An interview with our teaching resident — Shikha Dhakal

Supporting Program Schools in Baitadi

Baitadi cover

About the program

Three months ago, OLE Nepal launched it’s first ever Teaching with Technology Residency Program to support 15 primary schools that have started using digital learning materials in their classrooms. This year-long program engages 2 qualified and motivated young graduates to assist teachers to maximize the benefits from the wide range of digital resources made available at the schools. The Residents spent an entire month training at OLE Nepal office before heading to Baitadi in January 2017 to facilitate students and teachers in using technology effectively in the teaching-learning process.

One of the Teaching Residents, Shikha Dhakal, was a primary school teacher before joining this program. We sat with her to learn more about her experience and observations after completing the first round of support to all 15 schools.

Introducing Shikha:

Shikha joined OLE Nepal because sheshikha believes that technology is a powerful agent of change in the teaching-learning process. She brings 2 years of teaching experience to the Residency program; she was primary grade teacher in social studies at Santwona Memorial School before joining OLE Nepal. She has also volunteered on leadership seminars and workshops by Global Peace Youth Corps, and the National Federation of Youth NGO Nepal. Shikha has completed B.A. in Social Work from Santwona Memorial College.

Interview:

What were the major differences in teaching methods that you observed in Baitadi, compared to your time as a teacher in Kathmandu?

Shikha : My perspective towards education system in Nepal has totally changed after my visit as a Teaching Resident in Baitadi. Although comparing Baitadi with Kathmandu may not be fair, I did observe huge differences in teaching methods, perspective, learning environment etc, in Baitadi.                                                                     

I found teachers in Baitadi were qualified, active and dedicated to their duties. They gave high priority to their work despite their the hectic schedule. Although teachers fulfill their responsibilities and stay positive towards their duties, time management is one of the biggest issues in such rural areas where the schools are located in isolated areas far from their homes.

In terms of methodologies, they rely a lot on textbooks due to the lack of other teaching and learning resources. The teachers do try to use some group activities in classrooms; however, many schools struggle with insufficient number of teachers, which severely affect their workload.

With the existing interventions and support in different areas, in due time, teachers in Baitadi too can become as competent as the teachers in Kathmandu, and this will certainly help to bring the improvement of education status of the district.

How are the Teachers and schools using the digital learning resources in Baitadi?

Shikha : I believe every child should have access to quality resources and opportunities for learning, but the reality is that many children do not have easy access to quality learning resources.

Shikha guiding the students at Janachetna Primary School

Shikha guiding the students at Janachetna Primary School

I got an opportunity to assist teachers and students on using technology to provide quality educational materials in Baitadi, which in itself was quite an amazing experience. For the first time I realized the value of things that we often take for granted. It was great seeing teachers’ and students’ involvement, curiosity, and interest in learning through technology; it was something they had never dreamt of. The active participation of teachers and desire to learn something new by going beyond the hectic schedule was quite impressive. They performed as a trained facilitator to use the digital resources (laptops, E-Paath, E-Pustakalaya ) creatively while teaching.

It seems as they had long awaited for a miracle like this to happen. They changed their teaching methods to engage students in the classrooms. They now prepare lesson plans, children follow job charts regularly and so on. The activities they do in digital learning class are helping them to obtain grade and subject goals of education.

During your time in Baitadi, were there any interesting cases of teachers using E-Paath to explain concepts that students were struggling with?

Shikha : I remember the day Anjana and I were observing a class at Nagarchan Primary School in Mahakali. It was science class in grade 4 and the teacher was starting a lesson on one way and two way communication. Following her lesson plan, she the teacher asked questions to student to assess their knowledge on the topic. She asked the students to give two examples of one way communication, and a girl named Prapti quickly answered, radio and river. Prapti explained that the since the river always flows in one direction and does not return, it is one way communication. The teacher simply smiled and opened her E-Paath exercise and explained the whole lesson clearly.

Although it has only been 3 months into the Residency Program, do you think that the this immersive experience has been beneficial to you (personally and professionally)?

