Here’s an interview with the kids in the village talking about their experiences of using the XO laptops and the XSCE server.
P.S. Please excuse my horrendous voice and pitiable interviewing skills 🙂
Here’s an interview with the kids in the village talking about their experiences of using the XO laptops and the XSCE server.
P.S. Please excuse my horrendous voice and pitiable interviewing skills 🙂
When I teach IT strategy, one of the first things I emphasize on, is that the mission is a more abstract, long term concept, and anything that changes the mission with changes to the market, competitors, collaborators, and other forces is probably not the mission to begin with. The mission is supposed to be like a lighthouse, guiding the ship through troubled waters and fog. Imagine your lighthouse changing coordinates every time the seas got rough! Your mission needs to be stable, so that you can hope to achieve it! If your “mission” changes that often, it ain’t mission; it’s just operational fidgeting. You’d be surprised how often organizations have trouble getting the operational mixed up with the strategic. Don’t believe me? Check out what Prof. Michael Porter has to say!
I use a simple tool in my class to describe driving towards a strategic goal, and how one can get derailed. The Mission and Core Competencies (MCC) matrix was published in the mid-nineties. It’s a comparison between the mission and core competencies of an organization. For simplicity’s sake, the author has divided the “mission” and “core competencies” scales into poor and good. This results in a 2×2 matrix, giving us four possible places we can be. We should be in a drive position, where the fit with both mission and core competencies is good. However, that’s not always the case. The organization can be in a drain, dilution, or distraction quadrant. While MCC was created as a tool for strategic management in organizations, it’s also a good approach for making decisions about everyday situations.
For instance, if the project at hand is a good fit with the mission, but we lack the competencies to get the job done, it becomes a dilution. In such a case, we usually hire new talent to improve competencies (long-term), or we outsource to an external agency. Working with open source software gives outsourcing a whole new meaning. Think about how much of the work at OLPC is “outsourced” (in a sense) to Sugarlabs, where volunteers build, test, debug and produce software for all the XO laptops worldwide. It’s a fascinating mechanism, but more on that some other time.
Of course, nobody wants to be in the drain quadrant. It’s a whole lot of fiddling and fidgeting, usually fuelled by hubris and/or groupthink. Once again, open source plays interesting angles here. Because open source encourages tinkering, (scratch an itch), getting focus can be hard, and hobbyist tinkering can do more harm than good, especially for getting the project out of the drain box. The early stages of XSCE comes to mind, when I think of this quadrant. Things have gotten much better, but we aren’t drive‘ing yet.
If the competencies are there, but it does not fulfil the mission, many organizations will take on the project to earn revenue (with a promise/commitment of doing so short term, until things get better), and then they slide down to modifying their mission to make it all fit. The dreaded distraction quadrant! This works short-term, but the trouble with this approach is that you end up solving the wrong problem. Lowering the bar (or raising it, if you are into limbo) makes it easier to “succeed”, but you may end up cheering the wrong kind of success.
Perhaps it’s simpler to think of it as a tale my grandmother used to tell us (aka streetlight effect). In short:
Once upon a time, a man got home late at night, and lost his keys while trying to open the door. It was quite dark there. So, he went searching for the keys by the lamp post. When asked why, he said “I know I lost my keys by the door, but the light is better here.”
For us, in the Bhagmalpur project, the mission is for the children to learn. The ways are via critical thinking and problem-solving, hence the focus on Sugar. The computers double up as information delivery channels, hence our focus on offline servers and Internet access. That’s a plus, but it’s more of a consequence. If the critical thinking and problem solving parts go well, the community will be better at using the newly-acquired information to make better, informed decisions. Thus far, Sugar and XO laptops have been the most viable for us. Therefore, that’s the way forward. We are not really grounded/concerned directly about cheap tablets or Android, or next newfangled thingamajig, or even about “what Santa may bring for Christmas”. What we are concerned with, is that the upcoming generation learn to solve their problems locally and thrive.
Searching for these keys in the dark is going to be very difficult, but unless we get the correct set of keys, we can’t really open the door!
Onward and upward into 2014.
Jugaad (जुगाड़) is the Hindi word for figuring things out. It’s been the Indian way for a long time now. Lack of resources push people to figure things out. I remember, when I was in high school, I used to ride three different buses for over two hours, so I could go to an electronics repair shop and get my hands on a broken motor. All for the love of science experiments, of course, unsanctioned by my parents! Now, I live a short walk from Radio Shack, but it’s not the same. Hack, make, fix. It’s all jugaad.
