OLPC Laptop deployment at Rahnuma- our first year’s progress!

October 22nd, 2012

On the first anniversary of the XO laptops being distributed to the 150 children aged 7 plus, we took stock of their impact. I was confronted with two problems when I arrived in Karachi earlier this month. First teachers and children complained that the battery charge runs out in 3 hours so teachers who have classes later in the day cannot use them, Secondly I was told that children are spending too much time on facebook! I was delighted with this outcome as it demonstrated how well the new technology had been embraced by the children. We had succeeded in bringing them into the 21st century if they had discovered facebook by themselves on the XO’s. With a changing number of students and damaged XO’s, some children are without a laptop. They are now feeling at a loss so their teachers borrow from other classes.

At first the concept of a laptop in the class room at all times was very daunting for traditional teachers who found it an alien tool. So we worked with our teachers to develop a plan on how they can use the XO to enhance the learning of his/her subject .

We decided to modify the first years curriculum so the laptops got a chance to become part of the learning experience. As the level of English at our school was very low, we decided to focus on English (so the internet and the activities on the XO become accessible to our children) and Math. We allowed 9 periods per week for English and Math each, eliminated Sindhi (a provincial language) from the curriculum and decided to teach Islamic Studies in English so this could be another class in which English language material could be searched from the web. Of these 9 lessons Children got 3 lessons each week to do only Math Sugar Activities and three lessons each week for English Sugar Activities like Letters, Typing Turtle, Across and Down, I Can Read, etc.  In addition we have IT three classes a week introducing our students to programming through the use of EToys and scratch. Three lessons of music using Tam Tam and three lessons of Art using Turtle Art, Paint etc.

The introduction of the laptops made us take a closer look at what we  are including in our curriculum and how we are teaching it. We did not like what we saw! So we made changes to textbooks and learning styles too. Math is taught using Khan Academy techniques, while for English we eliminated text books and focused on reading electronic  story books, colorful story tales that children picked themselves. For younger children we introduced story time during which teachers read to them. For Urdu too we have found many electronic books and activities that children can do by joining local book clubs, activities that teachers and students were totally unaware of before. For Social studies we decided to focus 6 months on developing a school magazine/ news paper that would investigate local social issues.

This month we have created a library on our server for holding material useful for the children such as Khan Academy Videos, Ebooks, downloaded exercises and activities from various sites to promote learning through activities. The children can access this library via a WAN through their browser. This has also helped us overcome the unreliable internet access we have through the local telephone company.

Result: laptops are used everyday in class. Grades 6 to 8 take these home every weekend and school days. We have so far only lost 1 laptop. English and Math proficiency has gone up, children love coming to school, attendance is very good and teachers are feeling very positive about what they are doing. We feel confident enough to now take the children in our care all the way to High School (Matriculation) from next year and we have applied for registration with the Aga Khan Examination Board as we feel they offer a better standard of education, more in line with our learning through exploration and discovery approach.