Shikha : Every twist and turn in life makes us brighter and better for the coming days. In these 3 months of being a part of OLE Nepal’s Teaching Residency program, I have experienced a lot of new things, faced and overcome several difficulties, hard situations, and challenges all of which have helped to strengthen my professional and personal resolve. The time that I spent in Baitadi helped me to realize that in every inch of sadness lies a foot of happiness, and even the simplest of times brings the grandest of pleasures.

For the first time ever I was far from my family. Though it was difficult to take a decision before, I have now learned that these chances often guide us to unexpected discoveries.

Personally and professionally I am glad to be a part of OLE Nepal. Those 60 days in Baitadi with new people, following their culture and tradition, were an immersive experience for me. I am definitely going to enjoy my next two visits back to Baitadi and meeting the people again, and I especially look forward to spending more time with the children there.

How did you feel about teaching with technology for the first time?

Shikha teaching students at

Shikha taking an E-Paath class at Janachetna Primary School

Shikha : Technology is one of the foremost agents to bring change in our teaching-learning process, while reducing the disparity in access to quality education. Similarly teachers are the key to bring change by framing young minds into critical thinkers and learners.

Having past experience as a teacher I found the technology-enhanced approach very interesting and effective for children than our traditional pedagogical methodologies.

How do you think the laptop program will be more effective in rural areas like Baitadi?

Shikha : In the context of Baitadi, there are children who aren’t able to get two good meals a day, and parents who feel ashamed for not being able to provide even the basic necessities for their children. In those communities, OLE Nepal’s laptop program provides them with the same opportunities as children in Kathmandu. One can’t imagine how glad they were feeling and their happiness while using laptops to learn. There were several challenges on economic, social, as well as technological aspects, including the roles of teachers and communities, but their desire to learn new things, their courage to face difficulties, and solving them strongly and intelligently was admirable.

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Students and teachers of Netrajyoti Primary School, with Shikha

The laptop program has helped teachers as well as children to gain extra knowledge in various local and global contexts. It has increased the learning habit in children, encouraged them to improve their quality in learning methods from the traditional rote-learning approach. And another interesting benefit of this program is, it has helped to increase the student’s attendance in schools. We have found that those students who used to come sporadically have now started to attend school regularly.

MORE PHOTOS

 

Transforming learning one lesson at a time

For this teacher in Baitadi, a laptop is more valuable than gold!!

By, Kalpana Rimal (Trainer) & Anjana Shrestha (Teaching Resident)

Ms. Indra Pokharel, a math teacher at Saraswati Primary School in Maharudra, was one of the 26 participants at the training held in Patan, Baitadi on September 14-20, 2016. The trainers were pleasantly surprised when she arrived at the training carrying her own laptop, although it was not a requirement. When Indra learned that her school was selected for the digital literacy program, she acquired a laptop through the generosity of her brother, who had initially wanted to buy her gold jewelry. Indra insisted that he buy her a laptop instead of the gold jewelry.

Indra

Indra Pokharel conducting a practice class at initial teacher training in September 2016.

But it was not just the laptop that made her stand out in the group. She was eager to absorb everything she could and was always the first one present at the training hall in the morning. She was an active participant in group discussions, and raised many pertinent questions on student management and computer-enabled teaching strategies. She was a quick learner, and prepared the integrated lesson plans very well. She was keen to learn about digital educational content, E-Paath, and spent a lot of time exploring books that she had always wanted to read on the digital library, E-Pustakalaya. By the third day of training, she was doing everything on her own with ease.

During the closing session, Indra shared that she had learned more than just the computer basics, but had gained the skills to plan and deliver computer-enabled lessons in her classes. She added that these enhanced lessons will develop her students well and make them as competent as students who have easy access to libraries and online content in the urban areas.             

It is always a big challenge even for experienced and motivated teachers to shift from traditional pedagogical methodologies to the ICT-enabled teaching-learning approach. It demands a lot of time and effort to make that shift in an effective manner.  The main objective of the training was to provide teachers with a better understanding of how ICT can be used to enhance teaching and learning process. The case of Indra shows that the enthusiasm in teachers towards ICT in education and their commitment to apply it in teaching can improve quality of education in schools of remote areas.

