Just after talking with the parents at Patukae, I had the opportunity to speak with the primary school teachers. I had already spoken with some of them individually, as this was my second day in Patukae and I had observed the XOs being used in the classes, but this was my first opportunity to speak with the teachers as a group. They are pictured below: John (the primary school principal), Mavin, Delilah, Nairi, and Logan.
I first asked them if their teaching style had changed since the introduction of the XOs. Indeed it had! When they received the laptops, and figured out what they could use them for, they tried to put the activities on a master timetable so that they would correspond with the topics being covered on the national curriculum syllabus.
As to whether they are a time-saving device, the teachers responded enthusiastically that they were, except that (as any teacher knows,) once they find a way to save time in one area, they take more time in another. In a similar vein, they all had experience with having to lead combined classes of differing grade levels (as was the case today, with the 6th graders taking the national exam, and a few of the teachers needing to help with this while the others covered their classes). With the laptops, they’re able to give an activity to one grade level, and start a different activity with the other.
While the teachers were clearly very glad to be a part of the OLPC program and were (in my opinion) clearly committing a lot of time and effort to meaningful, creative ways to make use of the XOs in the classroom and in the curriculum, they were also struggling with some of the issues that were not surprising to me to hear:
- It would be very nice to have adequate infrastructure, like desks for the students, like sufficient school rooms (there were plans in place for these items to be bought/made, but they were currently on hold, because wood is very expensive there—but that’s another *political* story for another time).
- They wouldn’t mind having a desktop computer for the school, for administrative purposes.
- They would love to have peripheral items to complement the computers, such as a photocopier or printer, and flash drives.
- They would love to have more training. (That’s the universal request!)
- They would like to have some local parents trained in how to repair the laptops, and/or to have some local, trained technicians.
- Finally, there were concerns about the children bringing the laptops home, and not bringing them back to school. This was a real concern.
They had come up with some activities on the XOs where the children could share the computers, but this is not the ideal situation. In anticipation of my visit, the children had been told for days in advance to round up their computers and bring them in to school, and still, probably only 2/3 of the students had their laptops on that day. Some reasons could be that the laptops weren’t working, or they were loaned out to other family members/units
I asked the teachers whether it would be better to have the laptops stored at school, so that they’re always there. Only one teacher was in support of that idea. The others pointed out all the benefits I had just learned of—the parental support, the community involvement, the children becoming teachers themselves and working in groups, the ability for the students to do homework at home, the ability for the whole family to benefit from the computer’s capabilities, and the teachers also liked to be able to send notes home with the students on their computer, claiming that it was a more efficient way to get information delivered!
We agreed, finally, that this was a thorny issue, sending the laptops home with the students probably brings about a better result on the whole, but that there are serious problems with it that we wouldn’t solve during our brainstorming session, so we moved on to the next topic. I also brought up this question at the visit to the school in Batuna the next day, so it will be covered in greater detail there.
Their goals for using the laptops in the classroom was to develop a cadre of computer-literate students, because being computer literate is a requisite everywhere you go today. They would also like for the secondary school to be included in a technology initiative, for the same reasons, and because the students can use the computers for different reasons/tasks at different levels. In fact, since this program is multi-year at this point, the graduating sixth-graders had taken their laptops with them to the secondary schools, and they are being widely used there.
This was the first of the schools I visited that had Internet access. Thus far, there was a password protecting its use, and only the teachers and principals had unlimited access to it. The students that were doing a specific (usually research) project making use of the Internet were given the password—this was the way in which they limited its use in the primary schools. However, the teachers pointed out that the secondary level students would be able to make much better use of the Internet for their research. For their part, the teachers were using the Internet for improving their lesson plans, as well as for communication with relatives, etc.
The teachers were aware of the need and had the desire to improve the school’s financial situation, in order to have better facilities, be able to repair the laptops, and eventually obtain more laptops if the government does not provide them. They did not want to rely on the aid donors. However, we did not get to brainstorming about how this could be done in their village. I’d like to think that awareness-raising—like this post about their school, the challenges they’re facing, and the amazing things that have happened here as a result of this technology-in-the-schools project—is a first step. And hopefully a useful step. But only a first step.