I just got off the phone with folks in Bhagmalpur, and they were all beaming. The kids had figured out something. While visiting Bhagmalpur in January, I had copied a whole bunch of music for them. Some of these were in MP3 format. I know the XO is not geared to play MP3 out of the box, but I had little time, and I figured they’d skip it and move on to the Ogg ones. Guess what? They sure did play the Ogg files, but for the MP3 ones, they got a microSD card reader, copied the files onto the microSD card, moved the microSD card to someone’s mobile phone, and got to play it there! Did I teach them about copying files? No. Did I show them how to copy files from the Journal to an external card? No. They figured it out on their own!
Next, they’ve gotten onto Facebook, but the XO-1 is slow to load, and Facebook can make the network connection slow. They spotted on some visitor’s mobile phone that if you tack on a “m.” in front of facebook.com it loads faster. Now, everyone is browsing Facebook using the m.facebook.com address!
Give the kids an inch, and they’ll take a mile. I hope they go far! Welcome to the new jugaad. Same as the old jugaad, only better 🙂
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:
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 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
I had quite the whirlwind trip to India for a four week period across Dec 2012-Jan 2013. After coming back, I presented about it at the OLPC San Francisco monthly meeting in January ’13. Then, in the hubbub of my spring semester at SF State, I promptly forgot to write it up. So, here it is, a few months late:
I landed in Mumbai (I still like to call it Bombay) right after Christmas eve, and promptly took off for Ahmedabad, Gujarat. After a few meetings with some friends and acquaintances, I ended up presenting to the governing board of CHARUSAT University, and subsequently to their student body over a two-day period. Across several meetings, I had the opportunity to talk about children, education, OLPC and Sugar to their faculty, staff and over 1200 students. It was a tiring visit, but a good one. CHARUSAT has a social responsibility component, and may look to support such a program in some of their neighboring villages.
Next, I went to Bhagmalpur. This was a trip on a series of trains and taxis. Bhagmalpur isn’t easy to get to. The nearest train station is Shahganj. Other options are to fly to Varanasi or Allahabad, and take a bus or rent a taxi. I ended up taking the trains to Lucknow, and then renting a taxi through the back country to Bhagmalpur. Such trips afford a window into the lives of common people.
I have been running a small project in Bhagmalpur. This is my family’s village. We have several XO-1 laptops there, mostly donated by people who got these during the G1G1 phase. My stop in Bhagmalpur was for less than a week, which I documented here. It was largely a collection of setting up the Wi-Fi AP and a repeater, conducting wireless site surveys, some street mapping, installing 1300+ TED talks, 100+ books and 10GB of world music. We couldn’t set up Internet access because even though the equipment was there, the parents were wary of the things that lurked on the Internet, and wanted us to run a child-friendly filter.
After Bhagmalpur, I flew across the country from Varanasi to Mumbai, where I met up with Harriet Vidyasagar and a few other people who have worked with India’s first OLPC pilot in Khairat. With Harriet’s help, I plotted out a trip to Goa. There, we met up with Salil and Gayatri, who have been helping run the Goa projects. We met several people who are interested in increasing the footprint of OLPC in Goa. We also met with the people who run the current pilot locations. In Goa, I had the opportunity to present to the students at Goa University and at the Goa State Central Library , thanks to Frederick Noronha for organizing the meetup.
Then, we took an afternoon aside and Salil and I went through the details of the XS School Server version 0.7. This version relies the rock-solid foundation of CentOS 6. We set up a XS on his laptop using VirtualBox. My intentions were to use the VirtualBox version as a learning tool, but given that we were short on usable machines, we ended up using the virtual XS for backing up XOs at various schools.
One afternoon, I managed to get some time and visited my dear friend, Chebi Sabbah. It was easier to visit with him in Goa than it is in San Francisco!
