Latest trial of the One Laptop Per Child running in India; Uruguay orders 100,000 machines

Thursday, November 8, 2007

OLPC XO-1 Mass Production has started

India is the latest of the countries where the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) experiment has started. Children from the village of Khairat were given the opportunity to learn how to use the XO laptop. During the last year XO was distributed to children from Arahuay in Peru, Ban Samkha in Thailand, Cardal in Uruguay and Galadima in Nigeria. The OLPC team are, in their reports on the startup of the trials, delighted with how the laptop has improved access to information and ability to carry out educational activities. Thailand's The Nation has praised the project, describing the children as "enthusiastic" and keen to attend school with their laptops.

Recent good news for the project sees Uruguay having ordered 100,000 of the machines which are to be given to children aged six to twelve. Should all go according to plan a further 300,000 machines will be purchased by 2009 to give one to every child in the country. As the first to order, Uruguay chose the OLPC XO laptop over its rival from Intel, the Classmate PC. In parallel with the delivery of the laptops network connectivity will be provided to schools involved in the project.

The remainder of this article is based on Carla G. Munroy's Khairat Chronicle, which is available from the OLPC Wiki. Additional sources are listed at the end.

OLPC in Galima (Nigeria) showing children with their lime green XO laptops.

India team

The latest version of the OLPC machine, the XO laptop.

The Mumbai team (OLPC-India) In setting up the first pilot of the project in India, Carla and the OLPC team worked with Navi Mumbai telecommunications specialists - referred to as the Mumbai Team - who located the school for the XO laptop trial and established a relationship with the staff, students and community of Khairat school. Liaising with a local who sponsors schools in the area, Mr. Iyer, Carla's chronicle states, "it turned out that they struck a gold mine in terms of kindness and pro-activity of the teacher, children, and community."

According to the Khairat Chronicle report the Mumbai team was in two parts, but with little to separate them. A strategic team, working for OLPC-India in general and getting the project off the ground, started up in July, with the team's Mr. Joshi visiting the village with Carla's group on a number of times. He attended parent's meetings and acted as an advocate for the OLPC project, stressing villagers' involvement and explaining the role of Carla's team.

Amit joined the team in September, bringing a technical background on the Linux operating system. He was introduced to the educational aspects of the project and assisted greatly with the technical aspects and community-building efforts.

On the whole, the Mumbai team were based in Navi Mumbai.

The OLPC team

In India from Late September, Carla was working on the educational side of the project, helping out as needed on technical issues and relations with the community. Carla was joined by Arjun and Manu early in October, working with Amit from the Mumbai team setting up the network infrastructure and testing it. Work on Marathi fonts was also carried out with Amit. After a little over two weeks during which the children were given their XO laptops and introduced to them the OLPC team left, providing long-distance support to the Mumbai Team and the Khairat community.


Houses in Khairat

Khairat is a small village with around 200 people, placed near Mumbai in Maharashtra state. Carla described houses in the villages as "spacious and minimalist in their furniture." A section of each of the 20 or so house is set aside for cattle, only an outside door is present on each house, and cooking is done with a wood-fired stove. In most cases a partial second roof or attic is where people will sleep.

The town school


Children go to school 5 days in week, from Monday to Friday, from 10.30 AM to 5.30 PM and they attend also on Saturdays from 8.30 AM to 10.00 AM. The students are from 5 to 10 years old.

Khairat school (Vastishala Khairat-Dhangarvada) is a one-room schoolhouse, it is years old. The land to build it was donated by a villager. Carla was told that she used to go and help the construction workers with the building of the school. She also came to help organize the digging of the hole for grounding the server. The building itself was sponsored by a villager who has a lot of land in the area. He also supports, on a continual basis, with other items the school needs.

  The day before I arrived to Khairat, our Mumbai team had come to school to meet the teacher and also to leave five XOs. I came for my first time to Khairat school on a Wednesday. I loved it. The children, the teacher, and the villagers were shy with me, but still I sat among the children to work in groups on the five laptops we had with us.

We spoke with the teacher mainly through Amit's translations We talked about the timeframe for my visit and the OLPC educational approach in general. He showed me all the things he had already worked on in a couple of sessions he had had with our Mumbai team in their Navi Mumbai offices. It was excellent groundwork.

