July 2009


As it is already late July, we are now approaching the last few weeks of our deployment. In the area of laptop training, we’ve made plenty of progress. We’ve been working with the teachers since we came back from Rwanda and we started working with the students about a week after that for one hour a day. There have been 2 major challenges that we have come across during teaching. The first is the age of our students. Before arriving, we had been under the impression that the school had all 7 grade levels so we had planned to target older grade levels. However, our school contains only P1, P2, and P3 grade levels. With such a young demographic, though they are all in the target age range for the XO laptops, we have had to move much more slowly than anticipated. We have split the children into 3 classes: 1 P3, 1 P1, and 1 mixed P1 and P2. The P1 and P2 classes are on the same training schedule while P3, because they move faster as a whole than the other two, is advancing quicker. Of course, within each class there is also great variation in skill level. None of the classes have an advanced enough grasp of written English to be able to write sentences without prompts – when we used the Chat activity in P3, the conversation was: “Cow” “Pig” “Buwaiswa”. P1 and P2 cannot read just yet; as a result, we have been limited to the more visually-based activities and will not be able to use any of the programming-based ones because they require the ability to read. We have covered Record, Paint, Speak, Maze, Memorize, and Tam Tam Mini. The teachers and students both enjoy the speaking activity, which reinforces learning letters and short words. We plan on using Paint as the basis for our learning projects with these 2 classes.

P3 is able to read and write short words and can hear and understand the language decently. They have also been much quicker with grasping the concepts for the activities. So far, we have covered Record, Write, Paint, Speak, Memorize, Maze, Chat, and we have started the programming-based activity, Scratch. The students have just finished creating their own Memorize game featuring pictures of things in and around the schoolyard. Our next project will be to use Scratch to create a short dialogue story featuring their own characters and backgrounds. With Scratch, the students have been progressing at a good pace. There was a small hiccup in teaching the ‘turn __ degrees’ command because they have not learned angles yet, but with some translation assistance from Hellen, they understood.

The second major challenge we have come across in teaching is an issue with hardware. For some reason, the mouse on many of the XOs either jumps around or freezes. As a result, the mouse does not go where the students direct it to, often providing for a very frustrating experience. It is especially frustrating with Paint when the children try to draw with the pen or brush. There are some fixes that we have taught the kids to use, but they still have to use those very often. Unfortunately, this problem cannot be solved so we can only try to make sure that they keep their mousepads and fingers clean and use the fixes they have been taught.

The most pressing issue that we are trying to resolve before our departure is the power problem. We had originally hoped to use DC chargers instead of the AC ones we were given in order to bypass the inverter and get maximum efficiency from our solar panels. Unfortunately, the solar panel installer has refused repeated calls and requests to visit the site to do some rewiring and deliver the chargers. Due to his unreliability, we have opted to purchase a generator that will be powerful enough to charge all the laptops. The generator will only be turned on for 3 hours a day to charge the XOs while the solar will be used for the server and routers full time. This situation is not ideal, as it is less environmentally sustainable, but this is the most promising solution at the moment so that the students do not have to take their laptops to the local ICT center (3-4 km away) to charge. Our NGO director hopes to get the generator here and running by the end of the week. We are optimistic that the issue will be resolved by the time we leave Buwaiswa.

We are working in a small school paid for and run by our partner NGO, Organization for Good Life of the Marginalized. The NGO covers all the school costs for the ~100 children who attend. It covers grades kindergarten, P1, P2, and P3. The school previously taught P4 as well, but were forced to shut it down due to budget constraints. The school has no electricity or running water. There are two classrooms, one with benches and desks, the other only with benches. There is a third room that is used to teach the kindergarteners in the early morning, although it is attached to a chicken coop and is not technically a part of the school. The students have small lined paper workbooks and pencils, but no other books or supplies. Classes start at 8 am, the youngest grades get out of school at 1 pm, and P3 stays until 4.

There are 3 teachers, but they don’t have strictly assigned classes. Lydia generally teaches the kindergarteners and P1, while Edith and Anett teach P1, P2, and P3, with some variations depending on the day/circumstances. Annett has attended university and received a degree in primary education. Edith and Lydia have both completed secondary school and received teaching certificates. We have not been able to observe the teachers outside of the time that we have been teaching the XOs to the class. However, Edith has already shown to be more suited to the constructionist learn technique, she has spent plenty of time exploring the activities outside of our daily teacher training sessions. She also works in class with the students to explain the XO, whereas Annett and Lydia tend to dictate what to do without defining for the kids why or what they are accomplishing.

The 3 teachers had never used computers prior to our teacher training sessions. Hellen, our NGO volunteer, has used computers in university, and after 4 weeks of using the XO has almost the same proficiency as the three of us. Because there is no grid power and most villagers are very poor, no one in the community owns a computer. Our NGO has established an ICT center in Butabaala, the nearest village with grid power, where students from the nearby secondary schools receive computer lessons. However very few people from our village attend that school and the ICT center is only a few months old.

The children are all very excited to see us, all the time. The older ones can usually contain themselves enough to pay attention, but the P1 aged kids tend to just grab our hands and stare adoringly into our eyes. Cute at first, highly frustrating when we’re trying to teach Shift+w=W and they refuse to tear their gazes away even for a moment to look at the keyboard. We know a few of the kids very well because they live at the orphanage across the path from us. They spend a lot of time playing drums on our front porch, playing board games in our living room, or just sneaking in to use our XOs when we’re asleep. The rest of the school kids we’re still learning, because we’ve only taught three days of class so far.