Category Archives: school

School

Hello world! from Bhagmalpur… part-2

Following on from the first visit to Bhagmalpur, a second round of software development, bugfixes and finally deployment took place in the ensuing three weeks or so. There were some lessons we had learned watching the server in action:

  • Power is a huge issue. A server needs to come across as a reliable ‘always-on’ kind of appliance, and the situation in the village was not helping on this. While there are efforts to install solar panels to provide uninterrupted power, I took a UPS containing two 7.2 AH batteries, enough to supply continuous power for 12-14 hrs on average.
  • Since the server (xo-1.75 laptop) was not installed in a readily accessible place, as would normally be the case, it was important it would turn itself on as soon as AC power was supplied. Thanks to Richard Smith for helping get around this.
  • The server shouldn’t go into suspend when the laptop’s lid is closed. A simple setting change sufficed.
  • If for any reason, some of the services being hosted by the server go down, they should be brought back up automatically. For this we experimented with a tool called monit, which proved itself to be quite useful. Monit can be smartly configured to restart many types of services.
  • The service that converts the collected statistical data into usable information needs to run on the server itself, so we don’t have to transfer large amounts of data to do a proper analysis.
  • A reliable method of updating and installing new server software. Since doing a vanilla install while present in the village was a cumbersome task, we had to come up with a mechanism to install all these updates/fixes in a robust, fast and repeatable manner. We used a tool called ansible to carry this out. (Hint: you will hear a lot more about ansible in future XSCE releases).

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We also installed power backup to a second ubiquity picostation working in repeater mode to increase the available server uptime. The picostation consumes about 5W, so a single 7.2AH battery provides decent backup. In the evening while we were testing the range of both the AP’s, unknown to us, a bunch of kids gathered on the rooftop of Dr. Verma’s house, and started collaborating through various sugar activities and the internet.

Earlier during the day, some kids brought in a broken screen, and asked me to replace it. However, being the constructionist project that OLPC is (and the lazy person that I am), I told them to figure it out on their own. One of the kids already knew how to fix the screen, so he taught the other kid all by himself to remove the battery, unscrew the relevant parts, gently remove the display and it’s cables, plug in the new one, screw everything back in and voila! Instant joy. Just for the fun of it, a few more kids got into this hardware debugging exercise.

One byproduct of constructivism, which is often ignored is the inculcation of qualities like grit, determination and confidence, which Paul Tough has explored at some length. Having been to the village 3 weeks ago, and a year ago, I could see the change in the way the kids went about themselves and around the laptops. We will only be able to see the true effect of such changes in learning methods a few years down the line, however, we hope to carry out research analyzing the data we collect. (and discussed at length in a soon-to-be-published blog post :-)).

At night, I took a few moments to pause and reflect on a job well done, and the part everyone played to perfection. Sameer, with an accurate assessment of what was needed, and his expert insights; Santi, Nitika for handling the technology side of things, the XSCE community for providing us with a stable base, Upendra and Tripti-ji without whose everyday effort, the deployment wouldn’t even exist, the parents, who encourage their little ones to learn “the computer” even if they don’t themselves understand it’s implications and finally; the never-ending passion and curiosity of the children of Bhagmalpur. To me, the true power of democratized, community driven efforts made itself as conspicuous as the brilliant shimmering stars in the sky that night!

The Milky Way galaxy (or akash-ganga/आकाशगंगा) visible from the crystal clear night skies of Bhagmalpur

The Milky Way galaxy (or akash-ganga/आकाशगंगा) visible from the crystal clear night skies of Bhagmalpur

The following morning, I had to get up early and leave for the airport, since I was unable to find a train reservation on the way back. The newly spruced up airport named after Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri  at Varanasi was a 2.5 hour bus ride away from the nearby town of Shahganj (which is also the nearest railhead to Bhagmalpur). It was interesting to note that there was no functional WiFi internet at a national airport, while we had quietly empowered the kids in a remote village unknown to the rest of the world. Saludos, Anish

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Filed under books, children, education, hardware, network, school, software, tech

So, what’s working?

