get to use the computers too often. Why? I asked the people in-charge. “We do not have enough people to who know computers to conduct classes,” they said.

What is striking is that the villagers agree that these computers, and the VoIP service will gear them towards development. The value of the technology is understood, at least in parts, that they believe that it is concomitant to development. “We want the information and communication technology to make a positive impact on the village.” But is it? My focus were school kids, the next generation of villagers who would actually be able to make any impact in the village, and sadly young generation here are still far behind when it comes to using technology.
Its not all gloomy though. It is already amazing that these villages have internet and VoIP services. It is only a matter of time before they can really start using it for development. All four villages do have the right idea; use information and communication technology for development.

We’re Looking for a Super SysAdmin

The Problem

Over the course of 2008, OLE Nepal will implement OLPC at a number of schools in Nepal. Some important technical aspects of deployment are the updating the XO’s, back up of student data, maintaining mesh network, and web caching. Much work remains to be done in the general area of the School Server. The School Server is currently under active development and will likely be so throughout 2008. OLPC recently made a great decision in hiring Martin Langhoff to serve as the School Server Architect. Here in Nepal, we need a rockin’ sysadmin that can work with our Kathmandu-based team and with OLPC to implement a school server solution that meets the needs of kids and teachers in Nepal.

We need this person to can commit 5 months full-time here in Nepal. You need to be local because working remotely won’t expose you to the real requirements of schools in Nepal. This is a volunteer position. We operate on a shoestring and volunteers already do a good portion of our organization’s work.

Your Skills

  • You dream in Bash
  • IPv4, IPv6, Wireless Mesh networking? No problem! You know linux networking inside and out
  • Extensive knowledge of BIND, DHCPD, Squid, Apache, security, etc.
  • Experience working with Moodle would be most excellent
  • Adept with Python scripting or could learn it quickly. OLPC has standardized on Python for scripting
  • You look to implement a practical solution that less skilled sysadmins can easily maintain over a cooler but more complicated solution.
  • You play well with others. You don’t alienate collaborators with rude e-mails that assert your technical superiority (even though you are)
  • Your primary concern is meeting the educational needs of kids and teachers. Your rate technical awesomeness a distant second to meeting those critical needs.

What you Would Do

  • Work with our deployment team to set up and maintain School Servers, customized XO builds, and the Active Antenna
  • Collaborate closely with Martin Langhoff and John Watlington of OLPC to enhance the mainline School Server distribution, move our local additions into the main distribution, and communicate Nepal’s requirements to OLPC
  • Over the course of your stay, work to make the School Server as stable and easy to maintain as possible
  • Document our configurations for our own reference and the use of other OLPC deployments

Your immediate colleagues would be

Dev “Where’s the Party Yaar?” Mohanty, in charge of connecting the schools to the Internet

Sulochan Acharya (me), general troubleshooting of all technical problems at the schools

Bryan Berry, leads the deployment team, does planning, budgeting, and basic system administration among other duties

Who Should Not Apply

If you are looking for a vacation in an exotic locale, go to Thailand. We work hard, very hard. We have a lot of fun too.

You are only interested in OLPC’s technology and have little interest in its educational goals. As Nicholas Negroponte frequently repeats, this is an education project not a laptop project. If you are not genuinely interested in meeting the needs of kids and teachers, please do not apply. This is worth repeating. If you are not genuinely interested in meeting the needs of kids and teachers, please do not apply.

You are not able to commit to a 5-month stay in Nepal.


What we can offer you

A fantastic opportunity to work on a really important project. A chance to radically enhance the quality of education in Nepal. A contribution to a larger global initiative. I could go on forever . . .

Now, we would love to pay you but as mentioned earlier our operation runs on a financial shoestring. This is a volunteer position. We can put you up in the OLE Nepal house together with Ties, Dev, and Dev’s lovely lady friend Manisha. Living costs in Nepal are __quite__ low. You can consult our current volunteers Ties, Dev, and Bryan about their expenses.


The Outcome

You walk away from Nepal having implemented a turn-key school server solution that helps kids and teachers collaborate, discover important ideas, and create things that matter to them. Your work will be replicated across OLPC deployments.

If you are interested please send an e-mail to info at olenepal dot org

School Server Network Structure With Squid

school-squid1.gif

Here is the network structure for the school server with proxy setup.

