Connecting local writers to read-aloud books

Children enjoy listening to stories. During our childhood, we remember asking our parents, grandparents or anyone elder to us, for amusing and interesting stories, simply because we enjoyed immersing ourselves in the world of fantasy. Besides providing pleasure, hearing stories has several benefits. It stimulates children’s minds, cultivates reading habits and increases their ability to think creatively. Despite being advantageous and captivating, new read-aloud stories are largely absent in our society. Younger people are still hearing tales, such as Kharayo ra Kachhuwa, Singha ra Musa, Dhukur ra Kamila, Kalu ra Bheda, which are marvelous but old. We can clearly feel the lack of new creations. Thus, with the aim of increasing the number of read-aloud stories and encouraging authors to write more of such stories, OLE Nepal has been conducting writers workshops. This sort of workshop had been conducted in Butwal, Pokhara, Biratnagar and Chitwan last year.

Participants were all from Nepali literature background. However, they weren’t well-versed in writing stories for children. Their target audiences were mostly adults. Hence, to make the participants understand the philosophies of writing children books, we initiated our workshop with significant presentations which eventually led to concentration on the writing styles.

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During the workshops, the brainstorming session was an interesting part where the participants had to think about the plot of their stories. To make this activity more enjoyable, we urged the participants to reflect on their own childhood experiences, identify subjects they found entertaining and base their stories on such subjects. Once the stories were completed, our team of experts along with the participants organized group discussions to evaluate the first drafts. The feedbacks and suggestions that emerged from the discussions helped in re-writing the stories. This cycle of evaluation and revision went until the best piece of work was produced. By the end of this session, we were able to produce new revised stories.

To make these narratives more engaging and imaginative, OLE Nepal will give relevant pictures to the stories making them visually appealing. Once the illustration is complete, the stories will be edited and published through our E-Pustakalaya.

 Challenges were expected. And, most of them arose from the fact that the writers were not used to children’s writing styles. It was hard to make authors write stories that touched the themes of fantasy, adventure and likewise. They mostly wrote about themes that were realistic and inclined towards giving some serious morals of life which is not really expected from story books for children. It was also challenging to make them write short stories as they were used to writing lengthy books. Furthermore, many of them wrote on a poetic prose rather than the preferred narrative prose. Nevertheless, through the dedicated efforts of OLE Nepal and our team of experts, we were able to conduct the workshop successfully. The program was highly fruitful in terms of encouraging the participants in writing more for children.

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Given their engaging potential and intellectual benefits, stories greatly improve learning experiences of young children. For OLE Nepal, which is dedicated to enhance primary level education, collection of stories provide children with wonderful options to choose from. Likewise, it will serve as another fitting medium to increase the collection of learning resources for children in our E-Pustakalaya. We eagerly look forward to organizing similar events in near future.

Preparing XO-4 Laptops For Bajhang Phase II

I enjoy watching Factory Made. I have always been keen in understanding and knowing the effort behind creation of products I use. They fascinate me. I got a chance to understand  similar creation of a product at OLE Nepal. It was to test 53 boxes of newly arrived XO-4 laptops.

It all started with an email about arrival of laptops from Mr. Upaya, our finance director at OLE Nepal stating “We are expecting 53 boxes of XO-4 laptops to be delivered probably today.” All the interns were invited to check external damage in XOs as well as to store them in a safe place. I found this to be a great activity in my learning process and skill development as an intern. Also, it gave me chance to know the laptops inside out.

 Exploring the product such as XO laptop was an extraordinary duty, for we do not easily get this opportunity. We interns got to delve into this system and prepare them for the Bajhang deployment. I feel content to realize our contribution in this process, giving students an access to digital educational resources. Saugat, Sawal and myself were assigned to test XOs’ basic hardware and update operation systems. Checking 53 boxes of XO laptops seemed never ending, but eventually it became interesting for us. Initially, we divided our work. Me and Sawal decided to unpack the boxes and test the laptops while Saugat primarily checked the charging ports of laptops along with its charger and cable. As a result of our team effort, the boxes that once seemed never ending were being tested and packed in no time.

