Pustakalaya in our hands

It is very hard to tell when and how the idea to create a mobile application for our E-Pustakalaya started. However, it certainly was the advantage of applications alike these being handy, easy and accessible that attracted us towards creating one for our E-Pustakalaya. This application would give direct and free access to the massive collection of books for avid readers and book enthusiasts. It would satisfy our goal of making the books available to many users as possible.

So it started and we developers of OLE Nepal got a new thing to learn about. Oh yes! We were all very excited about the app. Utility software we used for app development – Android Studio, was in beta version, but this Integrated Development Environment (IDE) was a great tool and we coded our app in this version. We remember there being two or three design proposals for how the app would look like, before we finalized one.

First, application programming interface (API) was created which would be used by our application to connect with the server and extract the required information to be displayed on the app. The development of the client side (mobile) application was conducted simultaneously. The difficult part was to understand the database of the books in E-pustakalaya. It really took us significant amount of time to figure that out.

After a months time, we had one more friend joining our team for its development. Now there were three excited ones ready to bring the app down to the android mobile. The application was growing faster and smoother. It started to babble and communicate with the server for what it required. It was definitely growing beautiful.

Almost ready to be deployed to the play store, we had developed a fully functional E-pustakalaya app which could now get the E-pustakalaya library to small handheld android devices (by padilla). Users now would be able to explore the library under seven different categories, Arts, Literature, Course Materials and number of subcategories under each of them. Also the list of the books were sortable ascending or descending based on author, date and name.
 

Category

Categories with expandable Subcategories

We also added a search feature to the app which would be beneficial for users to find the books using keywords. Home screen displays three other useful categories which would show featured, user downloaded and latest books from the library.
 

Main page

Main page view


 

The user interaction of the application is practically standard which assures our users an easy navigating system. We had options on how to access the library online via “pustakalaya.org”, offline via school server  and some other internet protocols which could server the library content. Now, there is one more easy option added to the list.

 

Settings

Settings

 

A single banook selected can show you important details including name of the book, author’s name, book size (units referring memory size for storage), brief summary about the book, etc. A download button is shown if the book is not already downloaded, else option to open or delete the book are shown.

 

Book Details

Book Details Section

Thanks to all our OLE Nepal team who helped us test it, by allowing to install the application on their devices and to spot any bugs. Moreover, there were many fixes and improvements during the testing phase which made the app more mature in compare to other android applications on the galaxy of Google play store.

There are plans to upgrade our app with more interesting features in coming days. Do explore our “E-Pustakalaya” app and give us feedback on interesting features that can be added to the application.

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.

Young Adult’s Literature: Seminar


As mentioned in an earlier post (http://blog.olenepal.org/index.php/archives/377), OLE Nepal has started the initiative to create content suitable for Young Adults. As a first step, a seminar was organized on the 22nd December, 2010 in Kathmandu to discuss the various issues, problems, and challenges faced by young adults in everyday life. The seminar was attended by eminent authors, artists, teachers, students, social workers, parents and others related to the literary field.

The program began with OLE Nepal’s Founder and Executive Director Mr. Rabi Karmacharya welcoming the guests and giving a brief introduction on OLE Nepal’s pioneering activities in ICT-integrated education. This was followed by a short demonstration of the digital library, E-Pustakalaya. Then Prof. Churamani Bandhu, a prominent writer and a member of OLE Nepal’s digital library advisory panel, presented a paper on the state of young-adult literature in Nepal. This was followed by another panel member and prolific author, Mr. Vinaya Kasajoo, shedding light on the importance of young-adult literature, as well as on various issues such as youth psychology, emotional state, and socio-psycho-economic factors affecting the youth of today. Then the floor was opened to all participators to share their thoughts on what the writers should address on this new genre of literature.

Founder and Executive Director Mr. Rabi Karmacharya welcoming guests

Mr. Ganesh Ghimire describing features of E-Pustakalaya.

