All of the teachers at the Jim Taylor Primary School had all taken part in a week-long technology and implementation training session the entire week before my visit, and I arrived on Monday of the following week. Thus, my visit presented the teachers with their first opportunity to use the laptops with their students—and with a visitor from a faraway place observing them, no less! No pressure!!!
Before I went to observe the classrooms using the XOs, I got a chance to speak with the Grade 6-8 teachers first, while grades 3-5 teachers were getting their laptops and classrooms set up and ready. All of the teachers in the school had received laptops of their own, as well as the same week-long training. Grades 6-8 students are meant to receive their own laptops in the later fall months of this year.
I believe I got some candid opinions and points of view from these teachers while talking with them.
Background of the Project:
First, I discovered where this project’s funding and impetus came from: The OLPC project in PNG is funded and implemented by the PNG Sustainable Development Project (SDP). The PNG SDP is an NGO founded in 2002 by Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML), which is located in the Western Province of PNG—where I was about to visit next! This NGO was established when BHP Billiton divested its 52 percent shareholding in OTML following concerns about the long-term environmental impact of the mine, and the social and economic repercussions of this impact. (That’s the company’s own website’s nicer way of saying that BHP Billiton had polluted the Fly River beyond rehabilitation, and therefore just divested all monetary interests in the project, setting up an NGO to promote human development projects instead—ah, Natural Resources!) The Singapore-based NGO is independent of OTML and the PNG Government, and its purpose is to fund short- and long-term sustainable development projects in PNG, enabling a direct return of the funds to the people of PNG and the Western Province.
Second, it was also explained to me (multiple times, including during this discussion) that this particular school received laptops because of a connection made by the daughter of the man for whom this school is named. Meg Taylor (daughter of Jim Taylor) currently leads the World Bank-affiliated Compliance Advisor Ombudsman Office in Washington DC, and has been an ambassador for PNG to the US, Mexico, and Canada in the past. There’s no judgment implied in my reporting this; I’m the first to point out that technology project decisions are, in fact, political. They’re political because resources are scarce and decisions have to be made about who gets what, when, and how—the essence of politics.
In any case, I’d like to find out more about this link, because I was urged to do so multiple times, and because so many people emphasized the link Meg Taylor had with this school, and all the work she had done for it up to now.
But back to the conversation I was having with the teachers… They were very excited and very positive about this brand new OLPC project. I took notes, and wrote down verbatim words such as: awesome, enthusiastic, happy, honored, delighted, they like it, they LOVE it! And these were the teachers that weren’t yet using the laptops with their students. AND, did I mention: there’s no Internet connection or service for this school?!? (None of the PNG projects yet have an Internet connection.) And the school has no electricity, except for the solar panels to charge the server, and the solar DC share cable panels to charge the laptops.
The teachers and students are able to make use of servers that have been installed at the school, to download information that has been pre-loaded onto these servers. They can also communicate with the other laptops (thus with each other) through the server. A number of these teachers also mentioned that they had started using the server-housed wiki to look up information for their classes.
During the training session, a technical specialist was appointed from among the teachers. The teachers made it clear to me that any one of them could have been appointed—it was not based on skill or prior experience (since none of them had prior experience!). However, one of the teachers expressed to me later that he was very interested in technological issues and would have liked to have been the person chosen for this task. I hope his enthusiasm will be rewarded in the future. However, I have the feeling that future training sessions will be few and far between, even though every school and every teacher, everywhere I have gone, is pleading for more training—both technical and pedagogical.
Another frustration expressed to me—which has become a virtual refrain by this point—was the limited battery charge life of the XOs. A charge seems to last less than two hours—a phenomenon I’ve experienced myself. The teachers also told me that they would honestly prefer, for their personal use, to have what I will call a “grown-up” laptop. I’m sure I’ll return to this topic again in a future post, so no need to wax philosophical about it now.
The above photo is of Caspar, the designated technologist at the Jim Taylor School, in the beautiful library this school has. The next post will cover the inaugural technology use in the classrooms.