Volunteer Spotlight: Prajna Ho

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANamaste! This is Prajna, from Hong Kong. I would like to thank OLE Nepal for giving me the chance to assist in the quality education in digital learning advocacy efforts. After having a week service trip in Nepal last year, the profound experience had triggered my motives and ideas to support the development of children’s education in the region, therefore, I designed another visit to Nepal after my graduation and before taking any full-time work, as my graduation project.

With the specific concern of the quality of education, I had been thinking of any social projects that can be facilitated for creating a better learning environment in Nepal. Having observed the major differences of education received in developing and developed regions, I would like to say that the accessibility to the Internet and quality content have largely determined the level of empowerment of one’s self-learning. The idea of donating laptops has come to my mind and that had motivated me to support Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) who has been working on this social cause.

Before leaving Hong Kong for Nepal, I received an introduction of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project by the board member of OLPC Asia, Mr. T. K. Kang. I picked up the whole picture about the structure of OLPC project before my service in OLE Nepal. The pedagogy behind OLPC with the hardware design of XO Laptop plus the open-source Sugar system are appreciated and impressive, enabling children to learn by themselves, applying the concept of “Constructionism”.

Throughout the volunteering period, my service duty was mainly on Communications and Social Media. Thankfully I got the chance working on a strategic design of the social media and communication plan with the Communication Officer, Trishala and some more colleagues. I was also working on the implementation of content writing and media curation for advocating the E-Pustakalaya (E-Library in English) to the local community.

E-Pustakalaya is an education-focused, open-sourced, interactive digital library for all Nepali & English readers. The development of E-Pustakalaya follows a philosophy that provides quality education in Nepal through creating an interactive learning platform for users while collecting learning sources from widely-recognized institutions from the local and international community.

Definitely, the provision of digital library has given children new forms of learning, while both teachers and parents are able to access the resources without spending a penny for the quality teaching content and facilitation of interactive education. I appreciate that OLE Nepal is acting as a manager to manage the all-rounded learning experience for young learners in Nepal, supporting digital content creation – designed based on the national curriculum, platform management and teaching training. I see the existing and potential impact of this organization’s work in the country.

Having accessed to the Google analytics of the several websites, I was surprised to know the online library has been used by Nepalese and English readers from all over the world, users covering different continents.

I am glad that I could present in a meeting about an international-scaled fund deployment, it has enabled me to understand more about the NGO landscape and fund-raising considerations from the project donors. Funding is the important element to sustain the operations of most of the social projects which bring long-term social benefits.

Of course, self-initiation had a positive impact to my service experience. Proactive learning has brought me much more exposures, such as visiting the annual Kathmandu book fair and local community library.

After the period of mutual understanding and interactions, I found the colleagues in OLE Nepal are competitive and collaborative. They are open-minded and proactive to understand my observations of what I had been witnessing in those few weeks and what OLE Nepal has been working on.

The organizational culture is amazing; the management is generally much similar as the western-style. It seems voices from every co-worker can be respected and concerned. The hierarchy is not apparent; the culture is unexpectedly open. Employees are autonomous, independent and are strong team-players. I witnessed the systematic style in their collaboration, not only by the interactive and transparent communication tool but also the progress monitoring system across departments. I appreciate the work-life balance the colleagues have achieved since I presented at their birthday party for their colleague, as well as some after-work chill out and site visits.

13600164_10154240367830822_2699364360632631745_nA Chinese saying goes: “Never reject anything virtuous for its pettiness”. Truly, what I have realized from the experience is that: when you come across the right thing happening in front of you, no matter how big or how small that you think your impact can be, go and follow what is right and support the happenings rightly.

I would like to hereby thank all colleagues in OLE Nepal for facilitating my learning and showing your hospitality to me. The road to the mission is long, tough and full of obstacles. I deeply appreciate their hearts and commitments to work for some positive impact to the community. Their passion has led the OLPC project pass through milestones in the past decade and will continue in Nepal for many more.

Dhan’yavāda.

