Tag Archives: paraguay

OLPC Paraguay report & more

I wrote up a summary of my experience in Paraguay, you can read it on the OLPC wiki.

Last week, I gave a presentation about OLPC in the field at an OLPC UK meeting. It went well and it was nice to meet everyone for the first time. They are planning an exciting pilot deployment in a London school. I’ll leave them to announce the details as things progress.

The development of the XO-1.5 software release is progressing nicely. We have automated builds that work reasonably well.

And now would also be a good time to mention my upcoming plans; on July 18th I will be flying out to Nepal to spend 12 weeks as a volunteer for Open Learning Exchange Nepal, the organisation implementing One Laptop per Child in that country. Exciting!

XO laptop deployment logistics

For a small team, deploying 3500 XO laptops in 10 schools is a significant challenge. The difficulties include assigning the correct number of laptops to each class, ensuring that each child has a laptop, and having some way of tracking which child owns which laptop for the purpose of future tech support and repairs. Additionally, the handout process can be difficult – children are extremely excited to receive their laptops, hence the classroom environment can easily ascend into chaos, becoming rather stressful. The children also need some initial guidance to complete the installation (entering your name, and choosing colours for the sugar interface).

For the OLPC Paraguay deployments in Caacupé, we created a system which worked rather well. Actually, the basis of it was shamelessly copied from Uruguay, as recently observed by Sebastian Codas.

First, the preparatory stages:

  1. The teacher of each class creates a register of their students, including their national ID number. (In Paraguay, the children are required to obtain national ID before receiving a laptop, whereas having national ID at that age is ordinarily quite rare. The huge increase in the number of children with ID in Caacupé is another significant success of this project.)
  2. The principal of each school submits all the registers to ParaguayEduca.
  3. The registers are entered into ParaguayEduca’s inventory system.
  4. The inventory system generates a label for each laptop, including: student’s name, class, school, and a random, unique ID. The unique ID is also printed on the label as a barcode.
  5. When printing the laptop labels, the inventory system also generates the labels to go on the laptop boxes (up to 5 laptops per box), including: school, class, and total number of boxes that should be received by that class. Laptops are combined into boxes by classes – no box ever has more than 1 destination.

Secondly, the process of applying the labels:

  1. Each box of 5 laptops is unboxed individually.
  2. The pages of labels (many per page, grouped by destination classroom) are cut up into individual labels.
  3. The laptop labels are stuck to the laptops, inside the battery compartment.
  4. Each laptop is scanned into the inventory system using a USB barcode scanner. Note that two barcodes are scanned per laptop (which are next to each other): First, the label with student information as described above; second, the already-present barcode that shows the serial number of the laptop. This creates an association between the unique serial number of each laptop, and the student that will receive it.
  5. The laptops are reboxed, with the appropriate labels being stuck to the box.
  6. The laptop boxes are stacked according to which school they are heading to.
Labelling laptops
Labelling laptops in the warehouse

Finally, the delivery:

  1. The laptops for an entire school are loaded into a truck.
  2. We drive to the school.
  3. We request the help of 15 or so of children from upper grades, ones that can carry laptop boxes.
  4. We unload each laptop box from the truck, giving it to a child. An accompanying teacher clarifies the exact location of the classroom, and the children move the boxes.
  5. In the classroom, a volunteer explains the process to the teacher: 5 laptops per box, each laptop has a label. Simply read out the student’s name as printed on the laptop, insert the battery, hand over the laptop and a charger, and move onto the next one. Note that no registration or paperwork is needed here (it was done much earlier), it is literally handing out the laptops to excited children.
Laptop handout at Santa Teresita Cabañas
Easy laptop handout process

There are several nice points about this system. Firstly, laptop handout, which can be a stressful and difficult process, is now incredibly easy and can be done by anyone (all the difficult parts including paperwork have been done beforehand), allowing us to harness a group of local volunteers without any prior involvement in the project. Secondly, the information (student name and class) visible on the label can be easily used by anyone to return a misplaced XO to its owner, and further enforces the principle of child ownership. Thirdly, it’s quite failure-proof: the label is inside the battery compartment so is unlikely to be lost or damaged, but even if so, a new label can be easily generated from the serial number of the laptop (which is very difficult to displace, being additionally stored on a chip inside the laptop!).

