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!!!

Learn English Kids

OLE Nepal recently signed an agreement with the British Council to host ‘Learn English Kids (LE Kids)’ interactive software in the E-Pustakalaya. LE Kids teaches fundamentals of the English language to children and adults through the use of audio visual effects and flash animations.  In this regard, it is similar to OLE Nepal’s E-Paath activities, but the scope of LE Kids is not qualified to any curriculum. The partnership has expanded the reach of LE Kids to nearly 3400 students in 34 schools spread across ten districts in Nepal where OLE Nepal has implemented ICT-integrated classes using the OLPC model. By integrating the LE Kids in the digital library hosted in local servers, schools no longer require Internet connectivity to benefit from these activities. OLE Nepal has always emphasized the need for quality learning materials like LE Kids in order to realize a meaningful impact on children’s learning through computers. By making these activities freely available to everyone, the British Council has done a great service to students and learners who otherwise would have been deprived of this great tool to improve their English language skills.

LE Kids provides its users with a multitude of options such as solving puzzles, painting, reading, playing games and listening to songs. All of these choices enable people to learn day to day English. This can be something as simple as knowing English terms for food items sold at shopping centres or teaching comprehension skills with its various read and solve quizzes.

LE Kids also contains two person general knowledge quizzes. These quizzes allow healthy competition among children, teach children (and adults) interesting facts about our changing world and also enable and encourage kids to share their computers. This will be very useful for students in rural schools where even with the generous numbers of XO laptops provided by OLE Nepal there is a need to share. Some of the quiz questions also explain why an answer is incorrect. For example a question regarding the largest lake in the world has as an incorrect option the deepest lake in the world, lake Baikal. Thus, even while answering incorrectly children can learn a new fact as well as understand that there are differences between similar concept words such as ‘large’ and ‘deep’.

My favourite section in LE Kids is the Short Story section. The user has fifty two stories to choose from. Apart from being able to read along with the stories some of them are also interactive. The ‘Spycat’ story for example allows the children to solve the clues that Spycat discovers. This technique allows children to remain engaged with the story and not lose focus.

We can say with certainty that both students and teachers will greatly benefit from LE Kids activities as content to build English language skills is scarce. One can access LE Kids from the E-Pusatkalaya homepage. It is conveniently located in the upper right hand panel of the homepage under the title ‘अंग्रेजी भाषा सिकौँ’ (‘Learn English Kids’ in our English interface). Any one who has tried LE Kids will find it fun and appealing to the intellect.

SchoolTool packaging for NEXS

SchoolTool is a suite of free administrative software for schools. Since it can be installed easily and used with no licensing fees, SchoolTool can be used by schools for a single purpose, by individual teachers or small teams within schools, or as a whole-school comprehensive student information system, encompassing demographics, gradebooks, attendance, calendars and reporting. (Source: http://schooltool.org/)

In our continual effort of improving our systems and providing tools to support digital education, we were presented with a new requirement — providing schools a software based tool for classroom management and grading. After evaluating a few available tools, we encountered SchoolTool which was the foremost candidate meeting most of our criteria:

  • Web based
  • Different user levels: admins, teachers, students
  • Student information system
  • Calendars
  • Attendance
  • Grading
  • Localizable
  • Open Source

Though being the right candidate, SchoolTool had a few of the shortcomings for us — the tools is readily available (as a set of installable package) for Ubuntu only and had a lot of dependencies. As our plan to integrate the tool in the NEXS (School Server software based on Fedora Linux) infrastructure, a lot of packaging work had to be done, which included:

  • Developing a hierarchy of dependent packages for schooltool and its plugins.
  • Finding source tarballs for each packages.
  • Writing RPM spec files for each package and build binary RPMs against the spec.
  • Testing the setup.

It was daunting to perform all of the tasks manually, so we followed a semi-automatic approach — a script based automation and manual intervention where necessary. But writing spec files for building RPM packages for each dependency had to be manual, meanwhile a difficult task as well. Hopefully, we need not have to author spec files for around 80 dependencies; thanks to Robin ‘Cheese’ Lee for writing a few of them. Nevertheless the rest of them had to be authored, built against and tested; and it took us a good time performing these tasks iteratively until we arrived a stable stage. Now we are ready to pilot SchoolTool (localized in Nepali) in a few of the OLPC deployed schools.

We have built binary RPM packages for Fedora 13 and Fedora 9, for both 32 and 64 bit architectures. Additionally to encourage developers to test their own builds and to contribute in porting the tool to Fedora based distributions, we have made the packaging sources available under non-restrictive license. If you would like to test my builds, the RPM repository is hosted at http://ftp.schooltool.org/rpms/. Also there are ready to use repo files for Fedora’s yum package manager. To set up the repository:

The packaging sources (spec files and patches) are available at my git repository at http://gitorious.org/schooltool-rpm/schooltool-rpm/. We would like to see more people testing our builds and our specs and reporting back bugs. HAPPY TESTING!!

E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel

The E-Pustakalaya team met with the E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel for the second time on July 12, 2010.

Some very interesting ideas transpired. On the issue of copyright, E-Pustakalaya was advised to allow exclusive licenses according to the wishes of authors and publishers apart from the general creative commons license E-Pustakalaya uses for materials already available in the public domain. It was also decided that the E-Pustakalaya web page would have a section that features information on Authors/Publishers and their works, which will further promote their contributions to the digital library.

Also given the dearth of adolescent/young adult literature in Nepali, OLE Nepal will be one of the first organisations to hold a writers’ workshop targeted specifically towards the creation of such literature. The workshop will include introductions by child psychologists, teachers and parents, to help suggest themes and issues relevant to young adults today. This will be followed by a multi-day workshop headed by the E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel members. The resulting works, if up to mark, will be published electronically on E-Pustakalaya.