“Damn” shouted Saugat grabbing our attention, “I just got an electric shock.” It was the first defect detected during  our testing process. This event broke the silence in the room and we started talking about childhood mishaps with  electricity. I did not have any similar story to share but was listening to their stories with great interest.

After one and half days of work, we completed checking 31 boxes of laptops leaving only 22 boxes of XOs. This time around, we could not resist but to take it easy. Sawal discovered a print mistake in keyboard. MAYOS. We figured the word was Shift in Spanish. There is a saying “If you find two mistakes in a row, you are likely to find the third one.”  Continuing our last few boxes, I finally got my share of errors. It was a non functional screen rotate key. Therefore, all faulty machines were separated in a box and we gradually ended our testing activity.

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Apart from checking the defects in the laptops, we also upgraded the operating system of the XOs for deployment. After the upgrade, operating system now provides Nepali interface along with E-paath and other necessary activities in the laptops. Initially, we interns were upgrading the XOs and eventually new volunteers for Bajhang also assisted us making it a good team effort. With helping hands, we successfully updated operating system of 260 laptops in one and half day, fully preparing the XOs for deployment.

Now these XOs are on their way to the schools and I cannot wait and see students using these laptops in my next visit to Bajhang.

Balancing the act of duty and wanderlust

It was 5 a.m. and the sound of an alarm clock woke me up. I got up, got ready, grabbed my bags, and headed to the OLE Nepal office where my colleague Deepa was waiting for me. For a head start, we had packed all the necessary equipments, laptops, stationeries and other documents properly a day before and I couldn’t help but feel content that all the things were moving as per the plan. We both were feeling robust as we picked up those heavy bags and loaded them on and off from the taxi and throughout our travel. We knew domestic flights are always late. While waiting at the lobby of the airport, listening to the music  and flight announcements both at the same time, I was trying to make a visual image of the school and the people whom I will be interacting with for the next five days. We were going for XO laptop deployment in the Arun Jyoti Primary School in kaski, Pokhara.

The librarian of the school Miss Hari Maya Neupane was waiting for us outside the airport. We engaged in a quick introduction and headed to the school. On our way, miss Hari gave us insight about the school and the library Ria’s Reading Room, which was established on a foreign aid by Wanda in the memory of her mother.

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Arun Jyoti School, Begnas, Sundari dadha, Kaski.

I was startled by the beauty of Pokhara as we reached Sundari dadha (hill) where the school was located. We could see both the Begnas lake and Rupa lake in each side, resting calmly in between those magnificent hills. We quickly unloaded all the XO laptops and all the other equipments in the library and headed out for lunch.

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View of Rupa(left) and Begnas(right) lakes from the school.

Our official interaction started with an introduction with the teachers and about XO laptops. As Deepa was conducting the session. I quickly unboxed the offline server and my tool box to set up a network. I placed the server, switch and router in a safe place, connected with RJ45 cables. All thanks to the trainings I received in the office, setting up a network was like piece of a cake. During my introduction, I used simple vocabularies to explain our technical system. I was glad to sense some enthusiasm among teachers who were listening actively.

As we learned about the absence of proper security in the school, we could not help but carry all the laptops to and fro from the librarian’s house we were living in. Despite this hassle, we were glad to see the natural beauty of Sundari dadha. Luckily, we had a room that faced the Rara lake.

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Teachers exploring XO laptops during the training

With the feel of fresh air just outside of our window, we planned our day each morning, followed by proper examination of the laptops. We were juggling our times to meet the requirements of the plan in between the power cuts and ongoing internal exams in the school. However, these early morning preparations helped us to maintain our cool in between the training hours. We basically focused on E-paath activities during power cuts and helped them understand the concept of E-pustakalaya and its use during the power available times. As a refresher to the hectic trainings, we made teachers sing their favourite local songs which they sang very happily. You can listen to them singing here.