However, no system is perfect. Any system which requires someone to do something 3500 times — such as slicing and applying labels — is time consuming and prone to human error. We were a little low on space, in a hot and smelly warehouse. Nevertheless, the project itself and the experiences in the schools were more than enough to keep us motivated.

It’s amazing to look back on the week and to see how much work was done, even if we did start at 5am every day! Within 4 days, we completed entering the registers into the inventory system, finalizing and testing connectivity and electricity at schools, printing labels and labelling laptops, and of course delivering laptops to schools and assisting the handout.

OLPC deployments in Caacupé, Paraguay: Part 3

Continuing from part 2:

We finished the deployment on Thursday morning with two of the larger schools. First thing, we went to Tiniente Aquino, in time for their ceremony. While quite used to these now (various talks and testmonials, press, the national anthem and a dance performance) it was again exciting to witness the excitement in the air. At the close of ceremony we went into the classes and initiated the handout.

Now experts in the art, we arrived at the final school (for now), Herminia Machada. The introductory ceremony featured a dance including an XO laptop! Everyone was very friendly and after a small hiccup with the server, everything was fine.

Celebration at Herminia Machada

To mark the end of the deployment, we returned to the school of Daniel Ortellado, where a lunch had been prepared for the whole team. We then spent some time with children exploring their laptops. As we sat down for a group photo, more and more children came over to take photos using their laptops, refusing to let us leave before they had captured the moment for themselves. For us, it was a nice point on which to end the week.

ParaguayEduca team Group photo

Of course, with only a small team distributing almost 1000 laptops per day, some hiccups are inevitable. The worst error was when we accidentally missed 6 classes when deploying at one school, but with support from the teachers we finished everything off a few hours later.

Some children had not been correctly registered with us, so did not receive laptops initially. Try telling a child that there is no laptop for them when all of the other children are turning theirs on for the first time. Raúl was so touched by one teary-eyed girl in this situation that he actually gave her his personal laptop, but after a few minutes of exploring she was considerate enough to hand it back and wait a day or two for us to solve the problem.

Another difficulty is with faulty laptops; only a few have been reported so far, but it’s difficult when you encounter them. Our strategy for this and for missing laptops was for the teachers to make a list of problems to hand to the principal of the school. With our tight schedule, it was simply not possible to fix the problems on-the-spot, but we managed to attack them school-by-school in timely fashion.

New XOs

ParaguayEduca officially formed less than a year ago, so it is a great achievement for them to have now saturated 50% of a big city through deployments in 5 rural and 5 urban schools. Funds have already been secured to purchase laptops to saturate the other 50%. The support from sponsors, teachers, parents and communities here is incredible; the combination of public and private sector interest plus links to government seems to be the perfect recipe for such a project in this country.

Of course, this is not the end of the OLPC Paraguay implementation, it is merely the start.

OLPC deployments in Caacupé, Paraguay: Part 2

Continuing from part 1:

After several hours of preparation in the gloomy hours of Tuesday morning, we hopped in the truck and returned to the school of Tiniente Fariña to deliver laptops to the students who attend the morning shift. Everything went smoothly, as the teachers had already learned the handout process from doing it in the previous afternoon.

Following on, we delivered to the rural school of Daniel Ortellado. Like many schools, this one has now been themed for OLPC by the students and community. You can see one of the several XO logos freshly painted on the exterior in the photo below, and note the new colours of the classroom interior.

Daniel Ortellado Daniel Ortellado

Next up was the lovely school of Profesor Cabrera, slightly off out into the countryside. We arrived with perfect timing; the children were lined up in the courtyard, teachers and parents seated, ready to commence the ceremony. This video captures the excitement. Soon after, the children began to chant ‘X-O-X-O’ at the tops of their voices. After some brief talks including one from the governor of Caacupé, we handed over 6 laptops (one to each child from each grade) and then moved into the classrooms to hand over the rest.

