Per Child Cost Analysis of OLPC Project in Nepal

OLE Nepal prepared a preliminary “per child cost” of the One Laptop Per Child project based on the pilot project carried out in the last academic year (April 2009 – March 2010) in 26 schools in six districts of Nepal. The project was implemented in partnership with Nepal Government’s Department of Education (DoE)’s and funded by the Danish Government’s Local Grant Authority, UN World Food Programme’s Nepal Country Programme. The laptops were donated by the Swift Banking group through the OLPC Foundation.

The following are the key assumptions and considerations taken while computing the cost:

  • The XO laptops’ lifespan is 5 years, as stated by the manufacturers

  • The repair and maintenance cost for equipment is 2.5% of the purchase cost

  • The content development cost for certain subject and grades can also be considered negative cost as they are already prepared during the pilot phase.

Per unit cost to implement the project comes to be Rs. 27,628 (US $ 368)1 during the project/pilot phase considering 26 schools in six districts and around 2100 students and teachers. At present, if the XO laptops are assumed to have life span of five years, and everything else associated with the pilot/project is assumed to remain constant, then per child cost per year for next 5 years (for a child who uses the XO from grade 2 to grade 6) can be calculated as Rs. 5,500 (US $ 77). Per unit cost or per child cost can come down significantly if the number of students are increased as some of the costs associated with the project such as content development remain constant no matter how many students are targeted. Furthermore, the content development cost for certain subject and grades can also be considered negative cost as they are already prepared during the pilot phase and can be used for further expansions. The cost associated with the project is given in detail in the attached sheet.

The costs taken into consideration to derive per child cost based on 26 pilot schools are:

1. Cost of Laptops

2. School infrastructure

3. Teacher Training

4. Deployment cost (at project launch)

5. Running costs during pilot year

6. Content development cost

7. Project development cost

8. Network cost

Laptops: OLPC XO laptops are priced at US $200 and another US$ 25 is factored in as shipping and handling cost. Although the laptops for each child will cost US $ 225 at present day cost (OLPC insists the price will come down by up to 25% as the volume of orders increases), and assuming that the laptops lifespan is 5 years, the child will have the laptop from grade two till grade six. Hence when the current cost of laptop is spread over 5 years, then cost per child cost for the laptops comes to US $ 45 per year. Further, as the overall price of the computers are declining and other computers similar to XO laptops are also emerging fast it will be safe to assume that better and cheaper laptops will be available in the market.

School infrastructure: The initial setup at 26 schools required Rs.4,599,934, which included networking and power equipment installations. Hence, the per school cost comes to Rs.176,000. This amount can be largely taken as one time cost and for a period of over 5 years 2.5% or Rs. 4,400 should be considered as repair and maintenance cost for the equipments installed in each school. Details of type of equipment required at school level are given in attached sheet.

Teacher training: Rs. 2,089,000 were incurred in teacher training from each school. This cost also includes training package preparation, master trainer development from DoE and NCED systems, training for OLPC focal persons from the districts and 113 teachers from 26 schools in six districts. Teacher training costs can also be considered as one time cost with refresher training given to teachers every other year. Cost associated to train a school teacher to be able to integrate ICT based education in daily teaching and learning will be around Rs. 18,500 per teacher.

Deployment cost: Deployment cost at program launch for all 26 schools was Rs. 1,112,975, roughly about Rs. 43,000 per school. The costs factored in are for travel and other related costs associated with deployment plus laptop transport and network setup for each school. This cost can also be considered as one time cost for each school if laptops for grade 2 -6 are deployed at the same time. This cost will also decrease significantly as the number of schools increases per district.

Running costs during pilot year (Rs.958,593): Running costs such as electricity, internet fees and monitoring and supervision costs are associated in this category. Running cost for all 26 schools is estimated to be Rs. 958,600 or Rs. 36,800 per school per year.

Content development cost (Rs. 5,902,000): The cost for content development for grades 2 & 3 (Nepali, English and Mathematics) and 6 (English and Mathematics) was Rs. 5,902,000. This cost is only associated with human resources cost. This can be considered onetime cost and constant for any number of children, with additional budget required to develop additional activities in additional grades and subjects. This also assumes a small budget each year for updating and changes required in the existing activities.

Project development cost (Rs. 4,901,000): Project development cost mentioned here is a one year cost of the project management cost associated with the OLPC project. Besides human resource to manage the cost no other costs are associated with this segment. This cost is strictly associated with implementing partner and may not be necessary if the project is implemented by the government.

Network Cost: Similar to content development and Project Development cost, Network cost also reflects the human resource cost to staff the network team with engineers to develop architecture and install wireless networks for schools.

Budget Summary is given in the table below:

Budget summary

Area

Total cost

% of total

NRs.

US $

1. Laptops

35,523,360

473,645

63

2. School Infrastructure

4,599,934

61,333

8

3. Teacher training

2,089,000

27,853

4

4. Deployment cost

1,112,975

14,840

2

5. Running costs per year

958,593

12,781

2

6. Content Development Cost

5,902,000

78,693

10

7. Project Development Cost

4,901,000

65,347

9

8. Network Cost

1,716,000

22,880

3

Total cost excluding laptops

21,279,502

283,727

Total cost including laptops

56,802,862

757,372

100

Per student cost with XO

27,628

368

Per student cost without XO

10,350

138

Exchange rate (US$ 1 = NRs.)

