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

Refresher Training on ICT-integrated teaching Nov 2009

A residential refresher training on ICT-integrated teaching using OLPC laptops and OLE Nepal’s original content was held at the Government of Nepal’s Training Center in Rupandehi from November 22-25. In attendance were teachers and principals from three schools (Shree Pancha, Mahendra and Nepal Rashtra) and representatives from the District Education Office Kapilvastu.

DAY 1:

The training session started with the participants sharing their experiences with ‘e-paati’ (OLPC laptops or XOs) integrated teaching so far. The responses were mostly positive: attendance has been more regular, children have stopped running away after lunch break, and there has been a marked improvement and excitement in both English and Maths. They also pointed out the possibility of adult education through the laptops; one school has already been running regular classes for mothers after school. A major problem in some of the schools are language-related and the teachers were positive that Nepali activities in E-Paath will have a significant impact on the kids’ self-learning and catching up with Nepali (in the case of children whose mother tongue is not Nepali). There were some concerns regarding loss and destruction of laptops and with issues pertaining to the teachers not having the technical know-how to deal with even minor problems when they come up but the decision was unanimous: there has definitely been an increase in the gunastar (quality) of education since the introduction of the program.

The participants were given homework, to improve on a given ‘poor’ lesson plan (with each school producing one ‘strong’ lesson plan each) and also to bring their old lesson plans the following day. Just prior to the homework being assigned, a discussion on what makes good lesson plans and what must be done in planning a good lesson were discussed. These included figuring out an appropriate objective for the class, making lesson plans according to these set objectives, planning time out properly and finding relevant E-Paath activities and practicing them at least a few times before planning and seeing how they can be integrated into the regular lesson to best meet the objectives.

DAY 2:

The second day began with a discussion of previously made lesson plans by the teachers. The teachers were instructed to discuss their strengths and shortcomings and to then discuss what is already being done and what still needs to be worked on in the future.

The teachers felt that the format of the lesson plans were good and that time allocation had been done appropriately in most of the lesson plans. Also E-Paath activities had been somewhat integrated into the plans. However, they felt that many things needed to be paid careful attention to still. These included: clearly setting out the objective of the class and working towards completing it within the given timeframe, using teaching materials other than just e-paati, having a clear idea of what to do while the XOs are starting up and E-Paath is loading, clearly spelling out which E-Paath activity is being used as well as the relevant chapter in the textbook, and writing out directions for homework to be assigned. The trainers emphasized the importance of not wasting the time that it takes for the XOs and E-Paath to load, given the already tight time constraints.

Discussions on classroom management then followed. The trainers and participants discussed the importance of classroom management in ICT-integrated classrooms, to make sure the teacher is in control of what is going on, that no time is being wasted and that the students understand and follow instructions.

The conversation then turned to integrating E-Pustakalaya and its contents into the teaching-learning process. Teachers were shown how to download books, how to change their filenames and how to manage the books inside the XO. The key advantages of integrating E-Pustakalaya into the education system were then discussed: self-learning, independent inquiry, establishing of a reading culture and the ability of students to search things for themselves, like look up words in a dictionary.

DAY 3:

The participants and the trainers visited one of the schools Shree Pancha Lower Secondary School in Baijalpur on the third day. The teachers were all prepared to teach each with a lesson plan, but lots were drawn and six of them conducted test classes. The remaining participants were assigned specific classes to observe and evaluate. ICT-integrated teaching was tried out in three grades: two, three and six in Maths, Nepali and English.

DAY 4:

The group met and discussed the test classes from the previous days. Each teacher was given a chance to first evaluate their own performance and then the observers gave their comments.

Social Entrepreneur Rabi Karmacharya Reports Progress in Innovating Nepali Schools

Blogging from the Global OLE Assembly in Kathmandu, Nepal – Richard Rowe, founder of the Open Learning Exchange, puts a lot of emphasis on the need for social entrepreneurs in developing countries to catalyze a transformation in their schools. In each country where OLE is established, you will find a social entrepreneur leading the local OLE Center, bringing novel learning approaches into schools, and working with their government to scale up those innovations proven to improve children’s access to quality education.

