Better and Faster OLPC laptops

We are excited about moving to the new XO-4 laptops for upcoming deployments. XO-4 uses power efficient processor based on ARM technology and has expanded storage space. It has the same sturdy design as its predecessors that have earned a reputation for durability and withstood heavy usage by students in rural schools in Nepal.

In mid-February, OLPC sent us an XO-1.75 which is based on same architecture as XO-4 for testing purposes. We were worried to learn that there was no public support of Flash for this architecture since OLE Nepal has invested heavily in Flash. We have over 500 interactive learning modules develop ed on Flash that children in Nepal use to learn various concepts. Not only that, other educational activities in our digital library, E-Pustakalaya, like the British Council’s “Learn English Kids” and “E-Learning for Kids” are also based on Flash.

(We tried other platforms to develop on, but Flash provided us an environment where we could quickly create interactive activities. Later when we learned that Flash was not being supported by many vendors, we were well on our way to build our framework on it and it was too late to switch to other platforms)

Fortunately, with the help of OLPC we managed to run Flash on XO-1.75. This was a major relief for us. Besides that, the performance of new XOs is extremely better compared to the previous versions. Now we are setting up new build system for new XOs which will be deployed this summer.

Doti school networking

After a long wait networking at Doti finally started in mid of November 2011. Initially, it was planned for June/July 2011. But heavy downpour and poor weather conditions made it impossible to work during monsoon season. All the equipments required for the networking were already in place and had been moved to the World Food Program Dadeldhura office by the end of June, making travel much lighter and hassle free (even then our luggage was overweight by 15 kg, but we were able to convince airport crew about our project and didn’t have to pay for the extra weight).

With detail plan and preparation, networking team (Ram Krishna Singh and Basanta Shrestha) boarded Buddha Airways for Dhangadhi on Nov 18th. At Dhangardi, in hazy evening we strolled down in search of iron poles required to hold antenna in place and make them stable. One of the main reason of unstable Internet connections in the existing schools and relay points at Dadeldhuda, we found, was due to the constant wavering of the antenna position. This time, with these poles in  relay points and schools, we wanted to negate this effect to large extent. At Puri Suppliers, Chauraha we bought around 35 ft of iron pipes and had them cut to pieces, of required length. We walked back to hotel discussing next day’s plan.

At Silugadi, our first task was to get new ADSL line from Nepal Telecom Office. Before getting a line, we talked to a NT staff, who had agreed to put relay at his home in our survey visit. But to our surprise and dismay, he started asking for personal favor. We were in no position to meet his demand and instantly started working on alternate plan. Fortunately, near by Ncell tower, there was a FM station, Saileshwori FM, with ADSL line.  We approached them and discussed about possibility of sharing the ADSL line. Station manager was very excited about our OLPC project and  was more than happy to help us for which he thought is noble cause. After meeting, Basanta started his at FM station, and I walked to the Ncell tower to manage a separate power line for our antenna.

Ncell tower supervisor, Besh Raj, was waiting for us at Silugadi tower.  We asked him if he can arrange a helper to fix antenna at Ncell tower. Besh Raj was very amicable and managed one college student Lokendra, who later on turned out to be a very quick learner and remained with us for good 10 days. With the help of Lokendra, we fixed two antennas at Ncell tower, Silgadi one pointing towards Khatigaun Ncell tower and other to Mauwa relay point. Satisfied with day’s work we went back to lodge [Lord Buddha] where we have set up our base.

Early in the morning, Lokendra showed up in the lodge with his friend Basanta and we were team of four. After an hours drive from Silgadi, we reached Khatigaon  and fixed two antennas in Ncell tower one pointing Silgadi and other to Mahadev school relay house. Another major relay point was Ncell tower at Mauwa VDC. After long discussion, we planned to connect Mauwa relay point to Silgadi first, then connect Khatigaon to School Relay house later, and accordingly headed towards Mauwa.

Near by Mauwa Ncell tower, in the direction of Silgadi, there was small hillock which blocked clear visibility of Ncell tower at Silgadi. But we kept working hoping that it won’t affect much. By this time, WFP staff Rajan Khatiwada got so much interested in our work that he started climbing up and down the Ncell tower(which normal people including me would not dare) and fix the clamp and antenna. After completing setup we tried connecting it to Silgadi relay point, but it didn’t work out. Tried all the tricks but in vain. Tired and frustrated we all came back to local lodge “Nawaraj Ko Hotel”. One good thing about this lodge is it’s food. Highly recommended lodge to be in if you ever happen to visit this place.

