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.