OLE Nepal’s venture into open sourcing E-Paath(2-6)

OLE Nepal’s pursuit of digitizing educational material up to grade 10 recently reached a major milestone as we completed the development of content for grade-8. Although this is quite the achievement, computer technology is such an ever evolving field that the content developed for grade 2 to grade 6-using flash- have become technologically outdated. Consequently OLE Nepal in our endeavor of improving education through computer science decided to make our code base for grade 7-8, developed using HTML5, JS and CSS, open source and involve the students, in various fields of computer science, into our project to redevelop the content for grade 2-6.

The college we have currently approached and have started working with, to a certain extent, are:

  1. Thames College(10-15 students) ashish
  2. Apex College(10-15 students)
  3. Pulchowk Campus(10-15 students)
  4. Kathmandu University(10-12 students)

We are also looking into other possible colleges to collaborate with.

So far the response from the colleges and the number of students interested in being involved with our project has been very encouraging. Thames college, so far has been very proactive and we have already had multiple workshops with their students where we introduced them to the various programming approaches, good programming habits and libraries used in our project. Currently they are busy appearing their board exams however as soon as they will be done with their exams we will move into the next phase of our collaboration with them where they will develop the content of E-Paath for grade 2-6.
On a more personal note is was very interesting to see a good number of female students interested in our project. Female participation is something the field of Computer Science has not been able to attract for the longest time but the current bulk of female students pursuing a degree in Computer Science/Engineering seem intent on breaking the trend of male dominance in our field and bring some fresh perspective that can reinvigorate the existing crop of people in the technical sphere. It was very encouraging to meet the IT club of Apex college, where both the Chairperson and Secretary were female and their group had a good bulk of female participants.The other group that I was really impressed by were the students from Kathmandu University. These students took the initiative and approached us on their own and their group visited our office for the workshops all the way from Dhulikhel which had me in awe because personally, I was never as resourceful as this bunch during my college days. Their active participation and desire to better themselves by going beyond their prescribed syllabus is indicative of their pro-activeness.
We intend to have at least two workshops in each college so that the experience of the students in transitioning from a college environment to the sphere of IT professionals-open source contributors-is as smooth as we can possibly make.
Finally, we at OLE Nepal are very positive with the amount of progress we have made with integrating the colleges into our E-Paath 2-6 project and feel that the approach we are taking has the potential to be a mutually beneficial venture where the ultimate beneficiary will be the students seeking quality education in various parts of our country.

E-Pustakalaya Yearly Maintanence

The E-Pustakalaya team has planned to start the new year by introducing new features to our website and upgrading much of our system. Some of these features are easily noticeable by users while, some will be running in the background (I don’t want to ruin the surprise but we are hoping that it is what our users want.).

With the constant expansion of our content and features it is only natural that our system would require further upgrades. We want to make sure that these changes will appear on Jan 1st hence, we will be closing down our regular service for a week (26-31 Dec). This year we have had a lot of feedback from our users most of them have provided us with suggestions about certain features that would add to the overall user experience. We value the feedback we get and we will be trying to include all these features and much more by Jan 1st.

This festive season as Nepalis celebrate Christmas, Tol Lhosar, Tamu Lhosar and the start of Year 2012 we hope our maintenance work will not dampen the holiday spirit.

Wishing and thanking all our users the very best we leave knowing that we will see you all at the start of 2012!!!

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

E-Pustakalaya Launched (www.pustakalaya.org)

Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal has been working on its digital library, E-Pustakalaya, since summer 2008. Several accomplishments have been made and E-Pustakalaya (www.pustakalaya.org) has now been launched publicly with some basic features and content; more content as well as features will be added in the future.

The Nepal Library Foundation (NLF), Canada, who assist the Non -Resident Nepali Association to implement their Public Libraries Project, initially provided OLE Nepal with a start up fund to maintain E-Pustakalaya as a robust and publicly available website. This fund had been instrumental in helping OLE Nepal to purchase a server for E-Pustakalaya. Starting January 2009, NLF extended its support to hire two full time staff to work on content acquisition for E-Pustakalaya. The two E-Pustakalaya coordinators have been in touch with many authors, publishers, news agencies and other relevant organisations to solicit material and are working on setting up an editorial board as well as on constantly acquiring new material. In the process of acquiring content for the digital library, OLE Nepal has already established official partnerships with a number of organisations including Room to Read, Save the Children, Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, Rato Bangala Foundation and World Education Nepal. OLE Nepal is currently in the process of forming a partnership with Nepal Water Conservation Foundation as well.