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Deepa Thapa helping the students explore XO laptops

Another round of training was provided on the basic knowledge of operating, safekeeping and troubleshooting the XO laptops. I explained about the school server, intranet and the network in the simplest language possible. The teachers were also made to do overall process of connecting the server to its power, linking switch with the server and then to the router. This process made them more comfortable with the device and helped them understand the networking better. Following the training on the integrated teaching techniques, we also organized a micro teaching sessions of 15 minutes, where teachers used both the course books and XO laptops while demonstrating the techniques. We trained two students on using the E-Paath activities and asked them for feedback. You can watch their video here.

These five days went with the blink of an eye. The last day of the program was basically reserved for Q&A session where the teachers shared their concerns about the XO laptops. It was reassuring to see teachers fully familiar with the XO laptops. The students and teachers all gathered up to explore the green boxes full of knowledge.

Miss Hari was one of the most enthusiastic learners among the teachers. She also had an advantage of learning a bit more than the other teachers while we stayed in her home. She also took us on walks around the Rupa and Begnas lakes. We also went boating in the Begnas Lake after the training period. Hypnotized by the sun set and the overall beauty of the surrounding, it was hard for us to think of returning back. They say travelling is to go to unfamiliar places among the unfamiliar faces and to leave a part of you there among the unknown. And for us we had established a connection, not the connection of the server and the routers but a connection of hearts with the place and the people.


Farewell by Arun Jyoti School teachers

Being a computer student, all I had to do was to understand and communicate with the electronic devices and computers. After joining OLE Nepal and assisting in many field visits, my timidity has taken over by immense self-esteem and confidence in myself. I wouldn’t say that I have completely changed but the internship has definitely upgraded my skills. I have been fortunate to learn so much from this internship and about the importance of teamwork. And, not to forget about my public speaking, which has certainly improved. Now while looking back, I just cannot wait to headway with another exciting field visit.

 And that’s me with the students of Arun Jyoti School

Another interesting thing is that we only work with native English speakers, and that’s the reason why you can be sure of receiving an essay free of grammatical, stylistic, or structural errors. They not only write flawless essays, they also write keeping your instructions in mind. It means, you’re going to receive fully customized essays from us.

Something out of a science fiction

Imagine. A million bits of information hatching into life, fissioning into a billion more, flying across plains, hills and mountains. On arriving at destinations where sometimes no roads, boats or even aeroplanes can reach, every single one of the million bits manage to fall in just the right places to together make identical copies of the shell from which they initially hatched. This process of fission and subsequent fusion is happening even as we speak. These bits are spreading far and wide, creating shells of information that become knowledge for anyone fortunate enough to open them. An education epidemic growing viral far and wide, like something out of a science fiction.

Like all science fiction, this one too is a metaphor : one of the work at Open Learning Exchange Nepal. People at the office work for months to fill empty shells, E-Paatis (laptops), with bits of information, content. This information is cloned onto many more laptops and pendrives, one of which sat in my pocket and flew all the way to Solukhumbu. Our team of five — consisting of Sarina di, Tika sir, Sunil sir, Kayo and myself — carried with us the responsibility to update the existing E-Paatis of the schools. The new version of NEXO had 120 new paaths(lessons) in science and bigyan. Once update began, the cells of information in the E-Paatis turned first black and then blue and then green, and magically were ready for use. When children started accessing and eventually understanding the information stored, they became knowledgeable enough to answer the questions to the paaths they had just learnt. The sounds “thik” (correct) and “milena” (incorrect) that were once ringing in the rooms of our office were now unanimously emanating from these E-Paatis hundreds of kilometers away, telling the children if what they answered was correct or not; signals from another world.