Rabi Karmacharya, executive director of OLE Nepal, embodies this social entrepreneurship. As he opened the Global OLE Assembly here in Kathmandu this week, he denounced the fact that, while new technologies are readily used to improve finance and other business sectors, “it is unfortunate that we cannot use technology to improve the standard of learning in our schools.”

In Nepal, as elsewhere, if educational technology is used at all, it is usually targeted more at institutions of higher learning. Its use in primary schools is negligible, Rabi said.

He acknowledged that technology is only a means and not an end – then he cited some of his own “ends.” They are as sweeping as improving the quality of education and reducing the dramatic inequality between one child’s access to education and another’s. They are also as intensely practical as enabling teachers to professionally develop and collaborate with each other to improve children’s learning.

In other discussions at the OLE Assembly he and his OLE Nepal colleagues put the magnitude of the problem in stark terms. Even in the third and fourth grades, many Nepali school children “really don’t know how to read,” they said.

Over the past two years – a period Nepali Director General of Education Mahashram Sharma told the Assembly had been “remarkable” – OLE Nepal has distributed 2,000 laptops to teachers and students in 26 schools in six districts and trained 125 teachers.

But laptops make up only part of the picture. As Rabi put it: “We do not believe that handing out laptops is going to improve the quality of education. The challenge lies in successfully integrating technology into the classroom so teachers can do more and students can have a more meaningful education.”

OLE Nepal has developed content and learning activities that can be used whether a student is online, on a computer that is offline, or simply on paper. The Center works closely with Nepal’s Curriculum Development Center to align the content with government standards. In addition to such learning activities as games that teach pronunciation or addition, the Center has been making Nepali language literature available online – often for the very first time.

“Content is at the core of all the work we do,” as Rabi often says, and the current global trend toward free and open educational software and content is key to enabling OLE Nepal to do its work. The fact is that with 6.5 million primary school children in Nepal, buying 6.5 million software licenses “would be beyond what we could afford,” he said. By contrast, once OLE Nepal makes a learning activity or text available in its digital library, it is freely available to anyone who has the means to access it.

Even as he speaks of millions, though, Rabi says OLE Nepal has a very phased approach. “We cannot massively deploy from the start.” The focus so far has been on grades 2, 3, and 6. Curriculum development and content aggregation in OLE Nepal’s digital library have primarily targeted literature (to develop a reading culture in the children), art, Nepali, English, math, and teaching support materials, such as lesson plans. Interesting to note: Among the guidelines to teachers is often the advice that laptops should not dominate a lesson, but perhaps take only 20 minutes out of a 45-minute session.

Teacher training is another emphasis of OLE Nepal’s work, and the Center has been working with the Department of Education to train educators to teach in a new way. As described by Dr. Prativa Pandey, chair of OLE Nepal’s board of directors, the idea is to rely on teachers to drive education but empower students to engage in self learning as well. The kind of creativity this fosters in children is exactly what the nation of Nepal needs to build a future generation of entrepreneurs and leaders, she said.

Partnerships have been critical to OLE Nepal’s progress. In addition to its partners in the Nepal government, OLE Nepal has been strongly supported by the Danish Government and has also begun working with such partners as the World Food Programme. Internet access by the schools is made possible in part through a wireless network put up by Nepal Wireless entrepreneur Mahabir Pun.

Where does it all lead? Evaluation visits to schools began in September and will take place again in February-March, with a report expected in autumn 2010. With the documentation of the merits of OLE Nepal’s approach in hand, the Center and the government will decide whether and how this novel approach has improved students’ chances of getting a quality education – and whether the innovations that OLE Nepal has introduced into some schools and districts should be expanded to many more.