On Thursday, we came to school in the afternoon with all the XOs, one for each child. And on Friday, morning, with the help of many young villagers, we handed out the XOs to them. Amit was the master of ceremonies in Marathi, and it took like two hours from the time we started until every child had a laptop. Each child had to come to the front, and Amit would ask something adequate for their grade level, like tell me the ABC's or the Marathi numbers. They all answered correctly right away.


—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Children collaborate and learn together

The schoolhouse has three cabinets. The one with glass panes is where the children keep their textbooks, and it also contains reading books that children can grab to read. On the top shelf, there is a statue of Ganesha, to whom children bring some fresh flowers. In one corner is the water bucket, glasses, and dishes. On the other, is the raw rice bucket and the server cardboard box that sometimes is a desktop for the teacher and other times a table to drink milky, sugary Indian tea. This arrangement is recent though, because he volunteered his desk for setting up the server.

A broad black strip is painted horizontally across all the walls, on which varied learning stuff is colorfully sketched with colored chalk, such as the Marathi and English alphabets, the water cycle, Mahatma Gandhi's face, the numbers in Marathi. Hanging from the ceiling, there's a fan and a few light-bulbs, which are rarely used because the sunlight that comes in through the door and the three grated windows is enough.

The workplace

The first girl to arrive to school early in the morning sweeps the floor. The second girl to arrive helps her remove things from the corners. Other children help by taking out and placing at the entrance two small palm trees they keep inside when the school is closed. The older girls go to the village well for water to refill the water bucket and have water to drink during the day. They also count the rations of rice to be cooked for lunch and take it to the person who will cook it. Three rows are made with mats on the floor. The floor is the seat where the students sit, the surface on which they write, the boundless space they can use to adopt any position they find comfortable as well as to work in pairs or groups, and a classmate—or the teacher—can come and sit next to anyone to help.

The school is multilevel. Children from first to fourth standard take classes in the same classroom with the same teacher. Sometimes they all listen to the same explanation or work on the same assignment, but the teacher usually assigns different tasks to each level, and when the younger ones get stuck and he is busy working with other students, children from third and fourth standard help the first and second standard ones. They learn so much by always being in touch with the 'basics' and previously learned facts, knowledge, or skills, and by teaching others, they reinforce their knowledge. With the XO, they help each other by explaining or by pointing a finger at the screen or keyboard or by checking the work done. And it's not necessarily the older ones who help the younger, nor age or grade level what determines how they group together. You can also see children by themselves, focused on their work, oblivious to what is going on around them, even to what the teacher is saying or doing—and in this case it is perfectly alright to not pay attention to the teacher.

Although the teacher conducts the activities and is the leader and most knowledgeable one in the room, there reigns an atmosphere of independent work and independent grouping and consultations. The smaller ones are natural scouts and keep on exploring the laptops on their own, and when they find something interesting or need some help, they go to others to show them their findings or be helped out.


Marathi alphabet (on the wall)

The people in the village speak Marathi. The teacher speaks some English too. The children and the villagers talk to me in Marathi. Carla keep the communication channel open by smiling, which is easy and effective. Amit helps a lot by translating.

  Regarding the XOs, the children tell me in Marathi what they want to do or what they can't do as they point their finger here and there. I in turn get across to them by showing and doing on the XOs, or by pointing to objects on the screen and keys on the keyboard, and by simultaneously saying and repeating names and actions in English, or in my few words of Marathi that they and Amit have been teaching me. I rely a lot on their goodwill and the context. Even when English and Marathi are so different, even when the keyboard is in English, even when the interface is in English, even when we don't speak each other's language, and even when they are so new to computers, the XO is so user-friendly that I can manage to get across to them, to show them how to do something with it.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

The teacher

Teacher working on XO
  The teacher is a very proactive person. He loves learning and is very committed to OLPC. Everyday he comes with a new idea or a new discovery of how the XOs could foster children's learning in a more fun way.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

  He is fascinated with the laptop and devotes a lot of quality time to the XO within class and after class. He does small XO activities with the children and guides them through the different phases or lets them find their way on their own, depending....

He also looks after his students' laptops. If there's a problem with one, he reports it immediately. He helps get them charged, and the children with no electricity at home get higher priority charging their laptops in class. (Some go to their neighbors to charge their laptop.)

The teacher also keeps a detailed Journal in a Write file of all the important events since OLPC came to school. He made his student list on the laptop and was appalled when he lost it because we hadn't backed it up on the server. Our fault.