Sarina di and I gave baseline surveys to the children to see how they would attempt to answer the type of questions one would encounter when using an E-Paati. There was a range of reactions amongst the different schools and even amongst children within the same school. There was genuine excitement, bewildered indifference, and other things in between. For example, on the question “Connect the dots to complete the picture of a cat,” some children jumped at joining the dots, an excited few totally disregarded the dots and made their own cats, a confused many complained that they did not know how to make a cat and the majority did not even attempt, let alone interpret, the questions and rather resorted to asking us for help. “Miss? Miss! Miss!!! Miss?! Miss?????? Mmm..” We often found ourselves penetrating through a hard space of earnest requests, softening confusion. It was challenging. But a lot of children, especially those from Garma, made me realize that teaching was as fulfilling as it was challenging. These children were completely absorbed in what they were doing and easily picked up any new concept that we taught them. They were like balm on wound. The wound was my own premature assumption that children in rural areas were deprived of the tools for a quality education. The balm was the realization that these children had the best tool — the want for an education.

Sarina di explaining the survey questions to the children

The surveys brought us overwhelmingly close to the children’s minds. We could almost touch their learning, play with it. We tried to give them what we could. Sometimes they took what we gave them but for the most part they did not. Their inhibitions were much too deep for us to fathom, let alone alleviate, in the one hour that we had. No matter how hard we tried,we would eventually find ourselves against a wall. We theorized, out of observation, why the wall was there: children did not attempt to read the questions; when they did, they did not understand them; when they did understand them, they did not know how to answer them and when they did know how to answer, they were not sure if they should. These children clearly felt like they did not have the right to know. The only way to deal with the theory was to deny it. That too we could not do, given the intensity with which the evidence was staring at us from every corner of the room.

We are only a retrospect away from the realms of a child’s mind because we ourselves were children to begin with. As a child, did I ever feel like I did not have the right to know? In retrospect: yes, more often than not. I think that children are so inquisitive and sharp that they can outsmart any education system. A boy in Garma asked me what 13 meant on the digital clock. I asked him what he thought. He hung his head as if in shame. I could tell that he knew the answer. I got frustrated, not for myself but for him because I knew exactly what he was feeling; the fear of being judged. After a long pause, punctuated with my goading, he finally said “1 PM!”. The question he asked was not on the survey and was probably bothering him for a while. It is sad that earlier he felt that he did not have the right to question and sadder still that when he did question, he could not jump at an answer like he ought to have.

Imagine. A super teacher that not only knows Science, Math, English and Nepali but is also diligent enough to teach a thousand students at once without compromising the quality of education she gives to any one. She has both the rigor and the vigor. She is a breacher of the classical theory that one can’t be in two places at once, a muse for quantum theorists. In any given moment, she can be in multiple locations, telling a variety of things to a variety of children. Wake her up at 2 in the morning and ask her a question that is keeping you from sleeping and Eureka! she has the answer. A genie — except that she grants unlimited wishes of enquiry and does not belong to any one master– and a very trust-worthy one at that; she does not disclose to the world the questions you ask and the doubts you have. You are spared the fright of questioning or of even answering.

Children in Dudhkunda using E-Paatis

E-Paati is a child’s wildest imagination come true. “E-Paati!” is the new “Eureka!” This is literally to say that a “Eureka! moment” translates to an “E-Paati! moment.” Children that had been using E-Paati for quite a while, especially those in Garma, seemed to associate understanding with E-Paati. For instance, children would intensely stare at their papers in a dire attempt to understand the question. When they did finally see what was being shown, they would shout “E-Paati!”. Their exclamation probably sprouted from the realization that the question was something they had seen earlier in E-Paati but they said it so often and with so much enthusiasm that one could not help but think that the word “E-Paati!” was an exclamation of understanding and learning!