In April 2009, OLE Nepal will launch the pilot phase of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) programme in over 25 schools in six districts in the country. This will greatly expand the reach and readership of E-Pustakalaya and we hope to get very useful feedback from these schools. Children using the laptops can access E-Pustakalaya through the intranet that OLE Nepal’s network team is setting up at the schools. The teacher-training programme conducted for the teachers from the pilot schools will include training pertaining specifically to E-Pustakalaya. This training will not just educate teachers on the basic functionalities of the digital library, but will also train them to use the material more creatively within their classrooms.

On the technical side, E-Pustakalaya is using two pieces of software: Fedora Commons and Fez. Fedora Commons is the library engine that forms the back-end of the library. This part of E-Pustakalaya has not been modified much and is consistent throughout. The second software, that forms the front-end of Fedora Commons, is called Fez. This front-end, compared to its back-end counterpart, has been heavily modified to make it more user-friendly and to meet the needs of the kind of library we are striving to create.

Various features of the library are already in place and several others are being worked on and will be added in the near future. Some of the features that already exist include one where users can sign up to become registered users and use features that are otherwise not accessible. The bookmark feature is the only feature enabled at the moment, which only registered users have access to. This feature allows a registered user to bookmark up to 20 favourite links that can easily be accessed whenever he/she logs in to his/her account. In the future, we also plan to add features like rating, blogging and others for registered users. The library interface is entirely in Nepali at the moment to cater to our primary audience. However, adding an English version of the library to facilitate use by a more diverse group is in the works.

On the content side, E-Pustakalaya has a wide variety of materials already available, a total of 373 entries to date, with new materials being constantly added. The library is divided into seven main sections, namely Sahitya (Literature), Kala (Art), Bishayagat Pathya Samagri (Course-related Materials), Sandarbha Samagri (Reference Materials), Anya Sikshyaprad Samagri (General Educational Materials), Sikshan Samagri (Teaching Support Materials) and Patrapatrika (Newspapers and Magazines). In addition to literature, primarily for children, in English and Nepali, content highlights include audio books, a Nepali dictionary acquired from Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, School Wikipedia, a map section that is constantly being added to and a video section with educational videos, among others. A Balwiki (Children’s wiki) has also been set up, aimed primarily at children and we hope this will allow exchange of ideas and knowledge but we expect this to take time to fully pick up steam. Wikimedia Foundation’s Wiktionary (dictionary) will also be added on our server in the very near future.

The library also has a link to OLE Nepal’s E-Paath activities. E-Paath activities are interactive digital lessons and related exercises developed at Open Learning Exchange Nepal that meet the learning objectives of the national curriculum and intend to supplement existing learning materials. The entire package is both available for download from OLE Nepal’s website (www.olenepal.org) and included in the One Laptop Per Child’s XO laptop that the organisation is deploying in public schools all over the country. For the moment, they can be accessed from E-Pustakalaya, but not downloaded directly from there. They will be available for download soon. For the time being, however, a link is available on the home page of E-Pustakalaya to OLE Nepal’s website, from where the activities can be downloaded onto users’ computers.

Provision for feedback has also been provided in the form of a feedback form accessible from the homepage of E-Pustakalaya. The idea is to make the library responsive to and as in tune as possible with the needs of its users.

In addition to new features and added content within the main sections, E-Pustakalaya will also be adding a Community/ News and Events page in the near future. This page will provide users with a place to blog with fellow teachers and students as well as share and learn about what is happening at the local level, in Nepal as well as in a larger global context. This section will facilitate dialogue and interchange between people in various different places in unprecedented ways.

The E-Pustakalaya project has quickly picked up momentum and new material is constantly being added to the digital library. Authors and organisations, that have been approached, have mostly responded with enthusiasm and interest in the project, which is a novel concept to a lot of them. There is much reason to believe that there is a great number of materials that can still be collected and added to the existing archive.