The Advisory Panel members also presented their must have book lists for E-Pustakalaya. The library team was also advised to contact the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) who have produced a must have children’s literature list of their own consisting of some 50 titles. OLE Nepal is working on adding these works to the library.

Finally, OLE Nepal is moving ahead with plans to make audio books for its E-Pustakalaya. This is a niche that E-Pustakalaya being a digital library can easily fill and make available on a large scale. They will be useful for students at our programme schools as well as to Nepali parents around the world who are constantly looking for materials in Nepali so their children growing up abroad can still read, write and understand Nepali. The first audio books will be made with poems by Ram Babu Subedi and stories by Dhruva Ghimire, both prominent writers in the world of Nepali literature.


OLE Nepal Newsletter Mar-Apr 2010

OLE Nepal’s newsletter for Mar-Apr is now available. The newsletter intends to keep its readers uptodate on the organisation and its activities. The Mar-Apr issue includes latest updates and stories on how the names ‘E-Paati’ (XO) and ‘E-Paath’ (our interactive activities) came into being and how they illustrate what this project stands for; and on a new leadership component that has been added to the teacher training programme this year.

The full newsletter can be accessed at:

http://www.olenepal.org/ole_newsletter/OLENepalMarApr10.pdf

If you wish to subscribe to the newsletter, please email newsletter@olenepal.org.

E-Pustakalaya Initiatives

E-Pustakalaya has come a long way since its public launch in February 2009.

OLE Nepal has managed to build partnerships with contemporary Nepali writers of children and other literature and acquired a large number of their work for E-Pustakalaya. Two workshops were held, in April and in October 2009 at Martin Chautari, for writers. Those present included some of the most prominent writers in Nepali contemporary literature. A large number of authors have readily given their material to the library for free. Given the context of Nepal where reading books, aside from school books for kids, is hardly encouraged, the authors are hopeful that E-Pustakalaya will expand the reach of their books in Nepal and abroad and encourage more Nepalis to read.

With the same intention of expanding readership of Nepali and other literary work, OLE Nepal has joined forces with like-minded organisations with the aim to promote a healthy reading culture amongst children in Nepal through the establishment and expansion of physical and digital libraries in the country. OLE Nepal, together with Nepal Library Foundation (NLF), Help Nepal Network (HeNN), Room to Read, Kathmandu Valley Public Library, Prakash Community Library, CCS Italy, Children’s Community Library group, and READ Nepal have agreed in principle to work on four major areas to develop libraries all over Nepal– advocacy, training teachers and librarians, resource mobilisation, and ICT issues. This close collaboration amongst the various partners will help overcome hurdles in the fight against widespread illiteracy, and highlight the importance of reading culture and libraries in Nepal’s development. The group also plans to collectively attract the Nepal Government’s attention towards the importance of libraries and its importance in enlightening and developing a nation. OLE Nepal is the leader in Nepal in the development and deployment of digital libraries, and has developed a first of its kind education-centred digital library, E-Pustakalaya. OLE Nepal hopes to expand access to E-Pustakalaya and other reading resources in Nepal through this alliance.

OLE Nepal has also set up an advisory board for E-Pustakalaya. Given that E-Pustakalaya is not just a repository of any and all materials, but a specifically education-focused library, it was deemed necessary to have an advisory board to suggest worthy materials for addition as well as to review existing and other additions to make sure they fit OLE Nepal’s vision to create a unique education focused digital library. The first advisory board meeting took place on March 18, 2010.

OLE Nepal is fortunate to have the following notable personalities from Nepali literary circles on the E-Pustakalaya Advisory Board:

Bishwambhar Chanchal has been serving the Nepali literature scene for over four decades. He was President of Nepalese Society for Children’s Literature (NESCHIL) for several years. He has been bestowed with numerous awards some of which are Mainali Katha Puraskar, Rastriya Bal Sahitya Puraskar, Ratna Bal Puraskar, Nepal Bal Sahitya Samaj Puraskar.

Dr. Churamani Bandhu is an eminent linguist of the Nepali language, he is also the current chairman of the Nepali Folklore Society. The Tribhuvan University professor was recently honoured for his ongoing services towards Nepali literature during the hundredth birth anniversary of Laxmi Prasad Devkota.

Dhruva Ghimire is a renowned children’s author and a teacher of Nepali Language. His works such as Khuta Gaane Khel and Jeet Kasko Huncha have won the NESCHIL award for writing children’s literature.

Geeta Keshary was the first female Member Secretary of the Royal Nepal Academy. For writing over a dozen novels she has been bestowed with various awards such as Lok Priya Award, National Talent Award, Dharani Dhar Award and Gamki Basundhara Award.

Hiranya Kumari Pathak is the current Chief Editor of Nari Patrika and Mahila Chetana Maanch. For her numerous works in literature she has received some of the highest civilian honours which include Trishaktipaadh Chautho and Gorkha Dakshin Bahu Chautho.

Rambabu Subedi had his first poem published over forty years ago. Today he is the president of NESCHIL which hands out two annual awards for writing and illustration in children’s literature.

Vinaya Kasajoo is the current Chief Information Commissioner of the National Information Commission. He has written over 20 books in Nepali and is a strong proponent of spreading knowledge through the power of various mass media.

E-Pustakalaya can be accessed at www.pustakalaya.org. For more information on E-Pustakalaya please also visit: http://olenepal.org/e_pustakalaya.html