Early indications are coming in from teachers, who are asking to continue and expand their use of the program. What’s more, there are signs from the students themselves, Dr. Pandey said. On two visits to a local school – one when laptops were first in use and another six months later – she saw a marked increase in students’ confidence, she said. And this is the kind of confidence that leads to a higher level of learning, with children thinking for themselves and becoming more creative.

Even Nepalis living overseas are weighing in. Technicians tracking the online use of the OLE Nepal library and learning activities have found that many in the global diaspora are using the Nepali content to teach their children as well.

Visit OLE Nepal’s digital library, E-Library (E-Pustakalaya), at www.pustakalaya.org. Visit OLE International’s homepage at www.ole.org.

About the Global OLE Assembly
The Open Learning Exchange (OLE), an emerging global network dedicated to educating the world’s children, is holding its first meeting of educational innovators from across the developing world in Kathmandu on November 2 to 7, hosted by OLE Nepal.

Among those attending have been Mahashram Sharma (Director General of Department of Education); Lawa Dev Awasthi (Joint Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Education); Haribol Khanal (Executive Director of Nepal’s Curriculum Development Center); Prativa Pandey (Chairperson of the Board of Directors of OLE Nepal and Chair of the opening session); Richard Rowe (Founder and CEO of OLE International) and members of his team; Kedar Bhakta Mathema (Former Vice Chancellor of Tribhuvan University and the Chief of the advisory board of OLE Nepal); Rabi Karmacharya (Executive Director of OLE Nepal) and members of his team; and representatives from OLE Centers and partners in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Rwanda, and other countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America.

Global OLE Assembly Opened by Social Entrepreneurs and Government Officials

Kathmandu, Nepal – The opening sessions of the first Open Learning Exchange Global Assembly took place on November 2 at the Everest Hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal. Among those in attendance were Mahashram Sharma (Director General of Department of Education); Lawa Dev Awasthi (Joint Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Education); Haribol Khanal (Executive Director of Nepal’s Curriculum Development Center); Prativa Pandey (Chairperson of the Board of Directors of OLE Nepal and Chair of the opening session); Richard Rowe (Founder and CEO of OLE International) and members of his team; Kedar Bhakta Mathema (Former Vice Chancellor of Tribhuvan University and the Chief of the advisory board of OLE Nepal); Rabi Karmacharya (Executive Director of OLE Nepal) and members of his team; and the representatives from the various OLE Centers around the world participating in the conference.

The first session began with the ceremonial lighting of the panas by the chief guest, Education Director General Mahashram Sharma. OLE Nepal’s Executive Director Rabi Karmacharya then delivered his welcome remarks. He highlighted the significance of education for “sustainable development, a vibrant economy, an equitable and just society, lasting peace, communal harmony, and international understanding.” He also spoke of the unique opportunity that this global assembly provides for collaboration on education endeavors and for mutual learning between the participants in order to truly tackle the challenges we all face in fostering responsible, skilled, and educated citizens of the world. He expressed pride in Nepal being chosen as the venue for the first OLE global assembly, in recognition of the achievements that have been made by the OLE Center here. He emphasized the importance of viewing “technology as a means, but not an end in itself,” adding that the project in Nepal is not just a computer project but an attempt to use technology in the teaching-learning process to deliver quality education, making content creation and teacher training indispensable parts of the entire process. Finally he reasserted his belief that we can ensure each child quality basic education. “Ambitious? Yes. But not impossible,” he concluded.

Director General Mahashram Sharma welcomed the participants of the conference on behalf of the Government of Nepal’s Ministry of Education and the Department of Education. He spoke of the close working relationship that OLE Nepal and the Government of Nepal have established in implementing the project here in Nepal. He commended OLE Nepal’s efforts in creating child friendly learning materials and in teacher preparation and training to nurture “creative, knowledgeable, and skillful citizens.” He also highlighted the very significant “paradigm shift” that this project has triggered, in the role of teachers changing from “instructors” to “facilitators,” allowing for more self learning and creative growth among school children.

