Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well we've started training the students this week, and it's going very well. They are outrageously excited with the computers even though it's moving very slowly.
Day one: We introduced the computer to them. We showed them how to turn the computers on and how to open them. (the ears on the XO provide quite a challenge to the uninformed opener) We continued on to tell them about how you can't wash the computers like clothes, and how in general getting them wet is a bad idea, although the computers were designed to be water proof in rain. Finally we talked to them about keeping them clean and generally how these XOs need to be taken care of as they are very precious and will (hopefully) play a large part in improving their education in the future.

Day two: The girls were having a lesson on how to avoid rape and general lady's hygiene and safety, so we took the day off. It's hard for girls in public education anyway, so we thought it important to avoid them getting behind the rest of the class.

Day three: We began with teaching the program Write which is a basic Microsoft Wordesque program. Once we told them about how a key corresponds with a letter on the screen and that the blinking cursor is where the letter will appear, we told them to type a sentence. They all typed the tried and true expression, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." Introducing a capital letter for the opening T was difficult and in general the shift key is a tough one for them to get used to. The space bar was a quick pick up but most words had somewhere between 2 and 10 spaces separating them. We ended by centering "THE UGANDAN NATIONAL ANTHEM" and then had them write the first verse using punctuation like exclamation marks, commas, periods, and using the return key to separate each line. Some are learning faster than others, but having multiple teachers in the rooms helps a lot because with out a projector, and with 80 kids in each of the two classes that are taught simultaneously, personal aid is often necessary.

Day four: We taught them how to use the calculator and all in all this went well and they caught on quite quickly although learning the symbols on the keyboard, combined with further lessons in the ever difficult shift key brought some problems to the table. Regardless this lesson went well, although by the end of the day the kids had learned how to open up other programs and this led to a whole mess of questions about the camera, the music programs, one program where a man on the computer speaks what you type, and a few kids who found the computer programming applications were very insistent that I teach it to them immediately. There was no way to even begin with that especially the Terminal program, and Pippy, which are two of the more complex programs. They were disappointed that I was unable to teach them programs that are over my head in the last 5 minutes of class, but it shows curiosity, and desire to learn. Hopefully we'll be arriving there in the future.

Today (Day 5): We will teach them Record which is the camera program. We will have to talk to kids about the importance of not making pornography which may seem obvious, especially with them being in Primary 5 (Fourth Grade), but the parents when we talked to them were concerned about this, and with fair reason as girls start to drop out from pregnancy starting at about this age. I have high hopes for today although I predict they will overload the computer with the mass of photographs and video they will take, so necessary precautions will be told to them before we begin. Unfortunately I, Ian Wrangham, am sick today so I will be taking a day off and trying to recover quickly so I can be back at school on monday with ample energy and vigor. At least it gave me time to update my faithful readers.

(Please post any questions you have in the future)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A little catch up...

Well I hope we haven't lost all of our devoted readers in the month in which we didn't post, but just like Twilight Princess, you're anticipation and dedication to this blog shall be valiantly rewarded:

Well our project is underway. We returned from Kigali, Rwanda two weeks ago after a long drive. For Mathew and Frances it was their first time out of Uganda, and they enjoyed being to a new country. The training session went well, although, at times it was long, it was always worthwhile, and we all met some great people. Going to the political conference on one of the earlier days was a little exhausting but instilled a lot of hope in myself and the other members of my team in the project, and what we need to do this summer, and it was great to see the international support for this project. It gave me a lot of confidence in the OLPC as an organization, and the ability that they have to revolutionize youth learning.

Having returned to Uganda our main concerns for our deployment were power and networking, as we all have minimal to no experience with both. Power was soon resolved and networking went surprisingly and extraordinarily well. The training session for the teachers was a bit more difficult. They all seemed very excited, but as we were only dealing with one year (Primary 5) some were a little frustrated at not being given the chance to use them more in depthly, and as a result we conducted a weekend training session where we had two full days of teaching all of the teachers in the XO’s. We ran into a large community issue, when all the teachers that we were trying to invite to the training session asked for allowances to come as well as transport and food. We were unable to meet their requests and so instead we decided to give meals to the teachers and nothing else. As a result they decided only to come to the first day as a means of protest but fortunately they were excited enough after the first day that they all came regardless.

