They love them…

Well over just a few days using the OLPC laptops, here is what they have to say!!


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Laptops at Upperhill Academy – Kisii

    OLPC picks up at Upperhill Academy – Kisii, Kenya
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The other end…. A kid from a well to do family!

The other end…. A kid from a well to do family!

School days are no nightmare to Daniel as it is common to the typical school going child across the globe. For most of the ‘normal’ folk who grew up in Kenya, school probably means chilly mornings on a deserted forested pathway, no breakfast, torn uniform and super mean teachers! This is probably unheard off or better still unimaginable to small Dan as his peers refer to him due to his small stature. He is 12 years old and already a candidate for this Year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary education.
Bliss describes his life in and out of school. Born to a family of a prestigious lawyer for a dad and an accomplished IT manager as a mother, lack has never been part of his language in life. He asks and he gets. To him it’s just that simple. They live with the rest of his family in one of the leafy suburbs of Nairobi. This spells one thing, Money! Plenty of it for that matter.
Dan attends school in one of the most prestigious primary schools in Milimani Area in Nairobi. He is chauffeur driven by his personal driver to and from school every day. He has no idea of what it means to take a matatu (common public transport or shared taxi) or even walk to school. Never mind that his school is only 20 minutes walk away from their house! His classes are fun as several kinds of technology are incorporated in most of them. Overhead projectors, white boards, computers are used to aid in the teaching process. The young and enthusiastic teachers connect appropriately with the pupils creating a smooth learning environment. The students interact freely with their teachers and this helps the teachers to identify and nature talents as well as help those who may have academic or social problems.
State of the art facilities are a freely available to the kids. This includes gyms, computer labs, well stocked libraries, a swimming pool, lawn and table tennis courts and a large soccer pitch. Dan, a good swimmer is particularly fond of the pool where you will most probably find him after classes before he is picked up for home. He is passionate about school as he views it as not a place to only work but a place to grow in totality. To prove this, whilst being among the top students of his class, he also plays the violin and hopes to someday perform with an orchestra. He also has a number of best goalkeeper awards under his hat.
When he gets home, after a warm bath, he ensures that he completes his assignments which are supervised by either of his parents. Two times a week, his private tutor comes to the house to tackle any of his difficult areas in his studies. This greatly helps him to keep his grades up. Dinner time is family affair where the whole family takes time to bond. This way, his parents are able to keep in touch with the kids despite their busy work schedules. He then conducts his personal study time before retiring to bed. At his disposal is a laptop with internet connectivity that he uses to carry out research.
His weekends are enviable to say the least. Every now and then, the school organizes educational class trips, camps, hikes around the country and abroad. Only last month, his class went to Egypt for a Geography class trip- the pyramids are still fresh in the kids mind! When not on any of these trips, Dan knows that the exams are just around the corner, he is therefore glued to his books and laptop, with the occasional break for play station.
Unlike Jack (From the previous story), Dan:
• Is only 12 yet is way ahead in his education level
• Has access to technology: computers, internet
• Never has to worry about basic human needs like food, clothes etc
• Is chauffeur driven
• Engages in extra-curricular activities: swimming, soccer, violin
• Exposed to travel
• Does not have to work
• Has enough time to read
• Has enough resources: teachers, private tutor, educated parents
• Is just being a kid: carefree, studying, eating, sleeping, playing
• Etc..
• They are both young kids
• They will sit the same exams at the end of their primary education
• They will compete for positions in the same high schools in the country
• How much is Jack (see earlier article) missing out especially due to lack of technology?
• How different would Jack’s (see earlier article) learning process be if he had access to technology?

Studying and comparing this story with an earlier article on Jack – from a poor home, puts a challenge squarely on us!

What role can we play in designing and introducing appropriate technologies that could enhance the learning of the poor kids? Really, it’s not necessary to get complicated technologies, rather, its simple, yet relevant technologies that meet them at their point of need!