All participants agreed that there is a dire need for literature content that is created for young adults. Several participants suggested that topics such as one’s growing sexuality and experience with drug usage during adolescence should be addressed in stark contrast to the traditional approach in Nepali society of not discussing such issues. Many youths today are addicted to drugs such as marijuana, brown sugar, lsd, sniffing glue (huffing glue) and acid. This has come about due to consumer goods such as glue being easily available in the market and pharmaceutical products being sold without prescriptions.

The older generation seem to have been caught unaware of this development. They tend to regard cough medicines as only medicine and do not recognise the danger of their children ingesting such pharmaceutical drugs in large quantities. While Young Adults tend to be aware of a drugs ability to get them high they do not understand the dangers that come along with ingesting products which is easily found in their household medicine cabinets. Regarding sexuality, participants opined that since girls discover that their physical changes occur faster than that of boys their age, it is important to make girls aware that such changes are not unnatural. Without much information nor adults who they can turn to for answers, girls are more likely to be introverted as well as become victims of bullying and eve teasing. These changes, coupled with the existent gender discrimination girls face in Nepal, means that adolescence is the most difficult period for a girl to come out of without being mentally and emotionally scarred.

Prof. Dr. Churamani Bandu presenting his working paper

As marginalised genders’ get empowered it is also important that we prevent violent backlashes against them. Young Adult literature should deal with complicated issues such as third gender and importantly how they fit into our society. YA literature is a new genre thus, it has the capability to break away from the traditional boy-girl relationship or the old concept of what it is to be a woman or a man. It was also made clear that while presenting such social issues, literature should create an atmosphere which is not too far from reality. Old authors may not understand how new technologies and greater access to consumer goods have affected today’s youth. New age problems such as cyber bullying, perils of amateur pornography and sharing others’ private information on social networks need to be kept in mind.

Mr. Vinaya Kasajoo moderating the seminar.

Others pointed out that there is a real need for historical fiction. Many young adults struggle with identity crisis; on the one hand they believe they are adults, yet adults around them treat them as children. This coupled with a lack of historical knowledge tend to have negative affect on teen aspirations and spirits. Few teachers present in the seminar felt that knowledge of historical figures should be depicted in the literature so that young-adult readers not only feel a sense of patriotism, but also have proper role models they can look up to. Further, such historical content will help put the achievements of young adults in perspective.

Participants of the Young Adult Literature Seminar

Many of the social workers present pointed out that teenagers tend to be rebellious by nature. They tend to commit illegal acts by making graffiti in public areas, using firecrackers and attempting other acts of vandalism. This type of rebellion is caused by their frustration at not being taken seriously by adults in authority. It has been found that a well reasoned response go further than just telling teenagers what it is they can and can’t do. In this way literature should allow them to better deal with these emotions and show them alternative paths where they could direct these energy for constructive purposes.

The information and suggestions collected at the seminar will be used in the young-adult literature writing workshop that will soon be organized by OLE Nepal.

Nepali Young Adult’s Literature: Content Creation Project

OLE Nepal has started an ambitious project to create content relevant to Young Adult (YA) in Nepali literature. Over the span of two years we spent collecting and archiving work of Nepali literature, we realized that there was a real dearth of literary materials for YAs between the ages of eleven and eighteen. After a number of discussions on this topic, E-Pustakalaya’s Advisory Panel met on November 30, 2010 at OLE Nepal office to plan the content creation process to meet the literary needs of teenagers in Nepal.



E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel meeting to discuss Young Adult literature workshop

From L to R: Bishwambhar Chanchal, Vinaya Kasajoo, Geeta Keshary, Churamani Bandhu, Rambabu Subedi and (not seen Dhruva Ghimire)

The panel decided that we need to better understand the social and psychological issues relevant to Nepali youth before starting the content creation process. OLE Nepal will be organizing a day-long seminar on December 22, 2010 at the Russian Culture Centre to discuss the areas that should be addressed by this project. With our target audience narrowed down to students who have just finished their School Leaving Certificate exams (grade 10), we hope that the literary that will eventually be produced will address key social issues regarding this challenging period in a teen’s life.