Open Learning Exchange International Founder Richard Rowe highlighted that there is much that can be learned from OLE Nepal, which he believes is emblematic of the model that is being implemented in other countries with OLE Centers. Within this model, three factors are instrumental in making a project like this successful, all of which OLE Nepal has been able to put together: leadership by a social entrepreneur, a committed and supportive board of directors, and a strong relationship with the local government, which is necessary to achieve educational transformation on a large scale. He stressed that OLE Nepal and its partners have shown that universal basic education can be achieved. Open Learning Exchange’s goal is to have 100 centers established worldwide following this model by the year 2015. Rowe also briefly spoke about what OLE does for its centers: helping new centers implement funding; building tools, such as the Billion Kids Library, that are freely available for use by all the centers; and enabling a global exchange of knowledge and experience among OLE Centers. He highlighted that the Assembly can act as a forum for the centers from around the world to discuss how they might use the Open Learning Exchange as a resource, what they can contributed to it, and how they would like to see it evolve.

On the first day, the Assembly focused on the need to create content and help teachers with their professional development as laptops and handheld devices are being increasingly used by teachers and students in developing countries.

“Content is at the core of all the work we do,” said OLE Nepal’s Rabi Karmacharya. He cited as examples OLE Nepal’s rollout of new Nepali-language learning tools for primary school mathematics and its close collaboration with the Ministry of Education on teacher training. Among the presentations from other countries, OLE Rwanda director Jacques Murinda described his center’s work to localize content from South Africa and digitally distribute it in Rwanda – whether for use on paper, on laptop, or on a handheld device. Yamandú Ploskonka, head of OLE Bolivia, spoke of his center’s work to translate educational materials into Aymara, a widely used indigenous language.

About OLE Nepal
OLE Nepal (www.olenepal.org) is non-governmental social benefit organisation that has been working in partnership with the Government of Nepal to develop high-quality interactive digital learning materials, maintain a web-based education focused library for students and teachers, build the Nepali government’s capacity to independently develop, enhance, and maintain ICT-based teaching-learning materials at the primary and secondary school levels, and implement a plan to provide universal access to primary school level ICT-based teaching-learning materials by 2015.

About OLE International
OLE International (www.ole.org) helps connect and equip social entrepreneurs in OLE Centers around the world, enabling them to demonstrate educational innovations, document their effectiveness, and work with governments to scale them to reach all children. It is a US social benefit organization, based in Boston, Massachusetts.

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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.

My first three weeks with OLE Nepal

After three weeks in Kathmandu, volunteering for OLE Nepal, my impression of the project can be summed up in one word: wow!

Before coming to Kathmandu, my knowledge of OLPC and the XO was limited to what I had read in the news. I really have learned much in the last three weeks. My first lesson was that OLPC is not an implementation organization. Don’t get me wrong, the development and distribution of an affordable laptop is great. It’s the XO that initially drew me to OLE Nepal, however, there is so much more to the OLPC model than the XO.

My second area of learning involved the current situation of education in Nepal. Through discussions, reading, and a trip out to Bishwamitra, it became ever apparent how desperate the situation actually is. There are many problems, ranging from infrastructure, physical structures, and a lack of funding which leads to a lack in teaching resources.

At Bishwamitra, I did not see a single book. Coming from a liberal arts background, this is indicative of a great problem. While much learning occurs through video and interpersonal communication, my personal experience has taught me that the best way to learn subjects such as history and social sciences is through reading – something that is hard to do without books.

Thankfully, one of the primary elements of the OLE Nepal project is an electronic library. Sure enough, this library will take a great deal of time to compile and refine in addition to solving some technical issues, but I have little  doubt that a large gap will increasingly be filled with the distribution of XOs with access to the OLE Nepal e-library.

While I have only learned a fraction of what there is to know about OLPC and OLE Nepal, I do think I am starting to “get it,” and in getting it, I am grateful to be working this summer at OLE Nepal. There is so much potential, and an even greater need. Hopefully, I will be able to add at least a little to this wonderful cause.

Doug Mayeux