75

1Exchange Rate: US $ 1 = NRs. 75

Training Manual Preparation Workshop

OLE Nepal organized a three day workshop on December 23-25, 2008 to prepare the teacher training manual for the next round of OLPC laptop deployment planned for April 2009. The workshop participants included experts from the National Center for Education Development (NCED) – Nepal Government’s teacher training body under the Ministry of Education, as well as officials from the Department of Education (DoE)’s OLPC team. Teachers from the two test schools – Bashuki Lower Secondary School and Vishwamitra Ganesh Secondary School – were also invited for a day to share their experience on using , shed light on the challenges faced so far, and give suggestions on how the training program can be made more effective and relevant in integrating the laptops and ICT-based teaching-learning method in their classrooms. Earlier on December 15th, few of the participants had also visited the two test schools to observe how the program was being implemented in the classrooms.

The OLPC Project in Nepal will enter its second phase when the next school session begins in April, 2009. In the second phase, OLE Nepal, in partnership with the DoE, plans to expand the project to more than 20 schools in at least 5 different districts in the country. While OLE Nepal was able to train the teachers from the two test schools for the current deployment, it would be nearly impossible to train teachers in 5 districts scattered all over Nepal without NCED’s involvement. Moreover, since teachers have barely 3 weeks of break between two school sessions, the training programs have to be run in parallel in various places. With NCED’s involvement, not only can the trainings be conducted in parallel, but the project can utilize NCED’s training resources and infrastructure that are located all over the country. Following NCED’s training modality, one of its Master Trainer will be prepared on ICT-based education approach. The Master Trainer will then train other trainers from Education Training Centers (ETC) located in or near the pilot districts. These trainers will in turn be responsible for training pilot-school teachers ahead of the April 2009 deployment. However, before all of this, the teacher-training manual as well as the trainer-training manual need to be prepared.

The goal of the workshop was to prepare the framework that can be used as the base to create the teacher training manual. In addition to the valuable feedback received from the test-school teachers, the participants had last year’s training manual that OLE Nepal had prepared to train those teachers. The first day of the workshop was allocated for needs assessment. After a brief discussion on the points gathered from the school visits, teachers from the test schools answered queries that the participants had about various aspects of the test-phase implementation at the schools. Later on, participants and teachers mixed up in smaller groups and asked to make a list of suggestions that could to be incorporated in the new training package. The groups discussed about a wide range of topics including classroom arrangement, IT literacy, use of laptops in the classroom, classroom management, maximizing use of laptops at homes, non-technical issues and their solutions, parents and community orientation, etc. Suggestions from the groups were later incorporated into a comprehensive list that was used to prepare the framework for the manual.

Participants were given first half of the second day to review the existing manual, and the afternoon session began with participants expressing their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the manual. After much discussion, it was decided that the new manual should conform to NCED’s standard format so that its trainers can use it with ease during training. The training structure was kept similar to that of last year – 5 days of residential training followed by 3 days of on-site training. The teachers will be given at least few days’ time between the residential training and the on-site training in order to organize orientation programs for parents, communities and local stakeholders in each pilot-school area. This time will also be used by teachers to get familiar with laptops and raise their comfort level in using them.

Once the structure and outline of the training manual were finalized, the participants broke into four groups and set out to preparing the manual based on suggestions from Day 1, materials from the current manual, and other points that came out of the discussions. At the end of the workshop, a solid framework for the manual was prepared. It was decided that the OLE Nepal team will complete the the remaining task of filling up various portions of the manual.

In the next couple weeks, OLE Nepal team will work to complete the first draft of the manual. It will then be circulated amongst the participants of the workshop for a review before completing the final draft. The team is scheduled to complete the manual by the first week of February. That will give enough time to prepare a trainers manual and start working with a Master Trainer from the NCED. The teacher training program will take place between the third week of March and first week of April.

This workshop marked a major milestone in OLE Nepal’s effort to bring various government agencies on board the OLPC project. From its inception more than a year and a half ago, OLE Nepal has always held on to the belief that the project will fall short of its goal to reach all corners of the nation unless the government agrees to incorporate the OLPC initiative in its overall education plans and policy. With NCED’s involvement, the project can now benefit from a pool of experts who have in-depth knowledge of the country’s education system, as well as utilize existing training infrastructure to carry out the training programs. At the same time the partnership will help build the capacity of NCED’s trainers in the preparation and delivery of training programs on integrating laptops and ICT-based teaching-learning methods in classrooms.

During the course of the workshop, Executive Director of NCED Mr. Harka Bahadur Shrestha, Director of DoE Mr. Bishnu Devkota, and Deputy Director of DoE Mr. Baburam Poudel paid a visit to get an update on the workshop progress. While all three threw their support behind the project and expressed satisfaction over the ongoing work, it was particularly encouraging to hear the head of NCED Mr. Shrestha say that he wants to see this manual become NCED’s standard training manual on ICT-based education. He further stated that the training program should be turned into one of the standard training programs that NCED offers to public school teachers all over the country.

Formative Evaluation of OLPC Project Nepal: A Summary

This is a summary of the findings of a formative evaluation carried out by Mr. Uttam Sharma, a doctoral student at at the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. The evaluation was carried out for OLE Nepal’s internal purpose. The results are expected to help learn about the shortcomings of the current test phase of the OLPC project so that necessary fine tuning can be done before next year’s larger deployment in more districts. Mr. Sharma can be reached at sharm061@umn.edu.  

Formative Evaluation of OLPC Project Nepal: A Summary

June-August 2008

Background:

The Nepal government’s Department of Education (DoE) and the Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) had selected Bishwamitra Ganesh Secondary School and Bashuki Lower Secondary Schools, both in Lalitpur district of Nepal, as test schools for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative in Nepal. The laptops were distributed to all 135 students in grade 2 and 6 in those two schools on April 25, 2008. The students were also allowed to take laptops home. However, charging of the laptops could only be done in school. The implementation of the initiative has focused on four areas: digital content development, teacher preparation, network and power infrastructure development and government capacity building.