Learning can be spontaneous. This is best exemplified by children that have never played with technology before but when given a new cell phone, can know the ins and outs of its functions in less than an hour. Their natural presence of mind helps them grasp new concepts without the need for any pre-requisites. My going to the schools as the children’s “Miss!” changed the way these children functioned in front of me. Like the little boy that could not confidently tell me that 13 meant 1 PM, children, I noticed, acknowledged my presence by giving me their silence and giving up their natural mindfulness. A lot of children we met did not know the name of their schools. While some did not make any effort at all to somehow get their school’s name on paper, a smart few copied the name from their own, or another’s, school sweaters; an act of spontaneous learning, of being mindful in the present with the intention of learning something right here right now. Some children could read Nepali but not comprehend it. If it was English that the children could read but not understand then I would understand. But Nepali? Isn’t hearing oneself read Nepali the same as listening to someone speak to you in Nepali? If you can converse with me in Nepali then why can’t you understand what you are reading to yourself? Why the pretense of incomprehension? These children were clearly waiting for my approval to understand.

As a kid, I had moments when I thought that it was my ignorance of certain knowledge on which the purpose of a teacher was built. As such, to know was to destroy that purpose and to not know was to respect it. My many questions and sometimes even answers have come out as nothing but silence. It probably is the positioning of a teacher and a student on a vertical plane, with the teacher at the top, that by default creates this psychology. Or maybe it is the term “teacher” itself, which wrongly defines a person as someone who teaches rather than as someone who assists a student in their personal learning. No matter what the explanation, it does not justify the relationship. I was pleased beyond measure to see that E-Paati can bring a change.

Our field visit made me see how E-Paati can help teachers help children. Children can open any activity they like and interact with it in any way they wish. After learning a lesson from a teacher, children can visit paaths they feel most inclined to visit and revisit the ones they feel are most deserving of revision. Despite of the immense power that this seemingly-a-child’s-toy possesses, it does not intimidate a child but on the contrary, motivates curiosity. The E-Paati will never say “How many times do I need to answer the same question?!” Children will finally feel like they have the right to know. As such, the E-Paatis wonderfully complement a teacher’s lesson plans. The teachers too complement the purpose of an E-Paati by helping students make effective use of it. Also, the teacher’s’ relationship with students can better once children start shedding inhibitions through their E-Paati experience which entails exploration, self-assessment and self-discovery. Win win. Such thoughts are far-fetched considering how little these schools have worked with the E-Paatis but they conjure a beautiful picture of the state of tomorrow’s education. Education can be a playground where children play free, with the teachers teaching them not what to play but just how to play safe. Each child plays a unique combination of games without feeling the need to catch up or slow down. They receive an education as unique as they are.

Imagine.

Happy classroom

Another step in the right direction

A week into my internship at OLE Nepal, I was still the newbie struggling to remember everyone’s names when I was asked if I wanted to go on the support/survey visit to Doti and Dadeldhura. Besides popping up on headlines now and then, the last time I had much interest in either of these places was when I was memorizing them for a social studies test a few years ago. I said, Yes.

Buddha Air’s flight 951 to Dhangadi took off from Kathmandu on the 10th of July, and a little birdie called the newspaper warned me of the 37 degree weather that awaited an OLE Nepal team made up of (I am tempted to write sugar and spice and everything nice) Subir Sir, Niraj, Aman and myself. With our backpacks and cables and monitors and tool boxes, we spiralled our way up the snaking road to Dadeldhura where four hours later, we reached Hotel Sunlight, perched on the appropriately named ‘Toofan Dada’. The two teams split up the next morning as Niraj and Subir Sir were dropped off near Koral to start their own adventurous set of school visits that included having to eat raw mangoes off of trees, a wild horse and long muddy walks in the pouring rain.

A view from 'Toofan Dada'

Mauwa was a two-hour drive uphill from Dipayal on a muddy, winding road and after a quick lunch at the hotel, we headed to Mahadev Primary School about 20 minutes away. The schoolrooms were isolated from the rest of the world with bare walls and little or no furniture, save for the row of laptops (XOs) on charge in the corner. Students were in class on benches or on the floor, some older kids with younger brothers or sisters on their laps.

