I feel very fortunate to report that two weeks ago, I returned to visit Ecole Notre Dame in M’boro, Senegal.
The laptops have been used in the classrooms for about a year and a half.
The wonderful news is that, as would have been predicted from the fact that so many ecosystem / “best practice”-type elements were in place for making this a very promising deployment, to all appearances, it was a very promising deployment, offering a very vibrant and exciting experience for the students and teachers. But not entirely without challenges.
We were delighted to see Pierre again, and he first brought us into his office. Pierre had two main concerns he shared with us: the first was the 40% failure rate of the laptops. Out of 167 laptops that they had, 103 were working. A 40% equipment failure rate! Mainly due to screens not working or keyboards being ripped apart.
The second issue he raised was his fear for the project that it was being abandoned by OLPC, and that he had no one to contact at OLPC, and wouldn’t know who to contact in the first place, because they had never had a contact there.
Every single OLPC deployment that I have visited, around the world, that has been in place for more than a year, has expressed to me their fear of or frustration with being abandoned.
He gave us some more specifics about the equipment and breakage, and told us that the less the laptops go home with the kids, the less damage they sustain. He also told us that they had lost the use of their server (due to an electrical storm), but still had wireless Internet to one half of the school—which was meeting their needs, since they weren’t able to expand usage of the laptops, due to such a high failure rate of the equipment, and no new laptops coming in. They had started out with all students 8-years-old and up having laptops, and haven’t been able to expand the project to the younger students, so now it’s 10-year-olds and up who have the laptops.
Even so, the younger students who don’t have a laptop themselves are participating in small group laptop activities every so often, so that they are familiarized with how to use the technology. Another positive point Pierre brought up was that the school had attracted what he estimated to be approximately 40 additional students to the school, based on the interest generated from Ecole Notre Dame having computers in the schools. Happily, he feels that he hasn’t yet lost a single student, despite the challenges with the laptops / equipment.
Pierre then took us to the classroom, where the kids performed a geometry assignment. After this was completed, the students started showing us some of the other neat things they could do with the laptops.
This was the first site visit I’ve had where students have (effortlessly!) demonstrated how adept they are at doing research over the Internet! They showed me how they look things up on Google.sn and searched for facts about Senegal.
Next post: More M’boro, and some resolution.