We also have a new member of our team now, an American volunteer working for the Kasiisi Project who is really excited about the project and has a background in IT, which our group is lacking.

So our first week of setting up power and networking ended with a weekend training session. Week two consisted of daily training with a more select group of four teachers. Unfortunately we are only training men. They seemed to ask more questions than women and all the math teachers at the schools are men. Furthermore there is only one woman teaching P5 and she seems uninterested.

We conducted these training sessions everyday for two hours (3-5) so as not to interfere with schoolwork, and even still, local funerals prevented full attendance to our sessions.

We had a meeting with the parents of P5 on Thursday of the second week, and due to the fact that it was exclusively in Rutooro, only two thirds of our group understood anything. Parents were excited and looked forward to including the laptops in their child’s learning experiences, although there were some concerns ranging from “side effects” to security to even improper use as pornographic tools. There was also a concern with regards to repairing of laptops and one man in particular commented, “If we know that the computers are to be repaired by the school, we will all be careless. However, knowing that the school will be repairing them, let’s not be careless. Let’s be careful.”
The meeting was in general, a success, however not all of the parents showed up, and we would like to talk to parents of children before we give out laptops so we are trying to schedule another meeting where we can meet with the remaining parents and ensure the support of the rest of the parents.

We have begun teaching the students how to use the laptops now, however as we are only just beginning we are still working on things like how to use the mouse, and type, and especially the shift button and dragging are difficult to get there hands on. However, as the week continues we look forward to further success and excitement for the kids.

We have a few issues still on our plate. First and foremost, the room where we are setting up our server/APs has no shutters over the windows, and instead just bars, however some of the bars are missing and so we are concerned about security issues. In order to fix this we are combining our funds with the funds of our NGO, The Kasiisi Project, and are looking into purchasing shutters, fixing the windows, and potentially installing metal doors/shutters as further security measures. This is however, as you can imagine, a very expensive venture and we are concerned about our budget and the extent to which the Kasiisi Project can help us endure the costs.

On top of this our generator/inverter/charger/battery system has developed an alarm light, which means that we need to buy a stabilizer. Since our group is quite ignorant to power systems, we are following blindly the advice of people trying to sell us things, so it is tough to figure out what we are really supposed to be doing, but it currently seems like we will have to keep on purchasing equipment until we get the green light again. Once more these are an entire new group of unanticipated costs that we will have to squeeze into our constantly changing budget.

As the project progresses, I have more and more concerns about the sustainability of this project and the fact that we have a fuel run generator does not help my queries, but I am most concerned about security. While efforts to prevent stealing have worked in other places, I am still worried about our current security issues. The school where we are deploying laptops is the best primary school in the district and as a result people send their children past other primary schools, up to fifteen kilometers away to go to school and as a result our students, walking home with laptops, will pass older students from other schools and passing through a number of communities where it is impossible to reach out and talk to them all about the importance of the community.

This is bound to be a difficult project, and we have been expecting bumps in the road from day one, so at this point we endure and do whatever we can to make sure the transition to a more technical learning experience goes as smoothly as possible. Bringing one hundred laptops into a school where the only other electrical equipment is a few phones, is bound to be difficult.

Hopefully we will get some words of advice from the OLPC group based in Jinja, Uganda who is visiting this weekend to look to us for advice as well, and we will work together on improving both deployments.

- Ian Wrangham

Some More Brief Words (as dictated to Ian Wrangham):

Frances’ Feelings: I don’t know how we can describe it. It’s bad. Someone cannot value it, knowledge. The computer is not part of the culture. You know, we people we are different. I don’t know why we should give them money for transport when this project is supposed to be community based. Me, I have to work. I have benefitted a lot from AFROKAPS and so why not? What can I say I am an old man. For us old men one word is enough. One word is a lot. One word to a wise man is enough. Like me.

Mathew’s Feelings: How could they? How could they? How could they ask for an allowance and transport fees and yet we are teaching them something new? That is ashaming. It beshames my primary school. Most of these teachers don’t know the computer and we are bringing them new knowledge. However, I appreciate that we came to a conclusion, and we taught them with out allowances. What made me happy was that they were appreciating at the end of it all. All we could get from them was thank you, thank you, thank you for the good lecture, which was all we needed to get us going.