Study design and method

This study was initiated after about two months of program implementation. The objective of the present study is formative evaluation which assesses on-going project activities. This evaluation focuses on how the initiative is being implemented in the two test schools and looks at how the implementation can be altered or improved.

The study period was between mid-June to mid-August 2008. The first week was spent preparing survey questionnaires. The first round of field visit was conducted between June 22 and 27. The first three days were spent in Bishwamitra Secondary School while the last three days in Bashuki Lower Secondary School. The 2nd round of field visit was conducted between July 27 and August31, 2008.

This study is based on the information collected from surveys with teachers, head-teachers, students in grade 6 and their family members, some School Management Team members, school records, the school censuses from the two test schools as well as detailed discussions with OLE Nepal officials and postings in the OLE Nepal blog (http://blog.olenepal.org/). One-on-one meetings with teachers were also conducted in addition to filling out the survey questionnaires.

The questionnaires were designed to elicit as much information about how the initiative is being run. Because of time constraints, we tried surveying only those students who roll numbers were odd (or only even numbered in other cases). All the regular teachers who were present in both the schools were surveyed. In total, 31 students from grade 2, 45 students from grade 6, 19 teachers that includes 2 head teachers, and 20 households were surveyed for the purpose. We also had discussions with many OLE Nepal officials, which aided us in putting our observations in proper context.

Teacher training

The teacher training was divided in two parts: residential training and in-school training. A four day residential training was conducted from March 29 to April 1, 2008 and four-day in-school training followed after a couple of weeks in between and was completed on May 2, 2008. The residential training included teachers from both the schools together and was held in Panauti, in the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley (35 kilometers from Kathmandu), while the in-school trainings were separately conducted in their respective schools. 10 teachers from Bashuki and 11 from Bishwamitra participated in the residential training.

One of the goals of the training was to make teachers comfortable to integrate laptop use in regular teaching. When the teachers were asked whether the complete training was sufficient for enabling them to properly integrate laptop in the regular classroom instruction process, 50 % of the teachers’ response was positive. This response underscores the need to have refresher training on a regular basis as most of the teachers are using computer for the first time.

Residential training

Teachers found the following aspect of the residential training useful:

  • Encouraging peer-learning (learning from their colleagues rather than simply from the instructor)
  • Information about how to use laptop for instructional purposes to make teaching more
  • effective
  • Sessions on how to make lesson plans
  • An opportunity to meet colleagues and learn from them

Among those who said there were parts of the residential training that needed to be reduced or removed next time, all of them cited that a lot of time was spent on going over theoretical parts, which limited time spent on practical aspects on using laptop.

With regards to whether the materials in the residential portion of the training were adequate, we obtained conflicting answers from the two schools. While the overwhelming majority of the teachers in Bishwamitra (89%) thought that materials were adequate, less than one-third (29%) of teachers in Bashuki said that it was adequate. Among those who said it was inadequate, they wanted the focus to be more on practical rather than on theoretical aspects. Some teachers wanted more examples on how to teach using laptops. Though the majority of teachers at Bashuki found the materials inadequate, more than two-third of the teachers there (71%) agreed that the residential training was delivered in an understandable manner that was easy to follow. For Bishwamitra, the corresponding number was 89%.

When the teachers were asked whether it was a good idea to run residential and in-school trainings separately, almost everyone (15 out of 16) said that it was a good idea and wanted it to be that way in future as well.

In-school training

Teachers found many aspects of the in-school training useful such as:

  • Sessions on class management, making lesson plans, and other tips on teaching
  • Highlight the fact that the laptops should only be used as a tool
  • Clearly pointing out the mistakes when teaching so that they could work on their mistakes and improve
  • The feedback on their presentations

To the question what aspects in the lesson planning practice they found particularly useful, they mentioned:

  • Encouraging the habit of incorporating lesson plans in their teachings
  • Effective time management: how best to allocate time
  • Teaching about how to present materials in the classroom
  • Learning when and how to use laptop in the class

All 17 teachers found it useful to review lesson plans together in a group and to attend laptop classes conducted by colleagues and observe the class.

Classroom teaching learning process

Teaching learning digital materials

All the teachers said that the materials in the laptops were, in general, consistent with the interests of the students in their classes. However, when asked whether the materials in the laptops, in general, were consistent with the level or capacity of the students in their classes, the answer was rather mixed. Teachers were generally satisfied with the grade 2 contents, but had diverse views on grade 6. The teachers found many initially uploaded activities for grade 6 either too easy or too difficult. To the question about whether the materials in the laptops are able to meet the aims and objectives of your class as prescribed in the curriculum, the teachers feel that the recent digital contents are more relevant in this front.

The teachers mentioned that they generally spent one period to go over one activity. This means that if the expectation is that the teachers use laptops for three days a week, then there should be about three activities prepared for each week.

The teachers also mentioned that there were not sufficient exercises, especially for grade 6 students to work on. Since the teachers are so used to following the chapters in the book, the teachers suggested that the teaching materials in the laptops be sequenced according to the chapters in the textbooks. This way, they will not have to spend a lot of time figuring out which activity corresponds to the relevant chapter in the book.

The teachers also suggested that there be multiple choice question answers and practice questions. Some teachers proposed having different levels in the activities so that students develop a competitive spirit and try harder to go to a higher level. This could motivate them to study harder.

