The next school I visited was in Batuna, a half-hour canoe trip from Patukae. Mavin, one of the primary teachers from Patukae, accompanied me. (She is pictured above.) There are three schools in the Marovo Lagoon participating in the OLPC pilot project; this would be the second one I would visit.
Batuna had witnessed some shake-ups, administratively. In the previous months, their principal had transferred away, as had four teachers, and they had been assigned four new teachers. The new principal and teachers did not have laptops, as they were not present when the XOs were distributed, and there were no extras. Those who had left—both teachers and students—had taken their laptops with them. This meant that half of the teachers had no laptops, and a significant number of students did not, either.
There is a vocational school/college, run by the Adventists, in Batuna (pictured above), and the primary school in Batuna therefore benefits from the presence of this college, not just because some of the college teachers have children in the primary schools (and have used the XOs for their own work/research/creative tasks), but also because of the presence of Elnah Tati, who, in addition to teaching business computing at the college, is the IT expert at the college and for the OLPC program. She therefore also helps the primary school with teacher training and creative ideas for using the XOs. The programs and software being used on the XOs at Batuna were more diverse and advanced than I had witnessed elsewhere up to that point—which I believe was a reflection of Elnah’s involvement. Batuna’s primary school also had access to more peripheral devices because of the connectedness to the vocational school, and so there were pictures that had been printed out, etc., decorating the walls of the primary school.
However, the primary school teachers pointed out that they had no printer of their own, nor did they have a server, and expressed that they would like to have both. In addition, there were a number of XOs that had battery problems, and were just not being used, because there were no funds to pay for repairing them.
Mavin and I met Elnah at the Vocational College, and walked to the Primary School. The lovely scenery of the walk is pictured below.
The primary school is pictured above. As was the case at Patukae, today was a special day in Batuna, because the sixth graders were taking the national exam. This meant that classes were not as they would be on a normal school day, so the teachers gathered the students who had their laptops, invited them in to the same room, and had them demonstrate the various programs they could use on the laptops. And there were many that I had not seen before!
I asked each student what their favorite program was and I received numerous answers: Paint, Chat, Memory, Writing, Photo/Camera, Connect, Maze, and Slideshow (with Paint receiving the most votes by far). The students seemed very at ease with working together over the computers–in other words, they could chat, or play a game with another student sitting across the room. I hadn’t witnessed this activity, certainly to this extent, before.
I was able to speak with the teachers at Batuna, and the next post will mainly deal with what I learned from them. However, the first thing they told me was that they had not had the Internet since April (thus, for five months), because the repeater had been destroyed by local villagers. I then learned some more about the local politics. This was apparently a case of jealousy, of sorts, because the people owning the land on which the repeater was located were not recipients of either the Internet or the OLPC XOs, and so this was the second time that the repeater had been sabotaged. On a related note, the teachers back in Patukae had said to me a couple of times that they were waiting for Elnah to come and train them again (she is considered the tech expert for all three primary schools participating in the OLPC pilot project), but that she hadn’t responded to emails in quite a while. Once I returned to Patukae and told them that Batuna had been without the Internet since April, the mystery was solved, and any hint of frustration they had had with the silence seemed to disappear and be replaced with concern and sympathy that there was no Internet for Batuna any longer (they were also familiar with the political situation, and the fact that this was the second time that the repeater had been destroyed).
So, despite being blessed with the presence of a technology expert who was clearly contributing to the advancement of XO use among both teachers and students at Batuna, this school was, on the other hand, suffering the misfortune of two “political” setbacks, with the result that half the teachers and a number of the students had no laptops, and no one had the Internet.
Even so, we’ll return to the positive side in the next post, as the teachers (and even some parents) shared more with me about the OLPC experience in Batuna.