Many Small Deployments Challenge OLPC Oceania
Imagine a country with a population of just under 13,000 people living on a 8.1 sq. mi. (21 sq.km.) island located in the South Pacific 185 mi. (300 km.) from their nearest Micronesian island neighbor. This is the country of Nauru, the world's smallest island nation.
Nauru is just a small part of a group of 21 out of 26 island nations with 1.7 million children aged 6-12, that have embraced the OLPC laptop. Children in Nauru are among the first to receive their XOs in a pilot program for OLPC Oceania. In the program, OLPC donated 5000 machines and expert staff to support the deployments.
The pilots began in 2008 with Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in the initial roll-out. They plan to include Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Republic of Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu in 2009-2010. The goal is to have "One Laptop per Pacific Child" in all 21 participating nations by 2015.
David Leeming, an educational consultant working with OLPC Oceania has some interesting things to tell about the challenges of bringing the XO Laptops to this small, remote nation.
Each Child Receives An XO!
Drekkir Primary School,
East Sepik Province, near Wewak.
|Teacher Training on XOs in Gaire.|
Leeming stresses the need for starting with teacher training to get them over the "learning “hump”. Then they will be ready to assist their students in learning to turn on their XOs, open and close Activities, connect to the mesh, and do other simple tasks to use their XOs.
Leeming also recommends the school server (XS) for larger classes. In smaller classes the mesh and a possible internet source are sufficient. Thie school server is nothing more than an extra computer running special software to store content and share the internet with a large group of student laptops. It will also provide reliable collaboration for over 30 laptops, web caching, extra content on the server-side, and an automated backup of all the XOs.
The software to do this is free, but will probably require a technician to install and do the set up.
When the server is in place, students can access it with their XOs to use the internet or access stored content. Students can also store their work and finished projects there.
Finding a power source is a challenge some remote areas, and Leeming and others have worked with this in Oceania. On Nauru, he has successfully experimented with the use of solar power in one of the classrooms. He tells how he used his experience with solar power in Papua New Guinea to implement this,
"In a 1000-XO trial in PNG in which I have advised, we decided to go 100% with DC share and 15W flexible GoldPeak panels with small capacitors integrated to avoid a oscillation problem. The cost is much reduced over having battery storage, and the laptops can be used whilst being charged. Others advocate the use of 20W panels if possible."
(Not part of text-Resource note: photos of the solar powered classroom on Nauru can be found at: http://wiki.laptop.org/images/1/1a/Nauru_deployment.pdf)
How the XOs are Used
Leeming has also addressed the issue of how the XOs are actually used by the students and teachers in their classrooms. He says,
"We want the XO laptops to improve quality and productivity and not to serve as a distraction. If in the analysis the XO doesn’t have a positive effect, then they stay firmly shut.
"Likewise, pen and paper might in some/many circumstances be the correct tool to use. For instance, if we are learning about graphs, then a picture flashing up on a screen might not achieve the same effect as if the children have to conceptualise and draw the graph by hand. Of course, the computer can provide tools to help draw graphs too.
"On the other hand, if we are learning about trends and comparing patterns of things using graphs, then the computer can be very useful in improving productivity by providing the framework. You need to understand the framework, but that can be taught separately. A class of 40 grade 2s might take all lesson just to draw a graph, when the objective is to learn from the DATA.
"In Nauru during the training the children were learning about “services in the community”. The teacher, Lavina, wanted them to do a survey of their family members and relatives to see “where they bought their fish”. The XO has in it a program called Poll Activity. It creates bar charts with percentages from a simple multiple choice poll that is very easy to set up.
"Lavina wrote the poll question and multiple choice responses on the board and in no time at all the children had entered it in their laptops. They could then take them home and do the poll with their families and bring back the results next day. This would be VERY hard for grade 2 students to do by hand. The idea would be to look at each other’s results displayed by the XO graphically, and to learn from patterns in the data – i.e. the focus is on learning about “services in the community” and not about what a bar graph is – a separate lesson with pen and paper would achieve that learning objective." Everyone Wants To See The XOs. Children Not In School, Now Want To Come To School!