About 2-3 months after the initial training, OLE Nepal’s trainers visit the schools for the in-school training whereby they spend two days at each school to observe laptop-integrated classes, provide feedback, answer questions, hold discussions with teachers and meet with parents and community members. Our training team was eager to find out how Indra was doing when they visited Saraswoti Primary School on December 20-21. That day, Indra was teaching addition of fractions in grade 5.

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Indra Pokharel explaining the concept of addition of fractions to Grade 5 students, before they start activities on laptops, in December 2016.

Indra followed her lesson plan and started by explaining the concept on the whiteboard, and then explained the method of simplification. She had the students do a small pop quiz before having the students explore the concept through the digital activity in the laptops. She walked around checking how the students were doing, and helped students who were stuck and answered questions from them. She then completed the class by summarizing the day’s lesson and had students answer questions related to fraction addition.

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Indra conducting laptop integrated class during in-school training.

During discussions, other teachers mentioned that as focal teacher, Indra was always helpful when they faced issues in laptop-integrated classes. Since E-Paath has been installed in her personal laptop, she goes through the digital activities regularly to prepare her lesson plans at home. In addition to encouraging students to read books and other resources on the offline digital library that OLE Nepal has installed in her school, she herself accesses E-Pustakalaya regularly to read books and materials on professional development. She found these materials of great help in her preparation for the upcoming civil service examinations.

Teachers are the key to bringing positive change in the classrooms by molding young minds into critical thinkers and learners. At OLE Nepal, we work with teachers in remote areas to equip them with quality resources and strengthen their capacities so that children are provided a meaningful and fun learning experience. We are encouraged by teachers like Indra who show that it is possible to transform learning in rural classrooms one lesson at a time.

Bringing Raspberry Pi to classrooms

There is so much going on in technology these days. Technology has brought unprecedented changes in our daily life, retooling the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we make our living and more. The things that were considered as science-fiction a few years ago, is now a real thing. But, compare the classrooms back in the 90s and now, do you see any change? For the major part, it’s more or less the same. It’s a no-brainer that we have been scared to adopt new technology to our classrooms. It is said that Socrates was scared of this new technology called “writing” which he thought would erode the memorizing power of human. There was a time when people were intimidated by the use of the calculator in the class, for it may jeopardize the calculating power of the human brain. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact of how technology can be leveraged to extend the knowledge imparting process, for education today is not about what-you-know, but what you can do with  what-you-know. With growing MOOCs and learning materials available over the Internet, that are not only adding the new dimension in learning today, but also making the learning process more fun. Also, the students today are more adept in using technology, so taking technology out of the learning equation would be alienating the student of their abilities.

At OLE Nepal, we strive to bring the best new technology to our classrooms. It’s never easy to embrace a new piece of technology, for teachers are resistant to the change, with factors like power cuts and budget making up a huge share of challenge. So we set our selection of the technology based on the 3 prime constraints; low-powered, portable, and low cost. And for these traits, Raspberry Pi steps up as the knight in shining armor.

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Computer setup with RPi image source

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           [ image source]

Produced in Cambridge, Raspberry Pi primarily designed to demystify the technology in the classrooms for the learners, is a credit-card sized computer that costs only $35. The device plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. You can use this mini computer just like you would your desktop computer to do everything from browsing the internet and playing high-definition video, to making spreadsheets, word-processing, or playing games.

How is OLE Nepal using Raspberry Pi?