From Goa, we took a “sleeper bus” back to Mumbai, and met up with the team at Homi Bhabha Center for Science and Education. There, with the help of Nagarjuna G and his student Rafikh, we went to Khairat. This was my second trip to Khairat. The first was back in 2008. It was great to see Sandip Surve, the champion of a teacher, who has been running the village school and now working with a second cohort of children with the original XO-1 laptops! Some of the keyboards have ripped. Some of the plastic has cracked, but amazingly, they still work. The children have found ways to use pencil erasers to push at the keyboards where the keyboard rubber has gone missing. They love their TuxMath, their Maze, and some have taken to Etoys quite nicely! Sandip Surve is still plugging away. We spend the afternoon talking to him about the overall progress, his needs with repairs, and of course newer software. I had a XO-4 touch with me, that the children used to finger paint and draw objects in Physics. That afternoon, we used one of Salil’s virtual XS machines to register and backup all XOs at the Khairat school.
We headed back to Mumbai that afternoon, and after spending a couple of hours at the guest house at HBCSE, discussing future plans, I headed back to my cousin’s place in Mumbai, and flew back the next night to San Francisco.
Did I mention, it was a whirlwind of a trip?
This is Sumit, a little kid who lives next door from us in Bhagmalpur. I took this picture casually, as I walked the streets of the village back in 2003. I was amused by the tripod of a walker. It’s locally made, probably bought at the local faire, and it works well for what it’s supposed to do. It’s not something you’d find at your local Toys R Us, but then again, if you did, it would be in the retro throwback section, and would cost you a fortune!
Coming back to Sumit, I saw him again in January 2013. I didn’t know his name was Sumit, or he was the same kid in the picture! He showed a lot of interest in the XOs, the repair sessions, the reflashing, and installing new software. I asked him to help me with some minor tasks, like running a command, but he wanted to know the “why and how” of it. So, I explained to him how the datastore backup happens, and why it takes a random window of 30 minutes to backup (those who know ds-backup would know!). He was curious. He wanted to learn. This was surely not in his curriculum! Nor in a lesson plan! He had gotten the bug of curiosity, and that’s something I can relate to.
Eventually, Sumit helped me with installation, backup, running Python scripts, bash commands, rsync and such. He did a site survey of the village and helped us with installing the Wi-Fi access points. He took apart his XO laptop, repaired a WiFi antenna cable that had popped out, and put things back together. He learned how to access the server, install new Sugar activities, install the Hindi Wikipedia bundle, browse for a ton of offline TED talks, books and music, all locally hosted on the server. In fact, given that I had a very short window to get a lot done, he became my point of distribution of information to the rest of the kids – a student assistant of sorts, and a fine one at that 🙂 Then, one day, he told me that the photo of the kid with a tripod was really him! How cool is that?!
Could any of this be possible, if we didn’t have OLPC laptops there? Probably not. The local private and parochial schools have “computer classes” where the computer is always broken, and the teacher never shows up, and the parents still pay for all that’s not delivered. A little green laptop is making a difference where it matters…and Sumit is the little kid that could.
One of the challenges I had in Bhagmalpur was that I didn’t have a partner to tag team with me. I had to plan and execute everything. Hindsight wisdom: Get a partner to help out! I also wanted to map the village when I was there, but I couldn’t find enough time to get away from reflashing the XOs and configuring the school server. In the mean time, all these kids would hang around and follow me, carefully looking at everything I did. I don’t work well under that much scrutiny 🙂
So, I banded a few kids into a team. Then, I turned on the My Tracks Android app on my phone and gave the phone to the team. I explained what the task was, how GPS works, and then I asked them to walk the village – every possible street – and come back to me. They did so, with a lot of interest, and a while later, I had my GPS trace! I exported the trace to GPX format and uploaded to OpenStreetMap. Here’s the trace. I’m editing the various points of interest as I go along.
How cool it is to see the work of these kids on the web! I hope that some day they’ll get good Internet access and they’ll be able to see their trace themselves.
I had a short visit to Bhagmalpur a few weeks ago. I got to the village on January 7, 2013 in the evening, and left on the morning of Jan 13, 2013. Much had to be done in this duration.
I had to unlock the XOs so I could use a Dextrose image from Activity Central. The main reason for choosing this image was the Hindi language support. After getting the keys through the collection stick process, and many thanks to guys at OLPC, I got the machine unlocked. Next, I had to flash all the 26 XO-1 laptops there. NANDBlaster gave me all sorts of errors, so I had to do it by hand.
