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.