Mountain View

Typical E-Pustakalaya lab setup

Predominantly we build Pustakalaya Server, which is typically a mini PC, hosting educational contents major section which is the E-Pustakalaya, which is digital library of more than 7000+ books of different genre build on the FEDORA (or Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture) digital asset management (DAM) architecture upon which institutional repositories, digital archives, and digital library systems are built. We also have added to it our home-brewed, curriculum-based interactive teaching material; E-Paath, off-line Khan Academy videos, Open-street map, Nepali Sabdakosh, PheT simulations and much more, with a regular update to books and educational content. Basically, Pustakalaya Server is the offline version of the pustakalaya.org. It’s more like bringing the Internet to your classroom.

pustakalaya-network-with-raspberry-pi

After successful implementation of the XO and desktops computer as the client machine, Raspberry Pi, with its amazing community, is a pertinent technology to bring in our classrooms. We have been tinkering the popular Debian-based Linux-distro, Ubuntu-Mate. With its active popular community, it is best OS to our option. We have preloaded E-Paath content into the OS itself. Since most of the activities in our E-Paath are currently flash based; flash support was an important feature to have in the OS. Debian-based OS have much better flash support, it was another reason why Ubuntu-Mate was used. We also have loaded BalPaathmala, which is a small repository of the books, into the OS hosted on Apache web server.  We have been customizing the OS to make it more educational with the interactive games. Our work so far is just a tip of an iceberg.

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Class 7-8 EPaath interface

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Raspberry Pi Desktop

 

 

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Pustakalaya Interface

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EPaath Interface

Some of the features we are currently working on:

  1. Synchronization with Server.
  2. Student activity statistics collection in Server.
  3. Auto-running mount scripts.
  4. Using docker or lxc containers for  the installation and upgrades.

Where is this being implemented?

We have initiated a pilot program at Gorakhnath Secondary School, Kirtipur where 18 Raspberry Pi with preloaded educational content was deployed. It was a challenging experience as it was a-first-of-its-kind of deployment for us. We had a 5-day training for the teachers about pedagogy as well as the technical aspects of using the Raspberry Pi in the classroom. The primary purpose of the training was to inculcate, amongst the teachers, a culture of referring to additional reference materials. Looking at the excitement of the teachers, its just seems that ‘direction’ and ‘training’ were what was stopping technology from getting into their classrooms. We also installed the battery backup system for an uninterrupted flux of the lab. We are regularly providing technical support for the class as this is a pilot project for us.

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Raspberry Pi Lab Setup

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Students taking EPaath Class

Volunteer Spotlight: Srikaran Masabathula

Srikaran Masabathula is our Earthquake relief volunteer from Knox College, Illinois.

During his second year at Knox, he was looking to make a positive difference and decided to head to Nepal to support OLE Nepal with their earthquake relief efforts in the severely destructed area.

Following is the experience shared by Srikaran on his visit to Nepal.

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Srikaran Masabathula [left]

“Hello, this is Srikaran Masabathula and I would like to thank OLE Nepal for giving me and my good friend Matt Surprenant the opportunity to assist in the earthquake relief efforts. When the earthquake hit Nepal, along with a few of my Nepali friends at Knox, we were sleeping peacefully completely unaware of the devastation going on on our planet. The next morning western media didn’t really give it too much coverage and it tried to undersell the devastation. However, my Nepali friends were very quick to post the personal destruction that their families and friends had experienced overnight. The pictures shared, stories told, were absolutely heartbreaking. That is when it really hit us that our friends, the ones we have studied and played with, may not have a home to go back to. Their towns and houses were destroyed and they had to be away from it all, not even with the comfort of their family by them. We started looking for volunteer opportunities when we found out about OLE Nepal through Ms. Manisha Pradhananga, an economics professor at our college who helped us greatly also in acquiring funding for our trip to Nepal.

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Destruction caused by Earthquake in Gorkha

I landed in Nepal completely amazed at the beauty of the place and the sense of togetherness among the people. My first day at OLE, I loved the way the office worked. Everyone at the office was very closely knitted and it seemed more like a big family working together for a great cause – enhancing the quality of education through the integration of technology in rural classrooms. The first week at office, I got to know a lot about the activities that OLE was involved in and also learnt how to work on the XO laptops which were rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. OLE Nepal had a very popular program called E-Paath where they designed and developed educational contents with various features of technology such as audio, images, animation and text to be built into the laptops with their team of graphic designers and software programmers. OLE has already designed over 500 lessons and activities for students of classes 2 through 7 in the subjects of Science, Mathematics, English and Nepali which were in complete accordance with the national curricula. Another great programme of OLE is E-Pustakalaya is an open digital library which provides free access to over 7000 full text documents, books, educational videos, audio books, learning software, reference materials.