A classroom at Janajyoti Ni Ma Vi

Chhaya Miss helped us to get the students organized for the baseline science survey. We selected 10 students each from grades 2, 3, 4 and 5 ranging from the top students to the students that weren’t doing so well. We called them into classrooms, grade 2 and 4 in one and grades 3 and 5 in another while the rest were ushered into other classes. The younger students who couldn’t yet read had difficulty understanding our different dialect of Nepali at this school so we quickly solicited the help of teachers to read out the questions. Besides having to remind them to not ask their friends for answers, the surveys went fairly smoothly. When some kids couldn’t grasp the idea of circling the alphabet options, we accepted any mark that indicated the right answer. We also introduced ourselves and explained why we were there and gave the students candy, along with asking them if they brushed their teeth and kept their nails clean and took some pictures.

Afterwards, the children lined up for their daily serving of haluwa from UN WFP’s School Feeding Program. Aman worked on the server as E-Pustakalaya hadn’t been working (the problem turned out to be the loose RAM) as I updated the laptops. As we spoke with Chhaya Miss, we learned that there had been no electricity at the school until recently because of a thunderstorm and the month-long strike in the Far-West earlier this year meant that they hadn’t had the chance to use the laptops much. When they were used though, the students were absorbed and took interest not only in the E-Paath specific to their grade but in all of them. Grade 5 students would spend time looking over grade 2 and using the ideas there in their writing. Something interesting she had noticed was that students were fighting a lot less with one another in school after they had started using the laptops.

The laptops were not being sent home during the monsoon. Five of them had screen problems and there were several broken chargers; Chhaya Miss’ guessed it was because they kept falling to the ground since the charging racks were loose. A few new students had enrolled in the school because they wanted to go to ‘the school with the computers’, while many also came for the food provided by WFP. However, though more students were coming to school, it also meant that classrooms were getting over crowded and more difficult to manage for the already scarce number of teachers. An issue brought up by Chhaya Miss was that more students go from grade 1 to 2 than students that leave from grade 5. That past year, 8 students from grade 5 left behind laptops but 38 students were now in grade two, leaving 30 kids without laptops.

The lights went out as Aman worked on the server so we took it back to the hotel to update it later that evening and Aman returned it to the school bright and early the next morning. The Sir at the school informed him that his son had rushed to brush his teeth, first thing that morning.

The hike to Bel from Mauwa involved walking into the fog down steep, rocky paths and narrow ledges on the edge of rice fields with a posse of mosquitoes following us at all times. Just another day in the life of an OLE Nepal intern! While asking for directions at every fork, for missing one would mean that we could end up on the seemingly identical–but wrong hill entirely, everyone wanted to know who we were and why we were there, if we were World Vision or if we were there to give trainings. I was accustomed to introducing myself as ‘from Nepal’ but that didn’t cut it here. We were from ‘Kathmandu’, and therefore also foreigners. At 9 am with the sun already beating down on us, we knew we were at Durga Primary School as we were greeted by the singsong voices of children reciting numbers: nine one ninety one, nine two ninety two…

Here too, E-Pustakalaya wasn’t working but was fixed fairly easily and the survey was run smoothly. Students of grade 2 struggled however, and were initially not responding to our attempt to communicate. Eventually, we ended up sitting with pairs of children and reading every question individually, and they seemed to do quite well. One question I distinctly remember a student answering after I read it out was: which option do you think is correct, only the mother working in the fields or both the mother and father working together in the fields? He circled the first option and smiled confidently. Perhaps the ‘correct’ answer was irrelevant when faced with his reality.

