Dropouts become regular at school
Back in October 2007 our group had just started working in the Khairat pilot project with modest goals. Learning from the field is the most wholesome experience. And, Khairat school was ideal for us in many ways - passionate teacher, passionate team, passionate Khairat village community, very poor electricity, very high humidity, irregular topography, four school dropouts and interesting learning tools - 40 XOs. Having worked with OLPC for about 1.5 years back then, I was well-versed with XO's technology and unique features. But I never knew it had magical powers - powers to bring four school dropouts back to school and turn them into regular students.
Low motivation and Distance Issues
We used to have interesting conversations with Mr. Sandeep Surve, teacher at Khairat school, and were dazzled by his commitment and dedication towards educating children, in spite of all odds. In one of his many conversations with Arjun, Mr. Surve once sadly remarked that four children had dropped out from the school. Their small village was was a tough 20 minute walk from Khairat school. Also contributing to their absence was the lack of encouragement and support from their parents. Mr. Surve felt very strongly about the future of these children, and had tried hunting them down in the fields to get them back to Khairat school. But, it never worked out Mr. Surve told us with remorse on his face.
One Laptop Per Child
It is always wonderful to be a part of an innovative team where challenges are looked at as enabling agents, not as disabling ones. We were struck by the thought that the four school drop outs should be given their XOs, whether they came to school, or not. After all, they were officially registered at Khairat school. I still remember the smile of hope on Carla's face, when we met for dinner, two days before the Khairat parent's meeting. She had this feeling that these children would enjoy interacting with the XOs, and that their experience with the learning tools might bring them back to school. "Maybe, they would discover the joys of learning", were her last words that day.
Chasing Kids around the Fields
It was Monday, and the last day of this first visit to Khairat school. Humidity in Navi Mumbai was at its peak. Glad that XOs were working fine under all these severely humid conditions , we divided ourselves into two teams - Arjun and Amit went to Mumbai to look for parts for an interesting rural power project, while Carla and I went to Khairat school. When we picked up Mr. Surve on our way to school, he introduced us to his companion from the same village, where these four children lived. He expressed an interest in introducing us to their parents. After a while making our way down the dirt road, we saw three children bathing with mud near an old thatched hut. Mr. Surve said, "There they are!" When we came near the hut, the children were disappeared. Carla and I looked at each other with astonished faces. We now understood why Mr. Surve had to chase the kids to bring them to school. After a while, an older sister came carrying water on her head. She said that their mother was doing the laundry across the fields. We climbed through the field and into the shallow river spoiling our clothes like small kids, until we found her. The teacher invited the entire family to the meeting.
Impact of XOs and Love
I had gone back to New Delhi. Carla had a week left with her before flying back to Mexico. Or, maybe, to Sri Lanka, to discuss with our friends over there, on their plans to provide one laptop per child to the children of Sri Lanka. We at OLPC always had very innovative schedules.
I continued to hear about these four children in the update e-mails that we used to exchange with each other on a daily basis. Although, they seemed to respond very well considering their long leave of absence, Mr. Surve and the other children, showered them with friendship, love and their smart-tips on using Sugar activities. We were still not very sure whether these kids would ever become regular students at school over the coming months.
I visited Khairat school for the second time, after almost a year. This visit was organized as a part of celebrating the OLPC India Day by Harriet Vidyasagar, co-founder of the Digital Bridge Foundation. The Mumbai team invited Nicholas, Debbie, Satish, David and myself to visit Khairat school. I was delighted to see new volunteers contributing excitedly in supporting our project at Khairat school. Mr. Surve and Amit, as playful as we remembered them demonstrated us the wonderful ways in which the children were using Sugar activities. E-toys and Memorize were their favourite activities. Mr. Surve delighted us with the news that four children : Garima, Vinod, Kamala and Sooraj had become regular at school, and were great in using Sugar activities. I realized that the XO has magical powers.