Classroom teaching learning

It is important to understand how classroom teaching learning has been affected by laptop use in classrooms. All the 17 teachers in both the schools feel that use of computers has helped their teaching. All (relevant) teachers feel that their lectures are now more organized and that it is easier to teach students new concepts. They also believe that the use of laptop based instruction has enabled students to learn concepts more easily. They are also of the opinion that laptop based instruction has made it easier to give students more practice exercises. In addition, they also feel that the use of laptop based instruction has made the classes more interactive. All the teachers are unanimous in saying that the use of laptop based instruction has increased the students’ interest in their studies.

In Biswamitra, teachers said that they generally use laptops 2 to 3 days a week while the number, according to the teachers, is at least 3 days in Bashuki. When they use the laptops, they mostly used the laptops between ¼ and ½ of the period. The grade 6 student survey, which was taken independently, also largely confirms this assertion. The mode in Bishwamitra was 3 days while it was 4 in Bashuki.

Students in grade 6 said that teachers mostly used laptops around the middle of the class. When some of the students forget to bring their laptops, the teachers ask those students to look at the laptop of the student who is sitting next to her.

The students in Bishwamitra generally say that the teachers give them homework every time the laptop is used in the classroom while those in Bashuki said that they are sometimes given homework. According to the teachers, those homework are mostly of review type to be done on laptops on a regular basis. The teachers ask students to do certain activity in the laptop for that day. The teachers, at times, look at the record in the computers to see whether the student has at least opened that activity at home or not, as one could find those details in the laptop.

When the students were asked how learning has been affected with the introduction of laptops in their classrooms, more than 95% of grade 6 students find learning using laptops easier,

As to why it is easier, the most common response was that you can do the exercise or activities as many times as you want. The second most common one was that these activities were very enjoyable to learn from. The students also appreciated the fact that you could do these activities at ones own pace. All these options were cited by more than 50% of the students.

When the students were asked whether other family members also use the laptops, more than eighty percent said yes. Siblings are the ones who use the laptop the most, followed by father and mother. This information is also confirmed with data from household survey where many siblings said that they use the laptop regularly.

One question that might reveal a lot about how the students are using the laptop was about what the students did the most in the laptop. In Bishwamitra, 68% of the grade 6 students (15) said they mostly use the laptop for educational activities while 23% (5) said to take pictures. The number for Bashuki was 32% for laptop activities while 42% was to take pictures.

When the grade 6 students were asked how effectively they are able to use digital activities in the laptop, most of them said they can use it well. 83% in Bishwamitra said that they can use it well while 17% said they can use it somewhat. In Bashuki, the corresponding figures were 75 % and 25 % respectively. No one said they cannot use the digital materials even though it was one of the options given.

Some teachers feel that the introduction of laptop has made managing the classes more difficult. Many teachers feel that the noise level has substantially increased. This has to do with the fact that students have difficulty controlling their excitements. The teachers hope that the noise level will subside once the students get used to using laptops. The teachers also admit that they are, at times, having difficulty managing time because they are not used to integrate laptop use in classrooms.

Class preparation

When teachers were asked “Compared to the effort you had to put in the teaching learning process before receiving the laptops, how much effort do you put in now?”, the overwhelming majority of the teachers feel that they put in more effort now.

Some of the reasons cited by the teachers on why the effort has increased:

  • Making lesson plans
  • Preparing how to incorporate laptop while teaching
  • Selecting which activities matches the subject matter being taught
  • Extra effort to bring down the noise level
  • Preparing for the security and management of the laptop in the classrooms.

Laptop and network issues

Almost all teachers (16 out of 17) find the laptop and its layout easy to use. They think it is very intuitive and also feel that the students should not have much difficulty. Most of the teachers say it takes about 1.5 hours to fully recharge the computer and that the charge lasts for about 3 hours when the computer is in use.

We had also asked the teachers, students and their family members whether they had any problem with different aspects of computer use. The biggest problem more than 50 % of the respondents mentioned was the jumpy cursor. The dust, the humid climate and the student’s sweaty hands as a result of running around might be contributing to the situation. The problem seems to be slightly more acute in Bashuki.

More than one-third of the teachers thought the sound quality needs to be improved. There either is some problem with the sound quality or that some teachers might have difficulty adjusting the sound. Since earphones are not available, difficulties arise for students and teachers when using sound related activities. They largely ask students to listen to the sound from the teacher’s laptop while teaching.

The school, students and their family members in general are carefully protecting the laptop. At home the students keep the laptop away from fire and water. Those who have a closet at home keep the laptop there when not in use. Other students securely keep the laptop in the bag. The family members are aware that the laptop should be stored securely.

Difference between the two test schools

There are reasons to believe that the two schools are different. For example, teachers in Bashuki say that the community members there do not value education as much. The standardized tests taken in the early days of laptop provision also shows that the test scores in Bishwamitra are much higher than that of Bashuki. In addition, the attendance of students in Bishwamitra is more regular than in Bashuki.

There are differences in responses to some of the critical questions in these two schools which could be because of the reasons identified above. So, it is very essential to identify the root causes behind these differences. One could argue that these differences are hinting at the fact that there might be certain enabling conditions that need to be in place to make sure that the program’s objective are fully met. It could also mean that it might take time in some places to fully benefit from the initiative while we could see tangible results in some schools right away. For the pilot study, the OLE Nepal might want to seriously consider whether all the schools in the pilot phase need to be treated similarly or whether some activities, like sensitizing the community about the merits of ICT- in-education, need to be conducted in certain areas beforehand.