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The next week we travelled to Gorkha with a team of two other people Ms. Sofila Vaidya and Mr. Ganesh Ghimire to survey schools that were destroyed in the series of massive earthquakes that struck Nepal towards the end of April and early May. We hiked across 8-9 villages in the Gorkha region through a period of 5 days to visit schools in the vicinity and talk to the management of the schools and assessing the needs of the schools that would benefit from the interactive learning XO laptops. We surveyed about 7-8 schools and we were to pick 5 schools on the criteria of availability of electricity, student size, teacher qualifications and community involvement. Some of the schools were completely destroyed by the earthquakes and classes were temporarily being conducted in the thatched huts while a new building was being constructed nearby.

srikaran with kids

 

With the work being done by OLE Nepal, I definitely see a bright future for the kids studying and it also is a great way to keep their mind away from the horrific earthquake. I am forever grateful to get the opportunity to work for such an incredible organization and glad we got to work for a great cause. My sincere thanks to Mr. Rabi Karmacharya, the director of OLE Nepal and the rest of the team, our Professor Ms. Manisha Pradhananga for all her continued support and help in getting us the funding. Without the Richter grant and Stellyes funding, the trip could have never been possible. Special thanks to the Stellyes sisters and the Vovis center and last but not the least, Knox College.”

 

Volunteer training program for Bajhang

Volunteering strengthens our ties to the community while exposing us to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities. They are tremendously resourceful for any non profit organization.

Volunteer program is one of OLE Nepal’s key aspects of the laptop program in Bajhang. The program gives young graduates an opportunity to spend three months in school communities to provide assistance in project implementation and school support. As a facilitator they get unique opportunity to learn about the application of technology to enhance primary education while gaining invaluable insights to the challenges faced by schools in remote areas.

Located in far western region of the country, students in Bajhang are far from the access to quality education. As such, OLE Nepal’s laptop program aims to provide students and teachers in Bajhang with access to national curriculum based quality educational materials. Introduced in 2014, this program has emerged to fill the need for a hands-on assistance to teachers and schools in using technology effectively in classroom teaching-learning process and to facilitate students and teachers to utilize the resources made available through the project, once the program is introduced in the schools. So far, OLE Nepal has trained and deployed more than eighteen energetic volunteers who come from different walks of life, bringing diversity to our program.

Initial training for the volunteers were provided at OLE Nepal office in Sanepa, Lalitpur, where they were trained about technology, digital resources, pedagogy, education system and community relations. At the time of the project launch, they will accompany OLE Nepal’s training and deployment team to Bajhang to assist in teacher training programs, school network and power installations, and laptop deployment.

Following photo series gives the glimpse of the program activities held at Lalitpur office.

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Our eight young and energetic volunteers for Bajhang

about ICT

Introducing the use of Information and Technology in education

tika sir briefing

Introduction to E-Paati (laptops) and interactive activities of E-Paath

Using laptops

Volunteers getting familiar with the laptops and the activities stored in them

using laptops

Learning how to correctly use E-Paati

communication

Discussing the importance of digital integration into Nepali education system

technical part

Learning about the technical aspect of the laptops

handling laptops

Knowing how to carefully handle the laptops

learning cable crimping

Learning about the cable crimping

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Hands-on session on cable crimping and school router set up

interaction

Visit to one of the program schools where volunteers received first hand experience of the laptop program school as well as teacher’s perspectives on the program.

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Volunteers visited Shree Chandi Devi Primary School in Dukuchap, Lalitpur and gained in-depth experience on the laptop integrated classes

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Observing the students using laptops

While deploying XO laptops in the far west

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

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

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

6+ hours of walking through inclined ways

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

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

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

Children preparing rice for next morning

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

Teachers using Epaati after installation

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

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

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

School where 12 XOs were deployed

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

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

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