OLPC and FabFi mesh networks bring Internet to Afghanistan

OLPC is working in 9 schools and 5 cities in Afghanistan. Many of the schools have some limited Internet connectivity at home, but most families still don’t have Internet (though they may get GPRS coverage if they have access to a cell phone) in their neighborhoods or home compounds.

In Jalalabad, this is changing in part thanks to a mesh network run by FabLab Jalalabad. Through their FabFi network, many children with XOs and their families have access to the Internet (and Wikipedia) for the first time. Fast Company wrote up a good story on this, following the New York Times’s lead last Sunday (commentary).

Similar FabLabs with mesh networks have sprung up elsewhere, most notably in Kenya. I hope to see them spread more widely in Africa and Asia – it seems like a robust and scalable model for engaging communities in maintaining their own networks.

Happy new year

Happy new year to the OLPC community around the world!  Thank you for your part in everything we have accomplished in 2010 – from our new initiatives in Gaza, Argentina, and Nicaragua to expansion of work in Peru, Uruguay, Rwanda, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Haiti.

Special thanks to everyone who has worked on the newest iterations of Sugar, and those who put on the grassroots events over the past year in the Virgin Islands, San Francisco, and Uruguay — all of which has helped connect some of our smaller projects and realize some of their educational dreams in new activities.  We’ve launched our new website for the year, highlighting the stories from these and other deployments; this blog may merge into that site as well (and you can see blog posts appearing in its News section).

Building Technical Support in Afghanistan

With roughly 4,000 laptops deployed, we’re still in the beginning stages of the initiative. It’s a good stage to be in, especially for building our technical support in advance. So what’s the best way of doing that?

One idea that has been proposed:  setting up partnerships with students at Afghan universities. We’d recruit teams of student volunteers to provide ongoing support to teachers and pilot projects. Throughout the whole process, OLPC would provide ongoing support, feedback, access to spare parts and technical advice.  Of course there are still a lot of details to iron out.  Right now we’re planning to call it the Afghanistan Children’s Connectivity Project, involving individual Connectivity Centers in community hubs in each region.

This year, the United States Government requested $105.9 billion for military operations in Afghanistan. The numbers break down into $68.1 billion requested by the Department of Defense for 2010 and a $33 billion supplement requested by the Administration to support the 30,000 person troop surge in the area. It’s funny to think that providing every child in the country with an XO would cost about $800 million — or 3 days of that military spending.

A time to learn

In early May, Save the Children‘s State of the World’s Mothers 2010 report ranked Afghanistan last among the 160 countries surveyed, in terms of how easy it was to raise children.

While medical care is often limited, and being an infant in Afghanistan poses many risks, it is also a tough place to grow up. Only 52% of primary aged school children are enrolled in school, where classes are often made up of more than fifty students. Despite the extraordinary restoration of public schools and teachers over the past decade, there is still a lack of teachers and school buildings, and children receive an average of 2.5 hours of school a day. That is half of what children in developed nations (OECD) receive.

These numbers reflect a vast improvement from when the Taliban controlled the country – over the past three years, school enrollment has grown from 800,000 students to 4.5 million. But youthful curiosity is not bounded by time spent in school.  We are working to make sure that, district by district, these children have tools and projects to explore and to experiment with, so they can have time to learn even when school does not have time for them.

A class of Afghan girls at work on their XOs. Photographed by Elissa Bogos

Note: Some information comes from the latest OLPC Afghanistan Briefing Note.


OLPC Afghanistan in Baghlan

Part of an ongoing series on OLPC in Afghanistan

This past weekend, OLPC Afghanistan reached Baghlan province, working with the Ministry of Education’s deployment team to provide XOs to 280 children and teachers in grades 4-6  at Firdausi High School.  (In Afghanistan a ‘high school’ can refer to any school whose upper grades reach past 9th grade, but can include students in 1st grade as well.) Firdausi becomes the seventh school in the country to take part in the Ministry pilot program.  The Ministry is working on plans for extending this early work into full-saturation regional or national efforts.

The Firdausi project will integrate the XOs into the school’s teacher planning and curricula, as well as in after-school projects.  They may be used outside of school by families to access training, job information, and resources to develop and improve farms and small businesses.

