Once again in Batuna, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with both parents and teachers of the students participating in the OLPC program. The parents with whom I spoke are pictured below.
The parents attested to the fact that their children are more excited about school in general since the advent of the laptops. The students have homework assigned on the laptops most days of the week. Their children have taught the parents how to use the chat function with the laptops, how to take photos, how to draw, and how to play and record music. Just as the teachers can send notes home to the parents, the parents have also discovered that they can send notes back to the teachers on the XOs.
As at Patukae, the parents were given a “training session” before the laptops were distributed—in terms of how to handle having a laptop in their household, if not in how to use it. Mainly, they were explained the importance of time management for the children—that their children were not to be playing games on the XO in place of doing their chores. Even so—there was one “training” aspect they hadn’t anticipated: due to limited battery life, one of the parents shared with me that there have been some sneaky shenanigans in her household: siblings have been known to swap their brother’s or sister’s battery if one has a charge and the other’s is dead!
Two parents reported that one of their older children received the laptop for school, and as a result, they have taught their younger siblings letters, numbers, colors, and to draw, even before the younger children started going to school. Thus, we have another example of the laptop benefitting entire families instead of just the child assigned the laptop. The children are becoming teachers within their families, in teams, and in groups.
The parents from Batuna were also very grateful to be a part of this project, but were concerned that there were not enough replacements from the very beginning, and that the future of the program was in doubt.
This issue also arose when I spoke with the teachers (and with Elnah, the tech specialist) pictured above. I mentioned in the previous post the dual challenges facing this school: no Internet connectivity and the departure of the principal and four teachers—bringing their XOs with them and out of Batuna. The teachers asserted that there should be some extra XOs supplied with any deployment, to keep a stock on hand for situations like this one, or for when laptops break, or for when a child forgets their XO at home, etc.
I spoke in greater depth with these teachers about the debate between sending the XOs home, or keeping them at school, and there was a division of opinion between what was the best approach. We all agreed that it would be ideal to have both a computer lab at the school, and laptops to send home with the children. Due to constrained resources present with every XO deployment I’ve seen so far, this hasn’t yet been a reality anywhere that I’m aware of, but I think it would be a good practice to consider for future deployments.
Some other positive things that the teachers pointed out regarding the children using the XOs in class:
The laptops help the children read, improve their writing skills, memorize their math problems, play games, and work in pairs, teams, and individually.
It’s made learning more fun, inspiring, and the children are more excited to come to class. (I can only assume, from the teachers’ enthusiasm, that it’s also made teaching more fun, inspiring, and exciting, too.)
If a child is ill, the teacher can send the homework assignment to the sick child over chat, and they won’t miss so much work.
The XOs are proving useful in terms of helping the teachers meet the curriculum standards (which was also the case in Patukae).
The teachers are using the XOs for grading, letters home, and lesson planning.
The teachers did, however, point out the challenge of not knowing the future of the project. I can imagine that it must be quite a challenge to persevere in making XO-friendly lesson plans and to continue to brainstorm about how to use the XOs to align with and further the attainment of national curriculum standards when half of the teachers and a growing number of students do not have the laptops.
So, this post remains a plea that the pilot schools in the Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands not be forgotten about or abandoned by those with the ability to continue the program, provide additional laptops, and support these attempts at integrating technology into the schools. The teachers, the students, the students’ families, and the entire communities are very enthusiastic for this technology, and have committed a great deal of time and effort into the laptops’ adoption and effective use. Their interest and their efforts should be supported and rewarded.