A month in the life of OLE Nepal Feb-Mar 2010

Mid-February through March has been a busy time at OLE Nepal. Lots going on in the buildup to the second round of deployment.

In early March, a team consisting of officials from the Department of Education (DoE), the World Food Programme (WFP), and OLE Nepal visited program schools in Dadeldhura. The purpose of the visit was to study the feasibility of expanding the program to two more schools in the district. The team consisted of the Deputy Director of DoE Mr. Baburam Poudel, who is also the government’s focal person for the OLPC project, WFP’s Country Programme Coordinator, Ms. Pramila Ghimire, and OLE Nepal’s Executive Director, Mr. Rabi Karmacharya. The team was joined on the fourth day by the Director General of the DoE, Mr. Haribol Khanal, who took time out of his busy schedule to spend three days in Dadeldhura to gather first hand knowledge about the program. He was accompanied by the Chief District Education Officer of Dadeldhura, Mr. Ram Hari Das Shrestha. In addition to visiting one program school and one prospective school, he met with officials from the DEO to discuss ongoing education activities in the district.

Content Development: New lessons and activities have been added to E-Paath (OLE Nepal’s original lessons and activities package can be accessed at: http://www.pustakalaya.org/external-content/static/epaath/MenuStage.html) and new content has also been added to E-Pustakalaya (OLE Nepal’s education focused library can be found at www.pustakalaya.org)

Deployment: As we near the second round of deployment in April, preparatory work is underway. OLE Nepal’s enthusiastic volunteers have been spending their days at the World Food Programme office, where the XOs for this years’ deployment are housed. They have been making an inventory of all the XOs there as well as testing and tagging them. Deployment in Mustang took place end February-early March. Deployment occurred earlier there than in other schools because of the different academic cycle that the cold mountainous regions follow.

Teacher Training: Refresher training for teachers was held in Mustang between Feb 24-27. They are well into their second academic year of ICT-integrated education!

Capacity Building: A workshop was organized for Curriculum Development Centre officials on Feb 26, to primarily update them and get feedback on the latest content developments and to discuss designing comprehensive courses, with detailed guides for teachers, on integrating ICT into their regular teaching process.

Network: The network team have successfully connected all programme schools in Kapilvastu to the Internet. They are among the only schools in the district to be online. The team has also been hard at work surveying new schools to set up servers for deployment season.

*For more updates on the going ons at OLE Nepal, please visit the News and Events section of its website: http://www.olenepal.org/news_events.html

Training Manual Preparation Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from Nepal’s OLPC Deployments

Nepal’s OLPC deployments are now more than seven months old. I get a lot of questions about deployment issues and solutions. I hope the following information is helpful. First, a snapshot of our deployments:


OLE’s progress in Nepal
  • Deployments began at Vishwamitra Ganesh and Bashuki public schools on April 23rd, 2008.
  • 135 XO-1 laptops deployed to students in classes 2 and 6
  • 0 laptops stolen, lost, or otherwise missing. One laptop has been seriously damaged when the child who owned it cleaned it carefully with soap and water. Otherwise no laptops have been seriously damaged as a result of use.
  • 8 bad motherboards, 5 bad microphones, and 4 bad keyboards
  • Kids use the laptops in the classroom 1-2 periods per week
  • Most significant technical issue we have encountered is the “jumpy cursor” problem
  • Teachers, parents, and kids are quite happy with the project according to our surveys

In the Beginning: Teacher Training

We conducted four days of teacher training off-site and five days on-site in the classroom with both the students and teachers. A large portion of our teachers had never used a computer before but they learned very quickly. Their enthusiasm was amazing. Training during the off-site sessions formally ended at 5:30 pm but the teachers stayed in our training room each night until 11 pm, pounding away on the XO’s and asking endless questions.

While the teachers learned how to use the XO very quickly, I miscalculated how difficult certain actions would be for them. Specifically, it took them a while to learn “dragging and dropping” with the touchpad. Many of the best activities on the XO require serious dexterity with the touchpad such as TurtleArt, Etoys, and Scratch. For this reason we couldn’t cover these activities during training. I recommend starting teacher training with activities that do not require a lot of dexterity with the touchpad.