Chanting children at Profesora Cabrera

In the afternoon, we headed to Cristo Rey. This school was a little different, as at least for the younger grades, all the parents were present and they were the recipients of the laptops (before passing them onto their children later). The sheer number of people in the school made things a little more chaotic, but it was evident that the teachers had planned the procedure in advance and were well prepared for the handout.

We used Wednesday to take care of some of the smaller schools. Bright and early was Raúl Peña. It was interesting to see children head straight for the internet in this school, whereas in other places, Speak and Record were the first instant-hit activity epidemics. This school is located near the main WiMaX base station which provides internet to all 10 schools, and hence has an impressively speedy connection. The internet connections are provided for free by Personal, a loyal sponsor of the project.

Laptop handout at Raúl Peña Raúl Peña

Next up, we delivered to Santa Teresita Cabañas, a rural school. This school is tiny but in some ways that made the event even more significant; the children and parents had actually turned up eagerly in the morning even though we told them that we would not be arriving until the afternoon! They held a very cute ceremony with an impressive dance performance, and then we handed out laptops to the entire school on-stage.

Dance at Santa Teresita Cabañas Santa Teresita Cabañas

Somehow still on schedule, we headed to Dr Pino to conclude the day, another rural school. Many parents were in attendance of the handout.

Dr Pino

more photos on flickr.
Continue reading part 3.

OLPC deployments in Caacupé, Paraguay: Part 1

This marks the end of an unforgettable week for me and the team at ParaguayEduca. Within 4 days, we completed the deployment of 3500 laptops in the city of Caacupé, Paraguay, reaching about 50% of the city’s children aged 6-12. After working close to 16 hours every day, we may have lost out on some eating and sleeping but every minute was worth it!

The week really started on Saturday, when a couple of team members headed to Caacupé to start the process of labelling laptops which I will write more about the other time. They were assisted by a group of volunteers.

On Sunday, the rest of us travelled to Caacupé with high spirits. We are lucky enough to have been given a beautiful, enormous old house in the city which we stayed in for most of the week. We did some planning and set up camp.

Monday started at 4am, a pattern which repeated for the whole week. Most of the team went to the warehouse to continue labelling; I went to finish off some infrastructure and testing work in some schools. When 9am arrived, I had already been working in 6 schools that day. The next step was preparing for the grand symbolic event representing the introduction of the laptops, at the school of Tiniente Fariña. Everything was wonderfully prepared; we had a large audience, lots of press, and had the presence of various important people including the minister of education and the vice president. After various talks and a performance from a well known Paraguayan music group, we handed over the first 10 laptops, to 1 child from each school.

Opening ceremony of laptop handout First children with laptops

At the close of the event, the children went to their classes and we started the laptop handout for the afternoon students at Tiniente Fariña. Everything went smoothly, I will be writing more about the actual logistics another time. There was much excitement in the air.

Late in the afternoon, we went to the second school, Municipal Santa Teresita. As we walked in carrying boxes, we were greeted with a huge cheer and many smiling children! Another symbolic ceremony was underway, for the parents and children of the school. We began handing out the laptops on stage and moved inside when it got dark. The children were very excited, applauding every single recipient of a laptop, but to my amazement were obedient enough to leave the school without turning on their laptops. The teachers wanted them to wait until the following day, when they would have time to assist the students getting started.

One of the most amazing aspects of the week was simply the excitement of the children. With all of the media attention of the Paraguayan project and the amazing support of teachers and the community, the children were very aware that they would be receiving laptops! Most schools had an opening ceremony, and many have been decorated accordingly. The students had produced various artwork and posters.

More photos on Flickr.
Continue reading part 2.

Me in los diarios

The OLPC Paraguay project gets a lot of media attention here, especially in this important time. Word spread that an Englishman is in town, which has resulted in newspaper publicity:

First, an interview in La Nacion: Paraguay se convierte en foco regional del proyecto OLPC (Paraguay becomes the regional focus of the OLPC project). I’m not too proud of this one, there are numerous inaccuracies and I’m given far too much credit.

Secondly, two very good articles in the highly-popular ABC newspaper:

In print form, both of the ABC articles appeared on 1 page in the main section of the newspaper, occupying the whole page. And it was published on a Sunday, which is a day when seemingly everyone in Paraguay reads this newspaper. In addition to receiving emails from other parts of the country, various friends-of-friends have been in contact after seeing it, and seemingly everyone I visit now also knows about it!