This pilot rollout was assisted by USAID Afghanistan.  At the end of the day, Earl Gast, the national mission director, commented: “These computers are an investment in Afghanistan’s most important resource – its people.”

: http://blog.laptop.org/2010/07/06/olpc-af-briefing-note/

OLPC Afghanistan recap

Part of an ongoing series on OLPC in Afghanistan.

Since 2008, we have worked with the Afghan Ministry of Education to build capacity for OLPC in Afghanistan. The initial pilots over the past year have been with 4th-6th grade students, in MOE schools and community-based education groups.

OLPC has committed  5,000 laptops to pilots throughout the country, starting with Esteqlal High School in Nangarhar Province’s Jalalabad city.   There the program engaged all fourth, fifth and sixth grade students, with a ‘3 phase implementation model’ (below) used by the ministry.

The next project involved five schools in Kabul city. Initial feedback has unfortunately only been measured in terms of standardized test results (in math and literacy), but initial results showed a 20% increase on those tests.

In the coming months, national team plans to include schools in other provinces.  They also aim to recruit and train more technical people to help with planning and preparing teachers and connectivity teams for schools across the country.

Parts of this post were drawn from the recent report “Briefing Note – One Laptop Per Child in Afghanistan,” by Lima Ahmad (AIMS), Kenneth Adams (AIMS), Mike Dawson (PAIWASTOON), and Carol Ruth Silver (MTSA)

More Than Distribution in Afghanistan

For Afghan kids who receive XOs, their educational time is split between self-study with the laptop at home and sharing their learning experience with teachers and fellow students in the classroom. This blended learning model gives kids sufficient learning time and the support to achieve curriculum.

OLPC Afghanistan laptops are installed with an assortment of materials, including the Ministry of Education’s standard national curriculum of books, health information, and complete localization of all core activities in Dari and Pashto.

And the laptops aren’t just for students. By providing information for parents about economic opportunities, they give parents and kids the chance to learn together.

OLPC in Afghanistan: Briefing Note

Part of an ongoing series on OLPC in Afghanistan.

In their recent publication “Briefing Note – One Laptop Per Child in Afghanistan,” authors Lima Ahmad (AIMS), Kenneth Adams (AIMS), Mike Dawson (PAIWASTOON), and Carol Ruth Silver (MTSA) make one thing very clear: Afghanistan requires an innovative approach to improve their education system.

“The conventional remedy of building more schools, training more teachers and providing more materials would require a six fold increase to the education budget (in the order of $1.8Bn USD per year) and would take 10-15 years to yield measurable results,” the report reads. “While a steady increase in teacher capacity and educational infrastructure is expected over time, Afghanistan does not have the luxury of waiting 15 years to produce the work force foundations for sustainable economic growth.”

Photographed by Jacob Simkin

Instead, the authors say, a more cost-effective, accelerated method lies in using OLPC’s blended learning model, which incorporates technology with teaching. If executed, in 12-18 months OLPC can more than double Afghan students’ time to learning, provide feedback on curriculum materials, and provide resources that the students wouldn’t otherwise have.

By adopting this model, OLPC can “finally give children in both mainstream and community settings sufficient learning time and support to achieve curriculum outcomes.”

Make sure to check out the rest of the report here.

In Afghanistan: ISAF and ending violence

Part of our ongoing series on OLPC in Afghanistan

The ISAF Logo.  Komak aw Hamkari / "Help and Cooperation"

The ISAF Logo:

In Kabul I met with General Stanley McChrystal, current commander of the
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).  Joining us were other top brass including Rear Admiral Greg Smith, chief of telecommunications, to discuss OLPC in Afghanistan.

The OLPC concept is predicated on the idea that technology can reach this generation of children and teach them to think critically, and analytically, and can connect them to each other and the world’s body of knowledge. If these things were to come to pass for this generation of Afghani children, the world will look very different in ten years than it does now.

McChrystal and Smith and others acknowledged that this is not a normal war. It is a war where the US is engaged in building better lives for the people of the country, a war which seeks to build social capital between the government and its people, a war which seeks to build peace by building education and
ultimately prosperity.

All were hugely receptive to the idea that OLPC could: 1) Educate this generation of children right now, 2) end the isolation of the Afghani people, and 3) build social capital between the people and the government.

