Dukuchaap: Voluntourist Ventures into the Field


The day I had been eagerly awaiting has finally arrived. My first visit to a school with our laptop program, Chandi Devi Primary School. I met with Roshan, my fellow software developer and friend from OLE, at Lagankhel bus stop at 8 am on a sunny Sunday morning to set off for Dukuchaap, one of the nearest deployments just south of Kathmandu. As I had expected, our journey soon turned into a bumpy ride on an unpaved road. Traveling through Nakhkhu, Sainbu, and Bungamati, we arrived to Dukuchaap shortly after 10:00 am. At the bus stop, we met with an English teacher from Chandi Devi, who guided us through a steep winding path to the top of a hill, where children were just about to start the first school day of the week. Yes, you read that correctly. Here in Nepal, a week has six working days with Saturday being the only holiday of the week.

Education Freedom Day


Today, I had an opportunity to speak at a local event celebrating Education Freedom Day organized by FOSS Nepal group in Kathmandu. I was very happy to receive an invitation to participate since it signified a confluence of two my avid interests: free software and education. Choosing a topic to share with this community was the easiest thing in the world. I knew immediately that I wanted to show them all of the things I find unique about OLPC and the Sugar project.

Having been immersed in the Sugar world for some time, I wanted to present with a style using Turtle Art's presentation blocks. After the initial excitement of trying out yet another feature of Turtle Art abated, I made a rational decision to stick with Libre Office Impress and postpone my experimentation with fitting large chunks of text into tiny blocks on a small screen for some other time. Honestly, presentation blocks don't make Turtle Art shine at its best. I will stick with using it for programming for now.:)

On a Mission


It has been almost a month since I arrived in Kathmandu to volunteer for OLE Nepal. Coming from Boston, I had expected many challenges. To my pleasant surprise, however, I have found a very well-functioning work environment. Over the years, OLE has developed effective ways to deal with power outages and other infrastructure issues virtually unknown in first-world countries, so I could start working on my project from day one.

So what have I been up to so far? Soon after I became involved with the OLPC movement, I learned that most laptop deployments have no way of keeping track how children are actually using the XOs once they hand them over and what impact the program has on their learning. When it comes to gathering feedback from the field, OLE Nepal is further along on this front than most deployments in other countries. Four to six weeks after the initial teacher training, OLE staff has a follow-up meeting with teachers to discuss challenges they are facing and to help to address them. Another meeting with teachers happens six months after the program launch, when teachers have a second opportunity to share their experience with OLE.

Why am I going to Nepal?


Why am I going to Nepal?

In the previous post, I was writing about Papert's constructionist theory that inspired the OLPC project. Leaving theory behind, I would like to draw attention to the hard reality that motivates me to be part of this project.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Based on data from the World Bank, the GNI per Capita (PPP) was $1500 last year , which ranks is 147th out of 168 countries for which the statistic is available. Data like this, however, only shows us a distanced view on a macro scale. What is hidden behind the data are stories of people with very few options for making a living. One such story appeared recently in the Guardian:

A Bit of Theory


Exhilarated from my packing success, I boarded the airplane and buried myself in “Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas,” a fascinating book by Seymour Papert about how to revolutionize children's education, from which many ideas in the One Laptop Per Child educational philosophy originated. In the book, Papert begins by recounting how playing with gears, an object with which he became fascinated in his early childhood, shaped his understanding of the world. He describes gears as an object-to-think-with, an educational tool he used as a lens to understand abstract mathematical ideas he was encountering in school. He used gears as a doorway for him to become familiar with concepts which many others around him found too hard to understand.