Some Suggestions and Recommendations

E-library and internet access

I think OLE Nepal should try to upload all the books that are in the website to student laptops sooner rather than later. This serves at least two purposes. First, students who want to read those books could easily read them. Second, the users (teachers, students and their family members) might offer some suggestions that might help further improve the way e-library is accessed (e.g. layout of the books). Needless to say the parents and teachers are really looking forward to using the e-library.

Without internet access at home, convincing others that one laptop per child is preferred to, say, a well-planned computer laptop in the school might be tougher, especially when the cost difference between these two alternatives can be substantial.

Work load on teachers

Most teachers in both the test schools feel that their workload has increased significantly. This is a serious concern. If this trend continues, it is likely that they will revert, to a large extent, to traditional way of teacher and ignore the materials in the laptop once the initial enthusiasm of laptop fades away. If this happens, the effect of laptops with educational content on student learning might be minimal. Steps to further reduce workload and encourage laptop use in classrooms need to be devised carefully.

Some ways to decrease teacher’s workload include:

  • Better integration of textbook and materials in the laptop.
  • Include ‘sample’ lesson plans for at least those lectures that use activities developed by OLE Nepal which teacher’s can follow if they like.
  • Refresher trainings to the teachers on a regular basis where different ways to use laptops/digital materials and the concerns teachers have are addressed.

It is apparent that teachers don’t have much free time in the two test schools. Most of them have to teach for six periods (out of seven) in Bashuki. The case is not much different in Bishwamitra. Moreover, for the teachers’ at Bashuki, almost all the teachers there have to walk more than 2 hours a day to reach the school. All these factors coupled with extra effort in laptop use might tempt teachers to revert to the style they are most comfortable with.

Chargers

I strongly feel that OLE Nepal should take steps in allowing students to take chargers home so that the laptop can be used longer and that other family members or community members can also benefit. If the charging is only done at school, there is concern that students might not be able to use the laptop adequately at home once more activities are uploaded in the laptop. If OLE Nepal expects students and their family members to use the laptop for materials in the e-library at home, it makes more sense to allow students to take chargers home.

I think the OLE-Nepal should go ahead with the plans about providing 2 chargers per student with laptops, so the students can take one charger home and the other one can be permanently kept at School. This way, the students do not need to worry about carrying charger every day. The chances of losing or misplacing ones chargers are also minimized.

Books by Janak Shikshya Samagri (official books used in classrooms) in the laptop

One concern that was raised by teachers and family members in Biswamitra School was that the load the students carry is huge. It is particularly dangerous during the monsoon season. Many suggested having soft copies of the books used in the school included in the laptops. This would also be one of the immediate and tangible result of the laptop provision. Disruptions in classrooms to late delivery of books, which happened this academic year, would also be minimized.

Allowance and recognition for teachers

Though I consider providing regular compensation for extra work resulting from laptop use as highly impractical, I however think some arrangements should be made to compensate teachers when they attend programs like teacher trainings. In addition, OLE Nepal might also want to provide them some recognition (e.g. letters) that teachers, for example, could use for professions development.

Conclusion

Considering the fact that this is the first time such initiative is being implemented in Nepal, the test phase in the two schools in the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley is running very well. The teachers, family members and the SMC members all see great promise in this initiative to improve student learning. The head teachers in both the schools consider the pilot program as very effective and see great promise in reducing the disparity in educational quality between private and public schools.

Almost all the teachers and parents think that there is positive relationship between laptop provision and student learning. Though it is hard to quantify, most teachers and parents also feel that the students who have been provided laptops have become cleverer. With this student-centered approach, students are interacting with each other more often. It has made students more curious and they are eager to learn new things. It has also helped in developing co-operative spirit as students are willing to help each other learn new technology.

E-Paati and E-Paath: Making OLPC Our Own

One of the things that initially attracted me to OLPC was that we Nepalis could it make it our own. So often ideas and initiatives that come from the West are pre-packaged and controlled. With XO’s we can localize the Sugar interface, develop activities that accord to our needs and culture, and come up with power solutions that work in our particular environments. One of the key things that we needed to localize was the name of the laptop itself. This has happened in an unexpected manner.

When the concept of One Laptop Per Child was first being introduced and spread in Nepal back in 2006, one question that was discussed regularly in the community was: what should we call the laptops? There is no Nepali word for computer, let alone a laptop. In normal usage, computer is referred as computer written in Devnagari script.

While most people who have come in contact with a computer do have an idea of what the word refers to, we thought that the word does not do justice to the education aspect of the laptops that we were trying to highlight. Besides, the words computer and laptop have technical connotations that make the large non-tech savvy public resist to the OLPC concept at some level. Referring to the laptop as “XO” was acceptable within the OLPC community, but it was too abstract and caused more confusion outside of the community.

Many names were suggested. Some chose to call it Mero Sano Sathi, which literally means “my small friend.” Others believed that it should be a single word, not a phrase like “100 dollar laptop.” Other suggestions included various combinations of Nepali words for book, learning, knowledge, machine, etc. Needless to say, the community could not decide on a single name, although few continued to refer to it as Mero Sano Sathi. For me, this name just did not cut it. OLPC is fundamentally about connecting kids with other kids not about connecting kids to computers. The XO icon emblazoned on top of the XO represents the child’s own agency, not a separate entity.

When Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) was established, the group decided to give itself the Nepali name Sajha Sikchha E-Paati after much discussion. Sajha in Nepali means open and public. This was important because we believe that quality education should be freely accessible to anyone and everyone. Sikchha means education. Paati in Nepali means a board, and is used in words like Kalopaati (blackboard) and Kharipaati (wooden predecessor of the blackboard). Paati also means a gathering place or public shelter. For our purpose, E-Paati stands for digital or electronic learning platform.