Keeping Kids and Laptops Safe

We were quite worried about the security of the laptops and the safety of the children carrying these expensive machines to and from school everyday. Vishwamitra and Bashuki are both in poor communities. So far our fears have proved unfounded. Not a single XO has been lost, stolen, or otherwise gone missing. I believe this is due to two factors.

  1. The children and their parents value the XO’s and protect them the accordingly.
  2. Crime in rural Nepal is low relative to other developing countries. In rural communities, everyone knows each other’s business.
Nepal olpc art
Limbu script on OLPC XO

Laptop Maintenance and Support

One of the great surprises is how little time our team has had to spend on XO maintenance and support. The XO-1 is a fantastic piece of hardware and I am convinced that anyone with a mechanical aptitude can fix 90% of the hardware problems that arise by swapping out the bad component with a good one.

The “test-all” command in the XO’s OpenFirmware is an indispensable tool. Just run “test-all” and the firmware will spit out a report indicating if any particular hardware component has failed. Unfortunately, you cannot access the firmware prompt without activating the XO with the developer key. For that reason, we requested developer keys for all of our XO’s and disabled the firmware security on each and every one.

We trained select teachers from both schools how to fix software and hardware problems. They can handle most of the hardware-related problems that come up. In my limited experience, it is feasible to train teachers how to fix hardware problems but more difficult to teach them how to fix software problems in the linux kernel or within Sugar. If a serious software problem comes up, our teachers simply reflash the stricken XO with a Nepal-specific software image that includes the standard activities.

Under Pressure: Keeping Up with the Curriculum

In OLPC-land we like to talk about lofty concepts such as constructionism, co-learning, collaboration, etc. Meanwhile, teachers at Bashuki and Vishwamitra have more pressing concerns. The Nepali system does not practice social promotion. Children have to pass year-end examinations to move on to the next grade. Nepali teachers are interested in constructionism, co-learning, and collaboration as long as they don’t hinder their students progress through the educational system. Our teachers are quite happy with the E-Paath suite of educational activities that OLE Nepal developed in accordance with the national curriculum. The real attraction of OLPC for teachers is that in class they can task students with a problem on the XO and then spend much of the period working with students that need help.

the future of nepal
XO laptops in the Nepali wild

The Missing Piece: The School Server

When we deployed the school server back in April, XS-163 was a very immature server configuration. The XS has come a long way since then under the leadership of XS architect Martin Langhoff. Then and now, the XS does not come with a content filter pre-configured. We had to spend a significant amount of time configuring Dansguardian so that it wouldn’t block a lot of good content and still block the bad stuff.

For example, “Dikshit” is a common surname in Nepal. Dansguardian will block access to news articles containing the name because it interprets the last four letters as profanity. The XS is still under heavy development and deployment teams need a significant amount of linux expertise to deploy a fully functional XS.

Top Requests from Teachers and Kids

  • Easier way to play music and video
  • A better E-Book reader
  • A lot more activities for learning English
  • All the Nepali textbooks in digital format
  • A comprehensive digital library with lots of Nepali-language reading materials
  • A Typing Tutor program for learning English and Nepali
  • Interactive learning activities that match the Nepali curriculum
  • A car racing game (the kids)

We will incorporate the lessons we have learned in these two deployment schools when we expand to 15-20 schools in 5-6 districts in April 2009. Hopefully, I will find more time to write about our experiences over the next several weeks but don’t count on it. I have been working on OLPC for more than 2.5 years and I have to say it has absolutely, positively been worth all the trouble.

Postscript: Pradosh Kharel has been working on a comprehensive Deployment Plan for Nepal. Check it out here.

Bryan Berry is the Technology Directory of OLE Nepal and deadbeat co-editor of OLPCNews.com. OLE Nepal is implementing Nepal’s OLPC deployments in partnership with Nepal’s Department of Education.