Students taking the survey

In Chasi, we stayed with Dhauli Miss in her home and as we ate plenty of mangoes and papaya from the garden, she told us about the women’s troubles in the village whose husbands would get drunk and give them a hard time. Her own husband, whom she called a good man, was helping her chop vegetables and was sharing his own struggles from when he worked in Malaysia for four years and his current unemployment. At her home, we had the best Aam ko Achar which we also brought back! The server at Saraswati Primary School couldn’t be updated as the ports were not functioning, so Aman, or should I say Superaman walked all the way back to Bel to attempt to update the hard drive using the server at the school there.

Saraswati school was a fifteen-minute walk uphill from Dhauli Miss’ home, made difficult by the rain. At the school, Dhauli Miss called to our attention that those who don’t get picked for the survey might take it to heart–something that hadn’t occurred to us, and devised a simple chit system to pick them so that the students see that they are picked by random chance rather than something personal about them. As I took the surveys, I had the company of a six-year-old boy who followed me around; he was mentally challenged because his parents had beat him too much as a small child. At the end of the hour, I discovered that he could write the two Nepali letters ka and ra. I watched a class where the laptops were used and students read about Devkota and listened to his poems. Some students who had forgotten theirs at home shared laptops. The students took laptops home but since it was the last day of school, they stored it in a steel wardrobe in the office, organized and with care. The server adapter had not been working since a thunderstorm, when lightning had struck the school. We replaced the adapter but the server did not work despite Aman’s efforts and we brought it back with us for further investigation.

The view from the school of the surrounding hills and the forest above it, resting on the clouds was picturesque. It was so serene and peaceful, like a little piece of some kind of paradise. But the truth was that for me, this was work in the form of a six-day adventure. For the people there, it was everyday life. The realities of our hills are harsh, and a pretty scene does not fill a hungry stomach or plow the fields or make it any easier to get to the health post. The problems are numerous, difficult, intertwined, socially complex and largely political. Seeing the laptops in these classrooms, though, reaffirmed my faith that these phucche laptops and all that is done back here at the office, were going to do wonders, opening up a whole new world to these children.

Students using XOs in class

Three and a half hours of some threateningly slippery rocks–thanks to the rain– and some down-a-hill-and-up-another-through-a-village-and-up-the-next-hill-and-down-another-some-women-offering-to-carry-me-down-in-a-doko later, we finally reached Dipayal. Elated to be back on a road wider than our shoulders, we were driven back to Dadeldhura where later than night, we were reunited with the drained Subir Sir and nearly-collapsing Niraj who had just returned from a long day of network cabling and updates at Samaijee Primary School in Haat.

We left early the next morning and drove down to Budar, and after leaving our things at the hotel, drove to Hamtad from where Subir Sir and I went to Janajyoti Lower Secondary School while Niraj and Aman waded across the river to go to Selaling Primary School on the next hill.

At Janajyoti, the surveys were the easiest to conduct and most students immediately grasped the questions.  A thunderstorm had blown the roof off of one of the buildings and eight or ten laptops had gotten wet in the rain. The teachers, as soon as they realized what had happened took out the batteries and put them to dry, after which they functioned normally. A crash course from Roshan Dai had made me a fairly competent…cable maker…so we made new cables for the school and did NEXO updates while the NEXC and NEXS updates were constantly interrupted by frequent power cuts.

Accompanied by a teacher, the Selaling team joined us soon afterwards to use our monitor because their monitor had failed them on account of the power cuts but also because it had started raining heavily, and they had to come back before the river would rise and be too difficult to cross.

What the teachers at the school did want was to meet with other teachers from schools in the area and in Doti. They suggested that OLE Nepal facilitate a meeting for teachers in the same area to exchange ideas and experiences. The teacher from Selaling told us of the attachment that students feel towards the laptops and recounted how some students had cried at the end of last year when it was time to part with the beloved XO.

We made our way back to Budar, and our driver Buddhi Dai rushed back in hopes that we would reach the hotel before the roads were obstructed by potential landslides. The next day, the flight back to Kathmandu was apparently quite eventful because of heavy turbulence and some shouting on the part of passengers (ahemniraj) but I say apparently because I, for one, was fast asleep.