One of OLE Nepal’s main strategies to implement OLPC project in Nepal is to develop interactive digital learning activities based on Nepal’s national curriculum to go with the laptops. These activities are designed with the goal of integrating laptops in daily teaching-learning process in and outside of the classrooms. We called this set of learning activities E-Paati when we developed the first ones back in the fall of 2007.

The second part of our strategy is to ensure that teachers are well prepared to not just use laptops in classrooms, but to use them effectively to deliver quality education to their students. With that in mind, we held an extensive teacher training program that included a four day residential training a month before laptops were deployed at the two test schools. This was followed by a three day onsite program right after deployment in April 2008. Most of the teachers from the poor rural schools had never even used a computer before they came to the residential training.

During the course of the program, the teachers started referring to the laptops as E-Paati. Then it occurred to us that it was an apt name for the laptops. While a community of tech enthusiasts, education specialists, and volunteers had not been able to come up with a Nepali name for the laptops, it was a natural choice for the teachers – the users of the XO’s – who at some time used Kharipaati, and now use Kalopaati in daily classroom teaching. With these laptops, teachers now have a powerful tool that teachers and students in Nepal refer to as E-Paati. Personally, I love the name E-Paati because it connects Nepal’s past with its future.

That left us with the task of finding a different name for our set of digital learning activities. Calling both the laptops and the activities by the same name created confusion in the classroom. For example, when teachers ask students to close their E-Paati, students were confused whether to close the activity or turn off the laptops. It was important to make a clear distinction between the content (activities) and the hardware (laptops).

Once again, many names where suggested, and out of the many great suggestions, we chose to call the learning activities E-Paath as suggested by our Education Director Dr. Saurav Dev Bhatta. For those of you who are still struggling with their Nepali, Paath means lesson. However, we want E-Paath to mean more than just digital lessons. We want it to stand for interactive digital lessons that children find easy and fun to use.

Currently in Nepal, there are two test schools in the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley where 135 students and 20 teachers are blazing the trail to transform education in Nepal using E-Paath on their E-Paati. It makes me proud to see how we have made this project our own – starting from the implementation plan that suits our needs and environment, to the localized content that Nepali children can relate to easily, all the way to the names that reflect the noble- yet intimately local – initiative.

First Week at the two Test Schools

This is a compilation of observations from the first week of the laptop implementation at the two rural schools in Nepal — Bashuki and Bishwamitra Ganesh. After the launch of the project on April 25th, we visited the schools for the next six days, spending entire days working with the teachers and observing the classrooms. This was the second part of the teacher training program, with the first part being the 4 day residential program that was help from March 29 till April 1. Typically, the day would start with discussion of the day’s lesson plans with the teachers, and then we would proceed to observe the classes where the teachers used the learning activities developed by OLE Nepal in the daily teaching. The details of the teacher training program can be found in Dr. Bhatta’s post. Here I will write about general observations about the children and the laptops at the two schools.

Bashuki School

Between the two test schools, Bashuki is undoubtedly the more challenging one. The school located near a hilltop in Lakurebhanjyang serves a community of Tamang people, an indigenous group that inhabit the hilly region. 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. Furthermore, out of the 10 teachers, only one is from the local community, while the rest have to trek up at least 1 hour each day to reach the school. In this respect, the school is quite detached from the community. Most teachers do not speak the local Tamang language, while few understand it. Overall, it is not easy for the teachers to mix in with the local people and interact with them.

We had distributed a total of 75 laptops – 39 to grade 2 students, and 36 to grade 6 students. During the first week of school, the attendance was not very encouraging. Most of the week there were between 25-30 students in grade 2, and 20-25 students in grade 6. This could be due to the fact that there was no clear indication of when classes were supposed to begin, a typical problem faced by schools all over Nepal. According the ministry, public schools across the nation were supposed to start classes on April 17th, but due to various reasons, this rarely happens in most schools. Ironically, schools are required keep admissions open till mid-May. To make things worse, textbooks had not been delivered to the schools till date. These are ground realities that teachers and school administrations have to deal with in educating children in rural areas. Nevertheless, it was quite surprising that even the lure of the cute laptops were not enough to entice the students to school. The teachers told us that full attendance is a rarity because siblings take turns between going to school and staying home to help in the fields and do household chores.

The 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. While we first were not happy with the plan, in retrospect, it turned out to be a good idea given the number of students that did not show up at school after the distribution day. Since the students had limited time with the XO’s during this week, they were not quite familiar with the laptops in the classroom.

Grade 6 students at Bashuki

Bishwamitra School

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. Three of the twelve teachers had at one time attended the school. Almost all the teachers hail from the surrounding villages, and they are very tied to the local community. They have close relation with the parents and the community. People in the community put high value on education. Hence, we see that it will be easier to successfully implement the project in this school.

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 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 other activities besides the E-Paati activities developed by OLE Nepal.

Grade 2 students at Bashuki

Dissection of Cursor Problem

We encountered the jumpy cursor problem at both schools, but there were many more cases at Bashuki. At Bishwamitra, out of 60 laptops, there were approximately 5-6 reports of jumpy cursor problem. At Bashuki, the problem was found in more than half the laptops. We will go back to the schools this week and report back on the status of the problem. We also plan to do a more systematic collection of data regarding the cursor problem.