We’ve just completed installing our customized OLPC software build on 3737 XOs in Paraguay, in less than 3 days, in stupendous 37°C heat. Our secret? Tereré. And NANDblaster (for which we have coined the new Spanish verb NANDblastear).

NANDblaster is a new OLPC technology which allows for mass-installation of software on XOs, wirelessly. The credit for the implementation goes to Mitch Bradley, David Woodhouse, and the people behind the technologies on which they build upon. The technically minded will understand the following brief explanation of the system:

One XO acts as a server, continually multicasting the software image over the mesh. The target XOs boot the NANDblaster client from the firmware and receive the image. Communication is strictly one-way; the clients start downloading at whatever point the server was at when they were booted, and they wait until they have all the data before decoding it. There is redundancy; the XOs only have to receive any 100 in 135 packets that are transmitted for each disk block, but if they don’t then they can just pick up more on the next pass. Due to the combination of multicast and one-way communcation, there is no limit (other than physical space) to how many XOs you can NANDblast and the same time, and the speed of software installation on any XO is the same regardless of whether there are 10 or 1000 other XOs being NANDblasted simultaneously. Rather incredible!

We were joined at various points by a number of kind victims volunteers and we basically ended up with an efficient production line with 4 roles, all simple tasks which can be done by anyone:

  1. Unboxing and inserting batteries.
  2. Upgrading to NANDblaster firmware and injecting security keys using a USB disk, and then starting the NANDblaster client (not as complicated as it sounds, only 4 keypresses!).
  3. Moving the XOs that are being NANDblasted to a separate area to free up power plugs for role #1, and moving the XOs that have finished being NANDblasted to the reboxing area.
  4. Removing batteries and reboxing.

We had 53 power sockets available, 15 USB disks, and 6 large tables. We performed best with about 12 workers, completing more than 250 laptops per hour (2000 in 1 day).

We were also assisted by our warehousing partner, Distribución Corderilla, in moving the 750 laptop boxes to and from the blasting area, and opening the impenetrable wooden crates in which the laptops were shipped (thanks, Quanta).

Advantages aside, the implementation is not perfect, as NANDblaster causes some health-related side effects; I can’t close my eyes without seeing green laptops, and I keep hearing the XO startup sound in the shower.

More photos on Flickr.

OLPC Paraguay: an overdue introduction

As I mentioned briefly before, I’m helping out with the One Laptop per Child implementation in Paraguay for 3 months. I’ve been here for a few weeks and have decided it’s time to properly introduce the project!

A dedicated new organization known as ParaguayEduca is heading up the operation. It’s mostly young people, full of energy and ideas. Within the organization there are people working on the educational side of things, there is a skilled technical team, and also there are people handling the many logistical/administrative/political aspects that surround such a project. They have all aspects covered and have been extremely helpful in helping me to settle, adjust to the extreme climate, and visit different parts of this lesser-known country.

The goal of the organization does not need explanation: to improve education by implementing One Laptop per Child for every child in Paraguay.

The launch of the project was made possible thanks to a donation of 4000 laptops from SWIFT. These laptops will be deployed in the city of Caacupé, the capital of the Cordillera department. Caacupé is usually a tranquil city but is well known for its church (Basilica de Caacupé) and livens up for some religious festivals.

We are working in 10 schools in Caacupé, approximately 3600 children and 150 teachers. This covers over 50% of the city. As is typical for OLPC deployments, the children get to take the laptops home and share with their family. The government supports the project and has installed electrical infrastructure at all the schools, and good relationships with Personal, a major telecommunications company, has resulted in full internet connectivity in all 10 schools. The organization also has great links with media, frequently appearing on the front page of national newspapers, and on national TV.

Caacupé teacher training. Photo by Rodolfo D. Arce S.The teachers are a major strength to the project here; they are very excited about the laptops, and even gave up 4 weeks of their vacations to attend laptop training sessions. The training featured a lot of internet-based activities, and was carried out by 20 “formadores,” local people recruited by ParaguayEduca in order to train the teachers.