Back at the office, I’m writing this blog and field visit logs and looking forward to some downtime in front of this trusty monitor! Over the last six days, we walked many paths, uphill, downhill and winding and backwards(literally–do ask subir sir for a demonstration), to make our way to each of these schools but what was important was that these were steps in the right direction.

E-Pustakalaya Installation at Moti Community Library, Phalebas, Parbat

OLE Nepal’s team met Mr. Bhola Nath Sharma during a visit to install E-Pustakalaya at Moti Community Library in Phalebas, Parbat district, and were immediately impressed by his dedication to help uplift his community. People of Phalebas have great respect for Mr. Sharma and for his contributions towards community development. Moti Community Library, Radio Parbat, Helping Hands Health Clinic and Bhawani Bidyapith H.S. School are some of the institutions he currently heads. He is in his seventies, but that has not stopped him from working day and night on community development. During our two days’ stay at Phalebas, we found him to be busy with meetings and events all day long. We often found him suggesting villagers the different ways to make Moti Community Library a self sustainable one.

Moti Community Library Building

 

Mr. Bhola Nath Sharma discussing library issues with community

This time, Bhola Jee has initiated to establish a digital library within Moti Community Library Building. Nepal Library Foundation helped in provisioning server, desktop computers and network equipments while OLE Nepal provided the E-Pustakalaya (digital library system) replete with thousands of books, educational videos, learning software, and reference materials such as the wikipedia and dictionary. OLE Nepal’s technical team of Mr. Ram Singh and Mr. Basanta Shrestha installed the digital library and gave orientation to local teachers and users on how to use this repository.

The  team reached Phalebas after a ten-hour bus ride from Kathmandu. Moti Community Library is housed in a three-storeyed, well furnished building that stood just a few meters away from a small village house which used to be old Moti Community Library. Radio Parbat, the Health Clinic and Bhawani Bidyapith School were all within 150 meters area of the Library. The Library rents out few rooms for commercial purpose to help cover the operational costs of the Library. The building also has a Bal Bikas Room for early childhood development purposes. This room has a huge collection of toys and books, and it gives a glimpse of an expensive “montessori based” schools of Kathmandu (by padilla). Books and materials in the library and “Bal Bikas” were contributed by Read Nepal and Room to Read.

The Library does not have a lot of books. But it is big, spacious and very well organized. The team installed the E-Pustakalaya server in the adjoining smaller office room. But before installing the software in the newly purchased computers, the team had to assemble tables that were still in the boxes that were shipped from Kathmandu. Assembling table was something the team was not prepared for, and it took quite a bit of effort, but we had fun doing it.

E-Pustakalaya being accessed from Linux workstations. Server and WiFi routers are also seen in the picture.

 

Mr. Basanta Shrestha showing educational videos during orientation

After completing the installation of the digital library, the team conducted an orientation program to local people. Nearly 20 people gathered in the E-Pustakalaya room for the event. Participants included librarians, school teachers and students. One distinguished participant was a famous village boy with a voracious reading habit who was known for reading 610 books from the Library in one month. The orientation briefed about the E-Pustakalaya System, followed by detailed demonstration of several sections of E-Pustakalaya. Participants were also given brief introduction of Ubuntu/Linux System and its basic operation. E-Pustakalaya server and all the workstations were installed with Linux System. Linux System are free, stable and very less prone to computer viruses.

Mr. Ram Singh posing with the famous village boy who read 610 books from the Library in one month.

One of the teachers from a nearby village got really impressed by variety of contents of E-Pustakalaya and asked how much would it cost if he wanted to do the whole setup at his school. Later, Bhola Jee pointed out the benifits of digital library to the participants. He further asked us to share the success stories of digital library in other program districts. We then gave example of Pancha School in Kapilvastu about how they are taking maximum benefit of E-Pustakalaya not only to educate students but also to promote literacy amongst mothers of the children and the whole community.

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.