Posts Tagged ‘ethiopia’

Ethiopia’s second OLPC deployment

Friday, October 10th, 2008

The ecbp team started the 2nd OLPC Ethiopia deployment today. This time, we are working at a school in Addis Ababa. The school itself is similar to another local school that I wrote about in my first week, although smaller (approximately 1000 students, rather than 2800).

Both through mistakenly thinking this school was a public school, and also through the radiance of this photo, I was expecting the school to be more modern and have better facilities than the others I have seen. However, upon arrival I learn that this is another government school, and the facilities are strikingly bare.

As we walk into the school, the first thing that hits me is the noise of many chattering children. I ask my coworkers if this is their break (although I am doubting that myself, the schoolyard being mostly empty). “No, this is how they learn in class.” The teacher yells a question, and the kids all yell the answer. Or the teacher yells some kind of statement, and the kids repeat it. Over and over again. With many classes in a small area, it’s just a mess of (Amharic) sound.

Later on, I am within earshot of an English lesson. “HOW ARE YOU”, yells the teacher. The kids respond in unison, “I AM FINE THANKYOU.” This repeats indefinitely, almost army-like “SIR YES SIR” style.

The children are very friendly and flock around me, shaking my hand and asking my name. I discover that I have a supernatural ability to control their movement, simply by pointing my camera in different directions. Here is our attempt to get a photo of me with some children — you can actually see me, if you look carefully:

We spend the morning conducting questionnaires, which will generate data for evaluating the effects of the laptops (more data will be collected some time later, and data will also be collected from schools without laptops). Then, we start deployment in the afternoon. Things are nicely organised, with the kids coming up one by one, presenting signed letters from their parents, and signing for their laptops. They obey instructions to not power on the laptop until everyone in the class has signed for their XO. The teachers give out 200-300 laptops in total, with only a little assistance from ourselves.

Chaos ensues as classrooms full of children eagerly power on their laptops for the first time. The Ethiopian team explain that the children must type in their name, although some children do not seem to understand. I use my minimal Amharic to help them out, but it’s difficult and things get harder as the other children get into Sugar and make noise as they start exploring. “Teacher, teacher” they say, pulling at my clothes. I turn to them and am greeted with “Camera, camera!” as they beg me to show them how to open Record (an instant hit).

Overall, it was a very tiring day, but a lot of fun, and rewarding to see so many happy children. Students from other classes hounded me for laptops as we left; we will return on Monday to finish the job.

Photostream updated.

OLPC Ethiopia updates

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Last weekend, I wrote about Ethiopia’s first OLPC deployment. We’ve been back to the school several times since, so I have a few stories to share.

Firstly, Prof Tom Postmes and Dr Nina Hansen visited. They are starting a research project at the University of Groningen to measure the effects of the XOs on the children. On their journey to the school, they describe how they saw a child in a field, tending to his cattle. In one hand, he has a whip for controlling the animals. In the other? An XO.

Later in their journey, still before reaching the school, they find a child under a tree using his XO. Unlike all the other kids, he’s not at all excited about their presence, or them taking photos, and has no interest in seeing those photos on the camera display. He’s glued to his XO screen. They peer around to see what is draining all his attention, and they see the child looking through the Nature images bundle. This kid is fascinated by photos of the Eiffel tower, space shuttles, etc. His horizons just exploded…

The researchers were also intrigued by the way some of the children were using the Record activity. Some of these children do not have access to mirrors, and were using Record to look at themselves. Being social psychologists, Tom and Nina were excited about the changes this will have on the childrens’ self-perception and self esteem.

Back at the office, the OLPC Ethiopia team worked on creating content bundles of the regional curriculum textbooks for the school. They have acquried 39 of the textbooks (grades 2 through 8) as PDF. On Friday, we went back to the school and showed the teachers how to install them (using a customization key).

We decided to add the WikipediaEN activity along with the textbooks. In addition to a heap of textbooks, 600 kids in the middle of nowhere now have 8500 of the most popular Wikipedia articles in their hands. The children learn English from an early age, so I’m confident that it will be of use.

A journalist visited, and we took him to the school on Monday. I’ll leave it up to him to report on his findings, although I will jump in and share my favourite quote: when asked about the parents views of the laptops, the school headteacher explained how the parents view the laptops as “the rebirth of their children.”

The reborn children have not yet received any tutoring about the laptops. Although they have figured out an incredible amount for themselves, they did not seem to have figured out the collaboration features. So, we gathered 15 or so children in a classroom, and showed them how to set up shared Chat, Distance and Write activities over the mesh. They were ecstatic. We told them to tell all their friends, and then we returned to Addis with high spirits.