One factor contributing to the higher number of cases at Bashuki is dust. The school area is quite dusty, and in the afternoon, when the wind picks up, there would be so much dust in the air that at times it becomes very difficult to walk outside with your eyes open. It takes only a few minutes before a layer of dust settles on any surface. The classrooms have windows made out of wood, and at least one or two have to be left open to let light into the rooms. As a result, dust particles gather on the XO’s, and could be felt them on the touch pad. Students at the schools were seen carrying soft pieces of cloth to wipe the screen and touchpad.

Dust by itself may not have been a problem. In couple cases, the jumpy cursor problem was fixed when dust was wiped from the touchpad. But when the laptops were returned to the kids, the jumpy cursor problem resurfaced. That is when I realized that a combination of sweaty fingers and dust could have made it worse. Most of the kids had sweaty hands, and with dust all around, their finger tips were not clean. Since the touchpad work by sensing the capacitance of the finger, moist or sweaty fingers can be problematic.

Since the other school, Bishwamitra in not in a dusty location, the cursor problem was not as pervasive. Furthermore, the school was located in a much cooler location, and we noticed that the kids had cleaner hands. The couple cases of jumpy cursor problem at this school were resolved by simply rebooting the laptops.

In almost all cases, the jumpy cursor problem could be temporarily fixed by restarting the laptops. However, this was temporary, and the problem would return shortly after the kids start using the laptops.

Next Steps

Bashuki School, with all its problems, represents a typical government schools in Nepal. Bishwamitra School is more of an exception, and we cannot expect to find schools like that when we expand the project in other districts. So, our challenge is to find ways to make the project successful at Bashuki, and the lessons learned there will be invaluable to us when we reach out to similar schools in far flung districts in the country. So how do we do it? Obviously, it requires a lot of effort from all stakeholders, including teachers and SMC.

We can start off by having regular interactions between teachers of the two schools. In fact this was proposed by teachers at Bishwamitra. Teachers from each school can arrange to visit the other school. Such visits will help teachers at Bashuki learn from the way things are done at Bishwamitra, while the teachers at Biswhamitra can learn about the problems faced by their counterparts at Bashuki and make suggestions to improve the situation.

We need to start working closely with the community in Bashuki with the help of the SMC and the school administration. It is important for the community to understand the project and own it. The teachers had organized an orientation program the week before the launch of the project, but the turnout was not very good. It is also important that we have someone communicate with the parents in the local Tamang language. Since no one in our team knows the language, we plan to work with the only teacher who hails from the local community. Also, the SMC consists of mostly local Tamang leaders who can also help in reaching out to the community.

We will also start collecting attendance data so that we can better understand the attendance pattern. This will be essential if we are to work with the community to figure out how to increase attendance in the classes. We will also start collecting real data regarding the various technical problems that are encountered at the schools.

Grade 2 students at Bashuki

Network and Power

The students have not yet reached the point where they are utilizing the networking capabilities of the laptops. While this may seem odd, we have to understand that these children have never touched a computer before. They are still intrigued by the various games and activities that they can access in the laptop without connecting to the network. We will soon work with the teachers to demonstrate the mesh networking capabilities of the laptops, as well as show them how to access the E-Pustakalaya (electronic library) that we have built. Both the electronic library and the Internet will be accessed via the wireless network that we have set up to connect the schools to the Department of Education and our office.

We have not been able to have the Internet accessible from the homes. This is the next challenge for our networking team. The students live as far as 45 minutes walk from the school, and due to the hilly terrain, we have not been able to come up with an affordable solution to connect the homes to the school servers or access points.

Currently, the power adapters remain at the schools in the charging racks. This measure was taken to prevent the loss of adapters, which can easily be misplaced or lost. The laptops are charged fully in the schools before the children take them home after schools. This will give the children at least couple hours of usage time at home. We are currently seeking replacement adapters, and when we do find them, we plan to provide one each for the children to keep at home. Then they will not have to carry the adapters to and from the schools, and also will not have to plug and un-plug the adapter daily from the AC socket.

Wish List

  1. Cursor, Cursor, Cursor. This is the main problem we have faced so far. It is so disheartening to watch the kids trying to navigate the cursor only to have it jump to a corner. If we cannot find a solution to this problem, we may not be able to get a meaningful outcome from this project. Having an external USB mouse is not practical due to lack of desk space. OLPC should consider adding pointing stick as an option for navigation.
  2. On-screen volume indicator that shows what level the volume is at when the volume buttons are pressed.
  3. The frame should not automatically appear when the cursor is moved to the sides or corners. This is quite unnecessary especially since there already is the key on upper right hand side of the keyboard to do get the frame to appear. I read that this auto-frame feature can be disabled, but we have yet to test it out here.
  4. OLPC should ship two power adapters with each XO – one to be kept at school, and one at home. This will not only reduce the probability of kids losing the adapters or forgetting them at home, but also prevent the kids from coming close to AC power while plugging and unplugging the adapters. The sockets that are available in countries like Nepal are not the best design and quality.

Rabi Karmacharya
Executive Director

Laptop project formally launched

On April 25, 2008, Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) distributed a total of 135 OLPC laptops to grade 2 and 6 students from two schools in the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley. These were addition to the 22 laptops that were handed out to teachers from the schools during the teacher preparation program held a month ago. The laptop project was undertaken in partnership with Nepal government’s Department of Education (DoE). This project is part of OLE Nepal’s mission to increase quality of education while reducing current disparity in access and quality between school types, regions, and population groups by integrating ICT-based education in daily teaching-learning process. The laptops for the project were donated by the Danish IT Society in Copenhagen.