So far, I have been mostly working on technical aspects – preparing the software image, networking, and harnessing the very latest OLPC technology to ease the deployment. I also worked on bundling up 300+ stories from local culture for distribution on the laptops.

The laptops have arrived in port, and we are currently preparing the warehouse for the mass installation of software. Laptops will be handed out to children in the next few weeks, and I’ll be sure to write more about the upcoming events as they happen!

Mythical tales of Paraguay

The organization implementing One Laptop per Child here in Paraguay has established many useful contacts. One such contact is Guillermo Sequera, a very experienced traveller-researcher who has spent more than 20 years in the Paraguayan countryside studying the native people. He has collected many short stories of their culture, some mythical and some more factual.

The OLPC project is a great way to share cultural knowledge and history, so we’re using this opportunity to share 300+ of these stories (translated from obscure local languages into Spanish) on the XO laptops that we’ll soon be distributing.

I have been enjoying reading some of these in order to practice my Spanish. Here is a sample story which I’ve translated to English:

Nuwÿr ahnápsÿro xy doxyt
told by Ramon Chuwehe Zeballos Bibi
Original language: Yxyr Ahwoso

All of the Ahnápsÿro people are sons and daughters of two fish named Tobwich and Delybyta. When these fish are out of the water, they convert into people, and when they are below the water, they are fish.

There is a fish named Alpuhu that emits a sound “oho, oho, oho.” There is another fish that says “hmau, hmau, hmau.” These are the Kykybo fish, for this reason I tell them that all of the ahnápsÿro people are fish and all of the fish are Ahnápsÿro.

In recent times, we are afraid when we see the fish, and when we don’t see them, we are not afraid. They also keep their distance from us, but there are some that poison us, as if to leave their mark in the form of a scar. And only the shamans are those that can remove the venom. These shamans are sons of Delybyta, and are the origin of the Ahnápsÿro people.

I have bundled these up and published an initial .xol content bundle called Relatos de Paraguay. Community involvement in cleaning this up would be much appreciated! For example, while some stories are on their own individual pages, there are other pages which include many stories, which is not ideal when you want to resume reading another time.

Paraguay: cutting edge OLPC deployment

A couple of things have surprised me during my time so far in Asunción, technology-wise. For example, the ability to buy various items from shops/restaurants using credit from your phone, and drive-through ATMs (what an Americanism…).

Me and the others at ParaguayEduca have been working to make our OLPC deployment pretty high-tech too. Here are some of our projects and achievements:

  1. NANDblaster. We didn’t finalize our software image until very recently, several months after the laptops were manufactured, so we have to install software on 4000 laptops here in the warehouse. USB keys are so yesterday, so we’re transmitting the software wirelessly (multicast) using the brand new NANDblaster, developed and integrated into the OLPC firmware by Mitch Bradley. (well, as this firmware is brand new, we still have to plug a USB key into every machine to upgrade to a NANDblaster-capable firmware, but this is quick). More on this incredible technology another time…
  2. Deployment security keys. OLPC are handing off security-related support tasks to deployments themselves, and have produced a secure mechanism to allow for this delegation without revealing OLPC’s private security key. When I said that we are flashing a NANDblaster-capable firmware, we’re actually flashing a NANDblaster-capable keyjector-equipped firmware, which injects our special Paraguayan public security keys into the manufacturing data of each laptop. This means that Paraguay can now sign their own OS images, and produce their own activation leases, without relying on OLPC or having to disable the XO’s security features.
  3. Deploying the XS school server. Despite some attempts, I’ve not really managed to find any significant deployments that deploy school servers at each school. I believe we’re the one of the first large-scale deployments to put the XS into action across the board.
  4. Activation over 802.11 infrastructure networks. We’ve modified OLPCs security client in the initramfs to request activation leases from the school server over an AP-hosted wireless network (previously the only options were USB, SD card, and mesh, none of which scale very well).
  5. WiMaX. We are providing internet access to all 10 schools, over WiMaX. I haven’t heard of other deployments that use this technology. It is remarkably scalable; internet access is provided to all 10 schools using only a single WiMaX tower.