The seminar will be attended by authors, illustrators, teachers, authors and students. Two papers, one on the importance of YA literature in Nepal and another one on current styles and popular techniques used in YA literature around the world, will be presented by Prof. Churamani Bandu and Mr. Vinaya Kasajoo respectively. After the paper presentations, participating teachers and students will discuss their real life problems while dealing with or being an adolescent. We believe this preliminary seminar will provide the necessary literary spark and base to aspiring authors present at the seminar. They will then be able to bring these ideas with them to the writer’s workshops conducted at a future date.

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

Innovation in Education (OLPC implementation in Nepal)

Innovation in Education

Since its inception in 2005, the One Laptop Per Child Program (OLPC) with its $200 XO laptop has simultaneously sparked excitement and hype as well as controversy, particularly within the realm of educational discourse. After all, in OLPC chairman Nicholas Negroponte‘s own words, “It’s not a laptop project. It’s an education project.” In Nepal, Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) has created its own model. Instead of simply distributing XO laptops to children, the organization has taken matters a step further by creating original digital learning activities directly supplementing the current national educational curriculum, training teachers to use the new resources to best effect and creating a digital library with a wide range of educational materials before finally distributing the laptops in public schools all over the country. What they are doing in Nepal, in the systematic manner that it is being done, in conjunction with the government, is the first project of its kind and its success could inspire countries around the world to adapt the model to fit their own requirements.

With the start of the new academic year, OLE Nepal is in the midst of deploying nearly 1800 laptops in 26 schools in 6 districts around the country. The deployment was preceded by a series of district-based teacher training program on the basic functionalities of the laptop and how best to use it within a classroom. A detailed teacher-training guide as well as individual lesson plans and guidelines are available for teachers for each of the learning activities known as E-Paath (try E-Paath online or by downloading at: http://www.olenepal.org/e_paath.html). The laptop and the digital activities in no way intend to replace regular teaching but to complement it instead. E-Paath consists of both lessons and exercises. Students can use the lessons to revisit a lesson already taught by a teacher and use the exercises to deepen their understanding of the material studied. The machine, tailor made to fit educational needs, encourages ‘active learning’ drawing children and teachers away from traditional rote learning methods to learning by doing, hearing and seeing.

OLE Nepal has also created a digital library, E-Pustakalaya (www.pustakalaya.org), which adds an entirely different dimension to the work it is doing. In addition to allowing children to visualize what they’re learning, with E-Paath, the library provides children with a repository of information (materials on health, the environment, education, literature, etc) that they can visit and revisit searching for and reading up on topics that may interest them, ultimately helping them become independent critical thinkers and information seekers.

It is natural for some people to be skeptical about something so new and seemingly counter intuitive; how can spending money on laptops be justified in developing countries where basic needs, like food and clothing, aren’t being met? The initial investments in laptops may seem extravagant and unjustified at first, but on closer inspection it is clear that the possibilities for information sharing and empowerment are limitless. The potential achievements of a program like this reminds us of the old adage “give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” Education is undoubtedly an integral part of all development models today. Even the biggest critics of formal education would be hard pressed to argue that education in some form is not essential for development. If education is so essential, then logic demands that giving the very best education possible must be a priority for effective development. The model being implemented by OLE Nepal both bolsters the current education system as well as aims to bridge the gap in access to information between different socio-economic realities. The success of the project will bring the students from different backgrounds in Nepal to a much more level playing field than before. If we are to make progress in leaps and bounds, we must focus on treating problems rather than just washing away the symptoms and this project aims to do just that.

Astha Thapa

This article is from the June issue of UNWO’s The Mirror.