Written By Nyamuiru Kabira

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My initial hypothesis

I took 2 OLPC laptops and tried out with a few kids over the long Easter weekend. If you have used a PC before, you would always think the OLPC laptop is very user unfrendly. Therefore you (just like me) would assume that kids would find it difficult to use. Other than the cool looks, maybe they would find it complicated.

That was my first Hypothesis: A child who has not had a chance with computers before will need a detailed OLPC 101 tutorial!

I was wrong. The kids got very excited. Literary spent the entire weekend on the computers. They had figured how to charge, how to switch on, how to load programs, how to type their names and with some little help, how to make the computers say their names.

If you have not seen or used another computer before, how would you conclude that the one I gave you is unfriendly? If you type your name and the computer shouts back that name and you have never seen a gadget shout back your name after typing… wouldn’t you be eager to find out what else that gadget can do? The gods must be crazy, the saying goes.

There is no power at school. So I thought, they will not use the laptops unti l was back to install some solar solution. 2 days after I left, I got a call that they are charging the laptops at a teachers home and using them for 2 hours every morning. Having a different group of kids per day. Call it determination to get around problems.

It was evident that they will figure out more out of that laptop that I ever imagined.

I will be going back to set up a solar power solution and set up 7 computers to get more kids involved.

Will you come with me:)

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Jack, 14 years, is a class 7 pupil at the Nyantush primary school in Kisii district in Nyanza province. Like all the village children, an education is all he has as a means to transform his future and that of his family. Born in a family of two boys and one girl, Jack is the oldest of his siblings who are aged seven and ten. His mother is a young single lady who lives with her aging parents. She currently does not have a stable job and relies on casual jobs that are not quite guaranteeing. Needless to say, the meagre wages from her odd jobs are hardly adequate to sustain the entire family. Jack’s grandmother has a few banana plants from which she is able to get a few bananas which she sells by the roadside next to their home. His grandfather is frail and sickly and therefore spends all his time basking in the sun. Thanks to the free primary education, Jack is able to attend classes despite the financial constraints at home.
Being the first born, the young boy bears the bulk of the responsibility involving the household chores. Without the luxury of an alarm clock, the young mind has been programmed to arise at the break of dawn in readiness for the day. 5 AM is the usual wake up time for the young boy. He is usually the first to wake after his mother who has to prepare their breakfast before setting out in search of a job. His first stop is the kitchen where he warms water to milk their only cow. He has to make a fire using dry leaves and firewood. He uses embers from the previous night to ensure that there is no wastage of matchsticks. Sometimes, during the rainy season, dry firewood and leaves are not easy to come by and it takes him a lot more time to accomplish this. The fact that there is no electricity in his home does not help either. He uses a tin lamp which more often than not has run out of kerosene. He has therefore learnt how to gobble his way around in the dark to carry out his tasks. On milking the cow, he feeds their two goats and ensures that the cow has enough fodder for the day. He takes breakfast which is usually a cup of sugarless tea with the least hint of milk and an occasional sweet potato when his grandma has made a major sale of bananas. On other days, he takes the previous night’s left-overs if there are any which is barely ever the case anyway. A quick cold shower just before six freshens him up and he sets out for school which is about one hour away.
Armed with an old tattered paper bag that serves as his school bag, he lets not the biting morning cold deter him from achieving his goal. It is all evident that nothing will stop him from being who he wants to be in future. The fact that his shorts are all patched up to a point that the original colour is barely noticeable, his torn faded shirt or his old sweater do not dull his spirits as he struts to school knowing that a better future awaits. The old slippers on his feet act as minimal protection from the rough terrain as he walks on the barely lit and forested paths to school. He therefore suffers the chill of the cold dew that is part of his everyday walk, but again, full of hope. He gets to school at 7 am rather than the official 8 o’clock with the aim to have personal study time or complete his assignments before classes commence. Sometimes, the poor boy is usually too tired to keep awake. It often happens that he has to take a one hour nap instead of reading.
Classes for him are particularly demanding and it certainly takes him a lot of will power to concentrate and keep awake. Determined to excel, Jack has chosen one of the front desk as his personalized space as if to get first hand information from his teachers. Time almost always seems to move very slowly for him and is usually yearning for his one hour lunch break when he is able to catch some sleep after taking the almost unpalatable meal provided by the school. For this, all senior students (level seven and eight) are required to work in the school farm for two-one hour shifts per week. This is usually done after classes at four o’clock. On such days, this means that he is only able to get home at 6pm.
On getting home, Jack fetches two twenty litre ‘mitungi’ of water about a kilometer away using a wheel-barrow. He then sets out to their farm where he gathers fodder for the cow and goats. It is not until seven when he is able to sit and do his school assignments using a smoky tin lamp before having supper and retiring to bed. In the occurrence that there is no kerosene, he is forced to sit close to the fire place where he tries to read.
Weekends for Jack mean work as opposed to rest as would be expected for a young boy. On Saturdays, he accompanies his mother on her job hunting mission. On lucky days, they are able to make about 200 Kenyan shillings which is quite some amount for them. Sunday for him is the only day that he gets to rest after attending his church service.
Life for Jack is a vicious cycle that he has to live by as he hopes that someday, an opening to a good high school – to him synonymous with a good education and gradually to a technical college where he aspires to study a motor vehicle mechanic course, will be possible. He admits that it is not easy as he has to struggle each day to maintain a sane balance between his studies and responsibilities at home. He terms his education as very crucial as he wants to provide a better life for his siblings and his mother. It is not easy but armed with hope, discipline and hard work, his goals are set high and to him they are clearly achievable.