Next, we sent Lokendra to Silgadi end to fine tune antenna while we stayed back. There was load shedding in Silgadi and couldn’t test connection till afternoon. We fine tuned antenna at both end but still there was no sign of any connection. At this point, we cursed ourselves for not learning  “Radio Mobile” software and checking the viability of connection in this software before implementing it.

Radio Mobile is a free and powerful tool used to predict the performance of a radio system. It uses digital terrain elevation data for automatic extraction of path profile between an emitter and a receiver. This data is added to system, environmental and statistical parameters to feed the Irregular Terrain Model radio propagation model. Elevation data is also used to produce virtual maps in background. Radio Mobile  can be used to plot coverage and design radio links. It is able to create plot that is as accurate as the plot from expensive commercial packages used by my hardware vendors.

Lesson learnt, from now on, we will make sure that performance and viability of connection of the radio system in Radio Mobile is checked prior to its implementation.

Here we were on the 7th day(25th Nov) of the actually planned 12 days trip with nothing working on our favour. We haven’t connected even a single relay point, forget about the schools. Team members, specially Basanta, was having sleepless night with constant coughing. Frustration and fatigue started showing up in the form of irritation and differences among the team member even in minor issues. In the evening, wearing long faces, we were shambling around the Mauwa tower and approached to near by hillock to have a view towards Silgadi. To our surprise and entirely unexpected, Silgadi relay point and both schools Sri Saraswati & Durga Primary were visible from this vantage point. Suddenly with renewed hope we discussed connecting Saraswati and Durga school with Silgadi via Khatiwada gaon and Bajh ko Mod relay points. With this new plan and little remaining hope, we came back to Silgadi, arranged necessary equipments for new Khatiwada relay point and Saraswati Primary School. We called and explained our new plan to Shiva Raj Khadga sir from Saraswati and asked to make necessary arrangement accordingly.

Next day, before heading to Khatiwada gaon, we fine tuned the antenna, checked and reconfirmed the connection at Silugadi tower. After 2 and half hours walk, we reached the destination. After short discussion and agreement with principle at Shree Devi school at Khatigaon, we used this point as one of the relay point as we had planned the previous day. With clear line of sight and shorter distance, connecting these two points were pretty easy.

After successful connection, I left Khatiwada gaon for Silgadi early in the morning, picked up the necessary equipment and headed towards the “Bajh ko Mode” relay point. By mid day, I was there at the Bajh, but to our utter dismay, there was no electricity in that location which could power our relay point. After much dialogue and considerations among team members and teachers, we decided to use Khema[Principle, Durga Primary School] madam’s house as a relay point. By this time, Basant was working at Saraswati school and had completed installation at his end. With little fuss, we were able to connect Khatiwada relay point and Saraswati school. Heart full of thanks goes to Shankar Khadga sir, principle from Saraswati Primary School, for all hard work and effort he has put in, in installing relay point at Khema mam’s place. Basanta went and connected Durga school to Saraswati School without much complain. Mission accomplished. With this success, we were gaining back our confidence and lost vigor. We had at least something to show and report at office.

Finally, with much relief and day’s work we walked down to the village to watch Bhauwa Dance with free flowing Theula.

With hangover and Bhauwa tune still lingering in our head, we contacted OLE Office, updated our status and discussed about possibility/viability of connecting Mahadev school, with 8 relays in between, to source at Silgadi. After much analysis and consideration, we decided not to connect Mahadev School for timebeing.

There still were some works left to be done before returning back to Dadheldhura. The antennas those were mounted at Mouwa and Khatigaun Ncell tower had to be dismantled and taken back along. The following day we called for WFP vehicle from Dadheldhura, picked up our local antenna mount expert Lokendra from his college at Silgadi and went to Khatigaun to dismantle the antenna. We set out for Dadeldhura at about 3 pm. Our arrival to Tufaan Danda was delayed by an hour because on our way back the road was blocked because of an accident between a truck and passenger Jeep. It was very difficult to figure out whose mistake was it but as it was apparent, the truck had gone out of its way and hit the jeep.