# vi /etc/sysctl.conf

make
net.ipv4.ip_forward = 1
service network restart

Then ip-forwarding through ip-tables

# iptables –table nat –append POSTROUTING –out-interface eth0 -j MASQUERADE
# iptables –append FORWARD –in-interface eth2 -j ACCEPT

squid

install and cofigure squid

——————–squid.conf————————————-

http_port 3128 transparent
hierarchy_stoplist cgi-bin ?
acl QUERY urlpath_regex cgi-bin \?
cache deny QUERY
acl apache rep_header Server ^Apache
access_log /var/log/squid/access.log squid
hosts_file /etc/hosts
refresh_pattern ^ftp: 1440 20% 10080
refresh_pattern . 0 20% 4320
acl all src 0.0.0.0/0.0.0.0
acl manager proto cache_object
acl localhost src 127.0.0.1/255.255.255.255
acl to_localhost dst 127.0.0.0/8
acl SSL_ports port 443 563 # https, snews
acl SSL_ports port 873 # rsync
acl Safe_ports port 80 # http
acl Safe_ports port 21 # ftp
# Add more acl rules here if we want more
acl purge method PURGE
acl CONNECT method CONNECT
http_access allow manager localhost
http_access deny manager
http_access allow purge localhost
http_access deny purge
http_access deny !Safe_ports
http_access deny CONNECT !SSL_ports
http_access allow localhost
acl lan src 192.168.0.113 192.168.1.0/24
http_access allow localhost
http_access allow lan
http_access deny all
http_reply_access allow all
icp_access allow all
visible_hostname sugaroffice.ole
always_direct allow all
coredump_dir /var/spool/squid

Direct port 80 requests to squid listen port (On the machine runnning the cache server)

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -i eth2 -p tcp –dport 80 -j DNAT –to 192.168.0.113:3128
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -i eth0 -p tcp –dport 80 -j REDIRECT –to-port 3128

Comments , corrections  and  ideas are  welcome.

Get your car to squeak: Second OLPC Game Jam

Today Ace Institute of Management hosted the second OLPC game jam organized by OLE Nepal. Students and enthusiasts from various schools got a chance to learn the basics of Suqeak to create simple applications. Participants were shown how to make a simple car game. Each participants had to get a car moving, with a steering wheel

ole-game-jam-1.JPG

controlling its motion. A simple script would then give it a more authentic game feel by making the car move faster on the track and decelerate when it strayed out of the track.

Members from OLPC and OLPC Nepal were present at the the event.

Among other things students were encouraged to communicate and collaborate with each other through the Squeak Community Forum. They were also encouraged to make their own activities and post it on the forum. The development team at OLE Nepal will help the forum participants by giving suggestions and by guiding them through problems that they might face using squeak.

ole-game-jam-2.JPG ole-game-jam-3.JPG

More pictures and information to follow in the next post.

Moodle on school server

I am putting a few moodle screenshots, that shows the idea of separate grouping. Lets say there are three users: Admin/teacher, user1 and user2 (students in grade 2 and grade 6).

The teacher will see this on his/her moodle screen:

admin1.png

This is what user 1 who belongs to group class 2 will see:

class2.png

And this is what user 2 who belongs to group class 6 will see:

class6.png

When you click on the course class 2 or class 6 it will take you to the modules available within that course. So its not acutally a course design, but an easy way to mange resources for kids who might have very basic or no knowledge of using a tool like moodle.

class2-top.png

This grouping is easy to do, and can be used to manage different age group of students. Each grade level can have a separate group and work with in that group. It becomes easier for teachers and administrator to manage resources accordingly. It will be great if we can get a Nepali language package, so that things can be displayed in Nepali. I don’t know if English as a medium of communication will discourage kids to use these features.

So, the idea is to create some sort of auto-login, that will take say user1 (when he tries to access http://schoolserver/moodle) to the page shown above for group class 2 . He need not remember his login, or know how to get to his course pages. If we can somehow tie this auth feature to the XO, that will be even better.

Comments, and ideas are welcome.

cheers,

sulochan

Interaction program with teachers

On January 14, 2008, OLE Nepal organized a day-long interaction program with teachers at the National Center for Education Development (NCED), the government body responsible for training public school teachers all over the country. The program was organized in coordination with the Department of Education. The goal of the program was to inform teachers about the development of digital educational material and its implementation through the OLPC program, as well as to gather teachers’ perspective of the OLPC program and the use of digital content to enhance the teaching-learning process. After a short presentation by Rabi Karmacharya, and Dr. Saurav Dev Bhatta about the objectives of the projects, the remaining workshop was carried out on an interactive manner.

The program was attended by 25 public school teachers from 12 public schools from Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhanktapur, Kavre, and Surkhet. Deputy Director from NCED Mr. Gorakh Bahadur Singh gave the keynote speech. Four subject specialists from Curriculum Development Center (CDC) were also present to give their views on the development of curriculum based digital content. Nepal Teacher’s Union was represented by one of its central members.

The teachers formed smaller discussion groups to discuss the challenges in implementing the OLPC project in the classroom level. Each group then presented the their views on how to effectively use the laptops in daily teaching, and the types of training and support the teachers would need before and during the project. about OLE Nepal intends to use the suggestions gathered in this interaction program to prepare a teacher training package in cooperation with the NCED