I had to reconfigure the XS school server to use an Access Point instead of a Mesh antenna (Bhagmalpur might have been the only OLPC deployment that still used a mesh antenna…but no more!). The network interfaces had to be fudged with. Thankfully xs-swapnics worked nicely. I had to show them how to use the Wireless Graph activity to do a site survey and determine the bounds of their Wi-Fi bubble. I had to do the wiring for the XS so it could run off a 12V battery. I had to install the APs in a high location and load balance with a repeater in WDS mode, at someone else’s house, so we could extend the Wi-Fi bubble.
I had to add oodles of content – 1,368 TED videos, music, books, activities, and build a simple HTML page for navigation. I had to show the kids a few neat tricks with the Tuk lens kit. I had to show the kids how to repair XOs. I had to repair damaged screens, keyboards, chargers (a mouse chewed through one), backup all the journals to the XS and then make a copy.
Oh, and this being my family’s house, I had to also be social, chat with visitors, eat the good stuff, walk the cane fields and take loads of photos.
To add to all this, I had to contend with two constraints. The state of Uttar Pradesh is terrible at several things. One of those is electricity. The AC grid comes alive at 11AM, and goes away at 1PM. Then maybe another hour or so in the evening, and then it’s back at 1AM for a couple more hours. Bulk of the work had to be done when the electrical juice went live. The timings are approximate, with no guarantees. So, I found myself sitting up at midnight, reflashing a stack of laptops.
The other constraint (and the UP government has no control over this one) was that the temperatures dropped to -1 C. With no electrical heat, and uninsulated walls, I had to sit by the fire, warm my bones, and then run off to work the laptops for 10 minutes or so, until I started to shake, and then it was back to bone-warming 🙂
Of course, my family was not quite sure why I’d give up the warmth of the fire and run off to the cold to work on laptops. To them, it didn’t seem like such a big deal if the work didn’t get done. To me, the show had to go on, no matter what.
Thankfully, I got it all done 🙂 I’ll post some details soon, but in the mean time, here are the pics.
I’m recovering from a horrible/wonderful trip to India. Bhagmalpur, Goa, Khairat and other places were great. Mumbai, not so much. Horrible to see the filth and corruption in places like Mumbai. Wonderful to see the children are doing well and there indeed is some hope.
I’ll start off by recounting a brief query by one of the children in Bhagmalpur. They were flipping through a couple of OLPC newsletters when one of them spotted the article on Australia and asked “If he is Australian, why is he dark brown?”
Two things struck me:
1) They were not simply flipping pages. They were paying attention. They were perhaps looking at others like them, elsewhere in the world.
2) How did they know Australians were anything other than dark brown? This time I wasn’t paying attention. Cricket of course! They had seen Australians on TV umpteen times, and none looked like this dark-brown kid in the picture above.
So, I sat down with them, pulled up a world map on the XO and walked them through the story of the human migration and how the indigenous Australians came to live on a continent of their own. We also talked about how the modern, fair-skinned Australians came to be, starting with the discovery of the continent and settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales.
Have I planted a bug that all peoples of the world are essentially the same, and look different because of evolution over the generations? I think so. I had no choice but to let them in on the secret of Melanin.
One of the most interesting things we found in Bhagmalpur was that a couple of children had accidentally switched over their XOs to Spanish. They didn’t bother to switch back! So, in a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India, there are these two kids who have been using their XOs in Spanish. Go figure 🙂
They simply look at other kids’ XOs in English and follow along the icons. This observation raises the question about the importance of localization in a UI, especially if it is icon-driven like Sugar. Are the icons enough by themselves?
Other interesting observations:
The voltage of grid electricity is so low, that the soldering iron wouldn’t heat up! Anish had to twist wires by hand for sensor exercises using Turtle Art.
We connected to the XS school server via a crossover cable to a Fedora laptop to a cellphone to a GPRS connection, which then established a OpenVPN connection to San Francisco. At 2.4kBps it was painfully slow, but it worked! Sameer managed to edit Apache config files to serve static content. It is evident that the offline School Server plays a major role, but its current software stack is still complicated. At 2.4kBps one cannot hope for a live Internet experience, but there is a good possibility to perhaps do SMTP and POP/IMAP once or twice a day.
We plan on sending updates and content via USB sticks. That seems to be more reliable than the Internet connection.
More photos from Bhagmalpur are up at http://on.fb.me/M7aDZC