The following days we visited schools in Haat, Hamtad and Budum, updated the softwares on laptops and school servers and maintained their school network.

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.

SchoolTool packaging for NEXS

SchoolTool is a suite of free administrative software for schools. Since it can be installed easily and used with no licensing fees, SchoolTool can be used by schools for a single purpose, by individual teachers or small teams within schools, or as a whole-school comprehensive student information system, encompassing demographics, gradebooks, attendance, calendars and reporting. (Source:

In our continual effort of improving our systems and providing tools to support digital education, we were presented with a new requirement — providing schools a software based tool for classroom management and grading. After evaluating a few available tools, we encountered SchoolTool which was the foremost candidate meeting most of our criteria:

  • Web based
  • Different user levels: admins, teachers, students
  • Student information system
  • Calendars
  • Attendance
  • Grading
  • Localizable
  • Open Source

Though being the right candidate, SchoolTool had a few of the shortcomings for us — the tools is readily available (as a set of installable package) for Ubuntu only and had a lot of dependencies. As our plan to integrate the tool in the NEXS (School Server software based on Fedora Linux) infrastructure, a lot of packaging work had to be done, which included:

  • Developing a hierarchy of dependent packages for schooltool and its plugins.
  • Finding source tarballs for each packages.
  • Writing RPM spec files for each package and build binary RPMs against the spec.
  • Testing the setup.

It was daunting to perform all of the tasks manually, so we followed a semi-automatic approach — a script based automation and manual intervention where necessary. But writing spec files for building RPM packages for each dependency had to be manual, meanwhile a difficult task as well. Hopefully, we need not have to author spec files for around 80 dependencies; thanks to Robin ‘Cheese’ Lee for writing a few of them. Nevertheless the rest of them had to be authored, built against and tested; and it took us a good time performing these tasks iteratively until we arrived a stable stage. Now we are ready to pilot SchoolTool (localized in Nepali) in a few of the OLPC deployed schools.

We have built binary RPM packages for Fedora 13 and Fedora 9, for both 32 and 64 bit architectures. Additionally to encourage developers to test their own builds and to contribute in porting the tool to Fedora based distributions, we have made the packaging sources available under non-restrictive license. If you would like to test my builds, the RPM repository is hosted at Also there are ready to use repo files for Fedora’s yum package manager. To set up the repository:

The packaging sources (spec files and patches) are available at my git repository at We would like to see more people testing our builds and our specs and reporting back bugs. HAPPY TESTING!!

E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel

The E-Pustakalaya team met with the E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel for the second time on July 12, 2010.

Some very interesting ideas transpired. On the issue of copyright, E-Pustakalaya was advised to allow exclusive licenses according to the wishes of authors and publishers apart from the general creative commons license E-Pustakalaya uses for materials already available in the public domain. It was also decided that the E-Pustakalaya web page would have a section that features information on Authors/Publishers and their works, which will further promote their contributions to the digital library.

Also given the dearth of adolescent/young adult literature in Nepali, OLE Nepal will be one of the first organisations to hold a writers’ workshop targeted specifically towards the creation of such literature. The workshop will include introductions by child psychologists, teachers and parents, to help suggest themes and issues relevant to young adults today. This will be followed by a multi-day workshop headed by the E-Pustakalaya Advisory Panel members. The resulting works, if up to mark, will be published electronically on E-Pustakalaya.

The Advisory Panel members also presented their must have book lists for E-Pustakalaya. The library team was also advised to contact the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) who have produced a must have children’s literature list of their own consisting of some 50 titles. OLE Nepal is working on adding these works to the library.

Finally, OLE Nepal is moving ahead with plans to make audio books for its E-Pustakalaya. This is a niche that E-Pustakalaya being a digital library can easily fill and make available on a large scale. They will be useful for students at our programme schools as well as to Nepali parents around the world who are constantly looking for materials in Nepali so their children growing up abroad can still read, write and understand Nepali. The first audio books will be made with poems by Ram Babu Subedi and stories by Dhruva Ghimire, both prominent writers in the world of Nepali literature.