A visit to Wonchi: OLPC’s Ethiopian Literacy Project

Evan Szablowski was in Addis Ababa, spending a week meeting Ethiopian entrepreneurs. Michael, one of the tech leads for our literacy project in Ethiopia, was one of the people he met with. He was captivated by the literacy project, and on hearing that Michael was heading to Wonchi (one of the two villages taking part in it), he and his teammates decided to tag along.

While he was there he met some of the students eager to show off how they liked to use the tablets (they are using Motorola Xoom tablets with mainly off-the-shelf Android literacy apps, with a few custom apps and tweaks by OLPC). At some point, one of the children (below) stood up to quiz the others on what they were learning.

Evan wrote up the experience in a beautiful essay on his new blog, illustrated with photos from the day.

While this is just one anecdote from the project, the photo series is priceless, and puts the whole effort in context: the geography of the town, the social setup of the small farming community, and the economic circles of the village and the technicians supporting them.

An overwhelming sense of excitement and optimism overtook us, and we couldn’t stop smiling as we watched. We left with such a feeling of inspiration and optimism, amazed at witnessing two completely different worlds [fuse] with one another… Zach said this was the best thing he has done in a long time, and I agreed.

I hope they realize it someday. I hope that someday one of those kids will say, ‘When I was only 4 years old, the laptop project from MIT came to my village, and it forever changed my future.’ What an amazing perspective that person will have.

This was not foreign aid, or handouts… This was education, and just the first step in enabling them. Enabling the young minds of Africa for brighter futures. For a brighter nation, and a brighter continent.

@Evan: Thank you for sharing the day with us!

OLPC in Goa

Monsoon Grey posts an update on the school pilot in Goa, about a lesson in Turtle Art, with a photoset by intern Bindi Dharia. Harriet Vidyasagar, who helped get the first school projects in India underway, continues to support the project.

The team writes about the new activities they have installed for all of the students this year, including “I Know India”, and the workshop they organized for new teachers for the coming year.

Miguel Brechner sobre el impacto del Plan Ceibal

La República recently published an article on the history of Plan Ceibal and how it is seen and referenced by programs in other countries:

Nuestro país es consultado constantemente por otros estados interesados en aplicar el programa de “una computadora por niño”…

Uruguay tiene presencia mundial no solo por el fútbol. El Plan Ceibal hace que nuestro país tenga una presencia importante en grandes eventos. “Hace algunas semanas, fui a un congreso con veinte mil personas en Estados Unidos, y el primer día no dejaron de hablar de Uruguay”, explicó Miguel Brechner.

Read the whole piece (in Spanish).

On OLPC and the diversity educational environments

A reply to S. Varghese

One of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations is to offer a sound elementary education to all children of the world by the year 2015 and to increase their access to information and communication technologies. One Laptop Per Child has worked since 2006 on this urgent educational mission in collaboration with public and private organizations in some forty nations, mostly in developing countries.

The great diversity of educational environments – or the lack of them – is the principal challenge here, and needs careful programming based on local conditions and human resources. OLPC is founded on five principles: ownership, early ages, saturation, connectivity and free and open source collaboration. This is the result of decades of research and development in advanced centers of study, and the XO laptop and the Sugar platform are two remarkable products of this international collaborative work. Other products will come soon as OLPC evolves to give answers to the increasing demands of education.

The central question is how to scale up the OLPC program from a town to a province to a country, in order to satisfy the educational requirements of different student populations. The agenda is getting more complex with the expansion of the geographic area involved. The local authorities must establish a detailed agenda in several steps, to provide a sound educational program to different cohorts of students, continuous training of teachers, and distribution of laptops to all children and teachers. Also the implementation of servers and internet connectivity in schools and public places, the logistics of repair or substitution of the laptops, etc. This whole process is part of a dynamic “cultural evolution” that produces a great variety of results, some unpredictable and innovative.

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Mobile libraries: a Victorian idea helping OLPC users share books

David Bainbridge and Ian Witten of the University of Waikato in New Zealand published a paper last year about using the Greenstone digital library toolkit to help offline XO users share libraries of books. From their abstract:

The idea draws upon mobile libraries (bookmobiles) for its inspiration, which first appeared in Victorian times. The implemented technique works by building on the mesh network that is instrumental to the XO-laptop approach. To use the technique, on each portable XO-laptop a version of Greenstone is installed, allowing the owner to develop and manage their own set of books. The version of Greenstone has been adapted to support a form of interoperability we have called Digital Library Talkback. On the mesh, when two XO-laptops “see” each other, the two users can search and browse the other user’s digital library; when they see a book they like, they can have it transferred to their library with a single click using the Digital Library Talkback mechanism.

Alas, you need to be an ACM member or pay $15 to read the full paper.

The challenge of curation

From the olpcsf blog

Last year, right after the OLPC SF Community Summit 2011, I had the pleasure of attending Books in Broswers (BiB-II) at the Internet Archive. It was a plan made with SJ on-the-fly to take the Pathagar OPDS Book Server and put it on a 4-watt SheevaPlug. The very cool and awesome duo of Mary Lou Jepsen and John Ryan helped us present the unit. We live-tested it: 150 people hit the box and it held up. Load tests revealed it could serve 500 simultaneous users!

So we had a self-contained book server, that could run off a solar panel, and arguably serve thousands of books in the middle of nowhere – a Wi-Fi bubble, that serves up books to all within its reach.  Heck, we even have a virtual machine, complete with Pathagar on it!   Where do we get the books? The Internet Archive of course! With its 3 million plus books, its a vast ocean to fish from. The bigger challenge is fishing well.

How do you curate content for your little Wi-Fi bubble?   And once you do so, how do you pull it all together?

Raj Kumar (@rajbot) at the Internet Archive has the answer… Continue reading