Category Archives: parents


Trains, planes, automobiles

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!

With Chebi Sabbah in Goa

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?

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Networking, books and more

It’s been a while since I updated the blog with the activities in Bhagmalpur (no pun intended). The children continue to find good use for the XO, in spite of the difficulty of using the XO in English. The parents continue to ask for school-related materials such as textbooks. We are now at 18 XO-1s in the village. The network connection has been a major letdown. The advertised “3G” network run by the local telcos is not really 3G. Its still GPRS. Some say it’s EDGE, but I think its all marketing lies, and heavily oversubscribed. The XOs still register and sync with the XS School Server, but getting direct access to the XS from the outside has been difficult at best. Ping times sit at 1200+ milliseconds from San Francisco. Not much can be done via the network.

I may have some local help soon. Anish and Arjun may travel soon and help out with some basic maintenance and teach the kids some new things to do. In the mean time, there is a small stack of XO-1 laptops in my living room, waiting to be muled carried over into the country one at a time. I am looking forward to hitting the 50% saturation point in Bhagmalpur!

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A peer-to-peer learning model

Back in 2002, I had grand plans to bring the Internet to Bhagmalpur. Along the way, I learned about all the problems with power, connectivity, content and learning. Then OLPC came along in 2007 and I jumped on that train. There were so many possibilities! In 2008, I was in India, visiting several places including Khairat (India’s first OLPC pilot) and Bhagmalpur. At the local school in Bhagmalpur, I realized that equipping the school with computers to serve the 1100+ children wasn’t going to be trivial. So, I switched my approach to a “One Laptop per Child per Home” model. I had some very interesting conversations with Mary Lou Jepsen and Barbara Barry at OLPC SF Community Summit 2010. In fact, Mary Lou pointed out that my approach was similar to Grameen Bank‘s except I was using a laptop and the ownership was with a child as opposed to using a mobile phone sold to the woman of the household (Grameen’s model).

Then came the issue of teaching the kids. Who was going to be the trainer and who was going to be the trainee? So, we went through some basic training on the phone (its tough to train on the phone!). I also printed a copy of the Sugar manual and send a paper copy to the village. All that was helpful to get the process going.They understood the Zoom metaphor, the Journal, the Control Panel and such.

Next came the interesting part. Interesting because we’ve seen this in other projects such as OLPC Jamaica as well. After giving the children a starting point, they quickly took over. In fact, they took over so rapidly, that the people who were trained fell behind quickly. Now, we simply use the meeting time so that the children can work with each other and teach each other how to work the Sugar interface. The birds have flown the coop!

So, pay attention when I say to those who think that this project can only be successful via structured teacher training: “Ha!”

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A San Francisco connection?

So, while the XOs in Bhagmalpur are getting ready to be given out to the kids, I have three more in San Francisco, that are getting ready to make the trip. I spend the afternoon updating these and testing all the hardware.

XOs being readied for Bhagmalpur

XOs being readied for Bhagmalpur

Maria Jenerik of Creative Arts Charter School is making a trip to India, and she plans to visit schools while she is there. Through a series of conversations, we settled on the school in Bhagmalpur, and while she is there, her team will help out with setting up the kids with their XOs, answering their questions, and help us in gathering data. She hopes to establish a connection between the school in Bhagmalpur and her school in San Francisco. A connection between the communities of Bhagmalpur and San Francisco. The two worlds are so far apart, and know so little of each other that its almost like folding the space-time continuum!

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