I asked McChrystal to be a champion of OLPC in Washington and in Kabul, and asked him to think about ways to fund every child in Afghanistan. He
asked for the dollar figure. I said it would cost $1 billion to connect every child. He didn’t blink. It can be done. In his words, “Our job is to end violence, and this is one way we can do it.

Coming up in this series: Building partnerships and future preparations.

Students in Charikar, Afghanistan on their own needs

High school student Mohammad Sharif speaks about why students in his highschool need computers, despite not having electricity or running water, in this short video.  He attends Hazrat Noman, a high school in Charikar City in Parwan Province.

Columbia/NYC/filmmaker volunteer Jay Corcoran says this film changed his entire view of Afghanistan. Some remixes of his work: remix 1 and remix 2

Our series on OLPC in Afghanistan will continue over the weekend.

OLPC Afghanistan, part 1: forging local partnerships

This is the start of an ongoing series on OLPC in Afghanistan –sj

I travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan last week with two purposes: To assess prospective partners on the ground, including the Ministry of Education (MOE), in order to get a sense of both intent and capacity; and to meet with potential supporters for OLPC in Afghanistan, and craft a strategy for the coming year.

I)  Introduction

Children in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a hugely complicated part of the world.  Regional politics are impacted by the politics of India, Iran and Pakistan, and the geopolitical wrangling of America, Russia and China add an entirely different element into the mix.  Combine this with decades of virtually uninterrupted war, limited natural resources, and low rural literacy, and you have a country that needs dramatic change in education.

Although relatively rapid progress has been made recently in the education sector, just over half (52%) of primary school aged children are enrolled in school.   Furthermore, due to a shortage of schools and teachers, schools are forced to operate in “shifts”, the average being three “shifts” per day, meaning that each child generally receives only 2.5 hrs (5 x 30min periods) of school each day.  The time constraints imposed by the shift system, combined with the fact that teacher-student ratios are often as high as 1:50-75, result in Afghan children receiving only about half the OECD recommended average time in school. In addition, many teachers in Afghanistan  have an education level only a few years greater than the students they are teaching.  The result is a cycle of rote education, with limited opportunities for innovation.

The conventional remedy of building more schools, training more teachers and providing more materials would require a six fold increase to the education budget (over a billion USD per year), would take 10-15 years to yield measurable results, and would be prey to some of these same problems.

Continue reading

2010 OLPCorps opportunities available

We’re incredibly excited to announce the 2010 OLPCorps program.  This year, university students and young adults will have opportunities to support OLPC deployments in one of five regions: Haiti, Mali, CamerounAfghanistan, and the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Installing solar panels

Installing solar panels in Kenya with OLPCorps

We saw the passion and skills of university students in our 2009 Corps program, and restructured it to extend the program and focus on a smaller number of countries.  This will allow applicants to make a bigger contribution to our mission of creating educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children.

OLPCorps applicants must now commit to a full year, and applications are open to college students and young adults over the age of 18. We’re looking for passionate people who can work independently in challenging environments. Participants will engage in capacity building projects ranging from technical infrastructure support and local software design to advocacy, classroom assistance, administration, and strategy design.  Successful applicants will receive a stipend.   You can apply for the Corps online now.

For students looking for opportunities in established OLPC deployments or for shorter periods of time, applications for this year’s Internship Program are also available.

OLPC in the Senate: feedback from today’s event

One Laptop per Child made its public debut on Capitol Hill today with its “Fighting Insurgencies with Laptops” event.

Attendees and speakers, including the ambassadors from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S., painted a picture of an eclectic mix of people from starkly different backgrounds and professions who came together to talk about One Laptop per Child as something that could be a clear manifestation of U.S. smart power. As Senator McCain said, there is nothing better suited to connect and educate this generation of children than OLPC. This refrain was echoed by both the Pakistani and Afghanistan Ambassadors.

Senator McCain speaking about OLPC

Senator McCain speaking about OLPC

This year, we are  expanding our vision by asking Congress to make a concerted push into Afghanistan and the tribal areas of western Pakistan, where isolation and a lack of government reach have spawned some brutal violent extremism.

The OLPC proposal: fight a “soft war” in these areas by giving children access to real education and to the world’s body of knowledge, and by connecting these remote areas to the rest of the planet via computer and satellite.  One child. One laptop. One world.