• Jack will, next year, do the national examination. The same examination for all at his level across the country.
• Jack represents many rural children situation
• Jack will be competing with other well placed and supported kids in urban dwelling (will have another story to compare soon)
• Jack has never touched a computer, the closest he has come to technology is occasionally charging her mothers mobile phone
• Low cost technologies can and should significantly improve Jack’s chances of excelling in his school work… Lets get to work on HOW.

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To the theories of child development…

Back to basics:
The theories summarized here
Environmentalist Theory
Maturationist Theory
Constructivist Theory

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Technology to the kids…

Fotos speaking hundred words.

What are some of the cost effective ways to deploy technology that bridges the digital divide? What works out there? How do we get them up and running in the shortest way possile?

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10 XO-1 laptops application

I just made an application for 10 XO laptops as part of the OLPC program. The application titled “Game based applications to enhance literacy in Rural Kenya” aims to get some laptops to upperhill academy kisii.

If successful we will deploy games to enhance literacy, with specific focus on English and Swahili. We will start off with existing applications, which have been done by others. All we need to do is domesticate to our context and then gradually develop our own.

We hope to work with University students to develop localized applications for our rural kids.

Maybe you have ideas on how to develop or customize real applications that kids can use to enhance their learning. We will be more than happy learn from you as we share our experiences.

Thanks and hope for the best.

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Why I got into this…

I single handedly began this humble school in the year 2007 using my savings after college. I had acquired some education, and could figure out how to proceed there after with a career. My dad had figured that I needed good education and did what he could to make that dream happen.
Back to my rural community, I see kids struggling to get some education. Many can barely raise money to buy a text book leave alone fix their shoe. Most parents are peasant farmers who struggle to make ends meet. But they are determined to educate their children… their future!
What strikes, is that these kids, with no electricity, hardly any books, walking home every day have to compete with other kids who are driven home from school, have access to a well filled library and access computers at home. They do the same examination and compete for the same position and school in high school.
4 years down the line, the school has over 250 kids, its self sustaining and growing.
My next concern is… with my technology skills, how can I bring the wealth of information and knowledge to these kids at their class room. Can a low cost computer or mobile phone make the difference?
They have no electricity… can solar on wind power work?
I am exploring these… and strongly believe that I will have an answer soon.

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