Watching the children use the laptops is always the highlight of a visit to the schools.
Even so, it was a little sad to see some of the students struggling with their half-functional computers. It reminded me of other visits I’ve made where some students have the laptops and others don’t—and watching those who don’t is a sad thing, and brings up all kinds of questions in one’s head.
After quite a long time walking among the students, soaking up their excitement, and being extremely impressed with what they could do with their laptops, the bell finally rang, and everyone got up and started heading for the common areas for their break.
Amidst all of the activity, Pierre brought us back into his office, where we talked further about the challenges the project was facing. I asked Pierre whether any issues had arisen regarding students visiting any inappropriate sites, given that they have free access to the Internet, and none had! Devon (their Peace Corps volunteer mentioned in the previous post) had originally set the Server to restrict them from surfing inappropriate sites, but even since the server is not working, there have been no issues!
Since it was a break, all of the teachers were free, and they came to talk with us next. The teachers were unfailingly positive and enthusiastic about the project in general. Yet they were also not shy about expressing their concern over the equipment failure and maintenance issues and how there is no long-term contact at OLPC to help them. They also expressed that they would like to receive more training. They said that they had quite a few challenges at first with using the laptops, but the children’s motivation and enthusiasm has been very helpful and inspiring to them. It was great to talk with them—a very friendly group!
Finally, Pierre took us to an area with some concrete blocks on the ground, pictured below. He has a vision of building a computer lab at the school. (Also a topic I’ve discussed with multiple OLPC deployments that struggle with whether laptops are the optimal format). With a computer lab in one place, maintenance and security are easier to manage, there will be a permanent location to hold the group activities for smaller children, and there will be a location where the parents can come for training with computers!!! And, what’s quite possibly the most exciting aspect is that Pierre is requiring the parents to BUILD the computer lab, brick by brick! Talk about building ownership into a project!
We said our good-byes, feeling hopeful but saddened at the same time. As we walked away, my colleague Bruce pointed out to me: “I hate to say this, but the technology failure they’re facing is the easy part. It’s an issue we can do something about. They’re really lucky that they got all the other promising components lined up.” And I realized he was right. But still, there was work to be done.
Perhaps it was fate, because while we were in Senegal (!), Bruce received an email sharing the unbelievably coincidental news that a technology-oriented person who currently called San Francisco home, would be moving to Dakar for a year starting in the fall, and wanted to volunteer his time to help while he would be in Senegal. A few emails later, especially to the San Francisco OLPC User’s Group, and training on XOs is lined up for this future expat, he’s happily agreed to take on the task of attempting to repair Ecole Notre Dame’s equipment, and another generous donor from the SF User’s Group listserv offered funds to help purchase spare parts and equipment.
I find this to be beyond exciting—what we can accomplish when we reach out to our contacts, who have other contacts and resources. And spread the word, and work together, and get involved.
If YOU are interested in Ecole Notre Dame in M’Boro, please visit their school website/blog at http://ecolenotredamemboro.blogspot.com/