Plans with other schools are progressing. The Ethiopian way of life is simply less organised than what I’m used to. It’s normal here for people to turn back on their plans, multiple times. Assuming plans stick (hah), I should get to see at least one more deployment.

Ethiopia’s first OLPC deployment

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

This week, I joined the OLPC Ethiopia team on their travels to a rural school in the Oromia region. The 2 hour drive was fascinating. You start off driving through typical Addis city areas, but slowly there are more and more animals on the road. People are jogging behind their donkeys, which are being used to transport wood and other materials. The landscape improves. After more and more animal-dodging, we reach a town with some basic shops, and the road becomes a dirt track. Oh good, we’ve arrived.


The journey continues. Houses turn into shacks and then into mud huts. Fewer and fewer people are around, and the countryside gets richer and richer. Never again am I complaining about bumpy roads in the UK/US. On every step of the journey, I’m thinking “there’s no way we’re sending laptops here!”

30 minutes later, we veer off road and start driving up a grassy bank. We stop at a gap in a fence. Welcome to Mulosayoo school.

The school is made up of a number of disconnected buildings, each one holding one or two classrooms. The playground/assembly area is just some grass. Cows are calmly wandering around (unfortunately we did not budget any laptops for them though). The children are fascinated by my presence, seemingly having never seen a white person before. One of the first things that strikes me about the classrooms is that they do not even have lights!

The teachers are excited but having little experience with computers, they are challenged by the training. Perhaps one of the most encouraging stories from the training days came from a daughter of one of the teachers. The teachers had been in possession of the laptops for a while beforehand, and this young girl had spent some time with it. She eagerly explained how she had learned to write, paint, and take photos, without any introduction or training whatsoever.

There was much excitement as laptops were distributed.

My favourite moment of the experience was driving back on the 3rd day. Shortly after leaving we drove past children walking home with their laptops. We then reached a scene where there was a rural-looking man on horseback, dressed in simple, rag-like clothing. Remember, we’re totally in the middle of nowhere. 3 children were following on foot, holding their high-tech XO laptops. This was easily the biggest mix of generations, lifestyle and technology that I have ever seen in a single scene. No photo, unfortunately, so it will just remain as a memory.

More pics on the OLPC photostream.

Addis Ababa, week 1

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

I’ve completed my first week in Ethiopia. I’ve spent most of the time working with the ecbp team behind the project. This week, we have been preparing laptops for distribution and have completed the first round of teacher training at a local school.

It is difficult to appreciate just how simple this school is. The classrooms are bare, with nothing more than desks, chairs, a blackboard and sometimes a sink. It will be an interesting contrast to see children using high-tech XO laptops in this environment.

I never know what to comment on when people ask for my opinion on the area. My hotel is in a newer part of town, on a busy road. Blue-and-white taxi buses fly past, breaking every rule of the roads that I’m used to, with someone hanging out of the window shouting out the destination. Many vehicles are old and the petrol fumes are a little unpleasant, and combined with the light air at this altitude it is hard to get used to breathing while on the road-side. Ethiopian children swarm around you, trying to sell chewing gum and clean your shoes. The local food is nice, and extremely cheap, but a bit too much of the same to have all the time.

There is more industry here than you might expect, but I think it is heavily propped up by foreign aid. During a conversation with a local about the country in general, he made the amusing remark that he views Ethiopians as lesser successful than people in the west because Ethiopians are generally lazy and get nice weather all the time!

Amharic is an interesting language. Thanks to a patient coworker, I’ve picked up some basic phrases, can count to 39, and have acquired some basic understanding of the Ge’ez alphabet. Vowels only exist as suffixes to consonants, so there is a nice mapping from written form to pronounciation. Other interesting differences include the calendar (it’s new year 2001 in Ethiopia, and there are 13 months in a year), and the time system (00:00 is sunrise, not midnight). Sometimes I don’t know whether to believe the people who tell me this!

After spending almost all of my time working this week, I ventured out today and saw some more of the city. It was interesting to see the older districts, more typical of the area. I confronted my fear of the aforementioned taxis (assisted by a friend!) and practiced my minimal Amharic.

On Monday, I will visit a school a little out of town. I’ll be observing the teacher training, then I’ll assist with Wednesday’s deployment of 650 laptops to the students.


Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

On Friday, I’m heading to Ethiopia to work with the local OLPC team for a few weeks. I’ll be educating them on technical matters, encouraging and equipping them to become further involved with project development, and I’ll assist with the deployment of 5000 XO laptops to schoolchildren. These laptops were donated through last year’s Give One Get One US/Canada promotion. I also plan to visit the OLPC efforts in Rwanda.

I’ll be back in the US in mid-October and will return to the UK soon after.