We went through an interview marathon with the children in Bhagmalpur yesterday. The interviews were done over the phone with plenty of help from my mother who translated and asked questions in Hindi. At this point, the children have had their OLPC XO-1 laptop for six-to-eight weeks. While we are still busy documenting all that was gleaned from these calls, here are some interesting observations:

  • Of all the children who have registered for a “computer” course at school, none have actually ever used a computer because they have been told that the computer is broken, and so the teacher cannot teach anything. Reminds me of the “Computer Club” at August Town Primary School in Jamaica.
  • Many children like to learn about elements such as Hydrogen and Nitrogen because they have started to learn about elements in their school. Note that nobody has ever told them about chemistry or elements on the XO. None whatsoever. They have discovered these on their own.
  • Many children like to use the calculator. They use it to get assistance in their math lessons. They use the Calculate activity to check their answers.
  • TamTamMini seems to be another favorite.
  • Most have asked about Internet or Browse Activity (they all call it “activity”, again something they have gleaned on their own) but none of them have ever used the Internet or even know what Browse is. We still don’t have good connectivity in Bhagmalpur.
  • We are using a “One Laptop per Child per Family” model, and in all cases, a sibling (older or younger) uses the XO laptop as well. However, in none of the cases do any of the parents use the XO. In some cases the parents actually think their child “wastes time” on the XO. They don’t see a reason why the kid should do anything but “study for school” on the computer. The parents want digital copies of textbooks on the XO. Interestingly, none of the children asked for textbooks on the XO.

While we’ll get more results in the next few months, these are some anecdotal observations that stand out. More to come soon.

Offline Wikipedia page on Hydrogen

Offline Wikipedia page on Hydrogen prepackaged on OLPC XO laptops. No Internet access required.

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Filed under children, education, family, music, school

Garima

On my visit to Bhagmalpur in 2008, I made an extra effort to go to the local school and see for myself how things were done. Until then, most of my family members would not be too enthusiastic about any of us visiting the school. My mother is a product of this school. So are all her siblings. However, back then the school was a lot more resourceful. The current state of the school isn’t great. Maybe that’s why nobody really wants to go check it out.

Bhagmalpur Pre-Middle School was started by my mother’s paternal grandfather Dargahi Lal and his brother Rajkumar Lal. As far as I can tell, the school was started either pre-independence (pre-1947) or right around then. Eventually, the school was handed over to the Uttar Pradesh government to be subsumed into the abyss of the educational system. It now serves the population of six neighboring villages.

पूर्व माध्यमिक विद्यालय Poorva Maadhyamik Vidyalaya (Pre Middle School)

पूर्व माध्यमिक विद्यालय Poorva Maadhyamik Vidyalaya (Pre Middle School)

One afternoon, off we went to the school, to meet with the Principal and see what things were like, and what potential it held. At the school, we found out why all the kids were outdoors. No, it wasn’t recess. The classrooms were too small to hold the entire class. Each room held 35 children, while each class had 100+ kids. Boys and girls sat separately (reminded me of my high school from many years ago), but they sat under a tree. Each grade level had its own tree.

Under one such tree, we set up a table and I had a little chat with the children. It was 7th grade as far as I can remember. They called forth the “best” student, a girl by the name Garima Srivastava, to come forward and type her name on an XO in Devanagari, the script used for Hindi (I had obtained two OLPC XO-1 laptops from the Digital Bridge Foundation (DBF) as loaners. These had Devanagari keyboards). After typing her name on the XO – for the first time ever on a computer – Garima held it up for all to see and I took her photograph.

Garima on Flickr

Garima in Bhagmalpur

Given that the XOs were loaners, I couldn’t leave these in Bhagmalpur (I could, but I would end up upsetting my DBF friends) so Garima posed with an XO, but never owned one. That one photograph has traveled far and wide. It is up on Flickr. It showed up front and center on OLPC’s video. Most recently, Garima shares the pages of SF State Magazine with the likes of Annette Bening, Delroy Lindo, Johnny Mathis, Dana Carvey, and of course, many SF State projects.

After a long and trying effort, I am very close to fulfilling a promise I made to myself in 2008. Garima will finally get her own XO. Watch this blog as we work towards fulfilling that promise soon. In the mean time, we’ve printed out her pictures and shown her the video. She is on the World Wide Web and all over the world, while she awaits her XO in Bhagmalpur.

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Filed under children, education, outreach, school