The distribution program started in the morning at Bashuki Lower Secondary School in Lakuribhanjyang, Lamatar VDC in Lalitpur district. As guests made their way up the dusty gravel road leading up to the school, students, teachers, parents, and community members waited anxiously for the program to begin. OLE Nepal team was there ahead of others with the laptops, and was busy helping with the program setup. Guests were given a short tour of the school that highlighted the internal wireless network, the wireless radio network that connected the school to the DoE and OLE Nepal office, the power arrangements including the power racks, the school server, and the classrooms where seating was arranged to encourage interaction.

Special Guests at Bashuki

The Chief Guest of the program was the Secretary of Ministry of Education and Sports Mr. Balananda Poudel. The secretary is the highest level civil servant in the ministry. Other special guests included Executive Director of Curriculum Development Center Mr. Haribol Khanal, Executive Director of National Center for Education Development Mr. Ram Swaroop Sinha, Director of DoE, Mr. Mahashram Sharma, Chief District Education Officer Mr. Babu Kaji Karki, Lalitpur Minister Counselor of the Danish Embassy Mr. Ove Larsen, Chairperson of the OLE Nepal Board of Directors Dr. Prativa Pandey. The program was widely covered by journalists from major media outlets including print and TV.

Grade 2 student getting the laptop

After the welcome speech and few words by the special guests, we proceeded to hand out laptops to the 75 lucky students. The kids were quite excited when they were handed the laptops. They immediately went back to their seats and opened the laptops, and with the help of OLE Nepal team members, they started checking out the activities that were in the laptops. While journalists, photographers, and cameramen were busy capturing the moment, the students were already showing off what they had discovered to their friends. It was quite interesting to see how they handled the laptops with care, and it was obvious that they greatly valued their newly received education tool.

Grade 6 at Bishwamitra

After few photo ops we headed to the next school, Bishwamitra Ganesh Lower Secondary School in Jyamirkot, Lubhu VDC, Lalitpur. After a brief stop for lunch at the bottom of the hill, we arrived at our destination where the teachers offered us a warm welcome with garlands and flowers. At this school, we handed out 60 laptops to the students. The reactions from the students were similar to that of the Bashuki.

Kids with laptops

After the long and arduous day, we trudged back to our office in the evening with a great sense of accomplishment, but knowing too well that our real work had just begun. A lot of questions still loom in our minds. How will the children take care of the laptops? Will the network be able to handle the traffic when 70 children try to access the Internet together? Will the laptops have hardware problems? Will the teachers be able to successfully integrate the new teaching method in daily teaching? This is, after all, the test phase of the project, where OLE Nepal, along with the Department of Education hopes to find answers to the questions surrounding challenges in implementation. The plan is to use the findings to prepare a scalable model that can be replicated when we expand to schools in other districts.

Group photo with Grade 2

The laptops have finally reached their destination. They have come a long way, and was made possible only through the contribution and hard work of many individuals and organizations. One Laptop Per Child has to be credited for defying the critics and coming up with this amazing piece of machine that we believe will transform education around the world. We owe our gratitude to the Danish IT Society for providing the laptops for Nepal’s test phase. We hope that with a successful implementation of this phase, we can expect similar support in the future phases. Special thanks go to Dr. Richard Rowe and his team at OLE Inc in Cambridge, USA, for the constant support and guidance, the Danish Embassy in Kathmandu for supporting the project, and Corelatus, Sweden, for providing the funds to network the schools. We would also like to thank Mr. John Cook and Mr. Peter Dalglish for their constant advice and support. We cannot end without mentioning that we have been blessed with a dynamic group of individuals that comprise our Board of Directors.

We have not cut any corner in our preparation building up to the deployment of the laptops. We put in a lot of effort in preparing the teachers in both schools, including the 4 day residential training program. We have paid close attention to each of the learning activities we have built. Our team put in endless hours preparing the laptops. We have spent a great deal of time setting up the wireless network. We built special power racks to charge the laptops with ease. We designed sturdy bags that have compartments for the laptops. But, we all know that there will always be unforeseen problems and challenges. With the dedication of our team and the cooperation from the schools and the communities, I am confident that we can tackle each challenge that we shall face, and move forward.

Rabi Karmacharya
Executive Director

Interaction Program between Dept of Education, OLE Nepal, and pilot school teachers

We had a meeting yesterday at the Department of Education with teachers from the two pilot schools, officials from the Department of Education, and OLE Nepal. The meeting was also attended by an official from District Education Office where the pilot is being launched. Seven teachers and administrators from Bashuki School and Biswamitra School pledged their support and cooperation, and ensured full participation from all stakeholders including school administration, and school management committee. They were visibly pleased that the Department had picked their schools to pilot the project.

Interaction Program at DoE

During the meeting, we briefed them about the project and our plan to use the schools as models when we expand the project to more schools and districts later this year. They understood that their roles were vital in the long term success of OLPC in Nepal. We had long discussions about the preparations that need to take place between now and the launch in mid-April. Few teachers put forth their concerns about safety and security of equipments, adequate teacher preparation, networking, etc. We informed them that there will be an extensive teacher preparation program including 4 days of residential training, followed by 3 days of onsite training. We decided that the residential training should take place from March 29 till April 1. After the residential training, the teachers will return to their school communities where they will hold interaction programs with parents and communities to make them aware of the OLPC project. During the interaction, they will discuss the roles of the parents, and answer questions from the communities. We thought that it is best to have teachers interact with the communities and educate them about the program, with minimal interventions from our organization.

The Department of Education and District Education Office reiterated their full support for the program, and expressed their interest in using the lessons learned during this first phase in the larger implementation of the project in the future.