—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Older children, teenagers, and villagers

Older children helping student
  The first day, which was a Friday, when we were giving a laptop to each child, several children that go to another school farther away because they are older came to Khairat school to help. They helped register the XO serial numbers with the names of the children, ordering them by groups, and handing out the XOs. Afterwards, they also helped look over and try out the laptops with the children. They keep on coming, especially during holidays and Saturdays, but once in a while, some have come even on regular school days. They pay attention when we work with the teacher and especially when we look into Turtle or eToys. They even participate during the problem solving part of the activity, which helps understand or reinforce understanding.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

The students

  In the student list they are around 22 students, though the first weeks I never saw more than 18. Maybe some days some don't come. The teacher says that some children that used to miss school often are not missing a single day now. Though four children still miss school.

Some children who are too shy to talk to the class or to people come often to school, and even if I don't understand them much, they like to work with me, and they help each other a lot.

We have 11 girls and 11 boys registered. The girls in 3rd and 4th are the ones who help the 1st and 2nd students a lot.


—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Harihar taking photos of his book
Sarasvati is being called for help
Sameera using XO to recording herself singing
  The youngest children are always exploring the XOs and are getting very good at it. There are two siblings, one in 1st standard, who is 5 years old and his sister in 3rd standard. They both are really good with the laptop. She helps her classmates because she grasps things fast. And he likes to do things on his own. Nevertheless, he also likes people explaining to him how to do new things, but it's got to be him doing the clicking and key punching.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Teacher session

Teacher and student

The plan was to just work with the teacher. However, as soon as he got his students back in school, the teacher started working with them and teaching them how to write their names in English and how to do several other things on the laptops.

  Around noon or 1 p. m., one or two of the students asked for permission to go have lunch. Even after the teacher told them they could all go home, they stayed all the time we were around. If their laptops ran out of charge, the children would work with other classmates while theirs were charging or they would sit close to the power outlets to keep on working.

We would work in the mornings before class started or while the children were busy doing something, also on Saturdays, after school. And one Sunday, the teacher came to the Navi Mumbai offices to work on everything related to the Internet, because at school the connection was super-slow, back then.


—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

The work with the teacher was on how to best use laptops as a tool to “learn learning” by expressing, constructing, designing, modeling, imagining, creating, critiquing, debugging, collaborating with the children, carrying out hands-on activities and project based work, retrieving specific data from the Internet, and publishing content and collaborative production of content on Wiki pages shared on the Internet.

  We also went into XO software activity potentials and into applying learning in educational projects that raise children's awareness about their environment, in a local and global context. And throughout, we worked on integration of the curricula with the software learning activities, by children and teacher.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Because one of the Third World's main problems is education, a Wikinews reporter has asked Carla about this question:

Przykuta: What do you think about education system in India?

Carla G. Monroy: The educational system in India is similar to those of many other countries I've been in. There are many issues that we have to work on. However, we can be part of that evolving learning environment.

P: Zana Brisks "Born into Brothels" film show that children have problem with their education, cause their mothers are prostitutes, but they take photos and they want to be photographers. Do you think that collaboration between OLPC, Kids with Cameras (children from Zana Briks documentary) and Wikimedia Foundation (I think about Wikimedia Commons) is possible?

CGM: I haven't seen the documentary. However, the collaboration between children, the laptops (which have an integrated camera), and some Wiki-solution for sharing content is doable.

P: Media don't want write about 3rd World's problems (too often). How can we change this situation? Is it possible?

CGM: Today, we don't need the traditional media to document for us. Each child, teacher, villager,... with a laptop and connectivity could be a Journalist by posting on a blog, wiki, YouTube,... just like you ;)

Parents' meetings

Oct 3. Mr. Joshi came to Khairat school and organized a small impromptu parents' meeting. Few parents came because of such short notice. Basically, the idea was to explain the project to them and to invite them to take part in the learning of their children. The teacher explained the potential of the XOs in class and of all the relevant stuff that was now at their children's fingertips for them to learn or do, to which they had no opportunity before.

  When the meeting came to an end, a few of the children's relatives stayed behind, among them an older sister and a father to see what it was all about. Though this father had been there the whole morning working with his children, his daughter taught him how to do different things. The father caught on so fast that he moved over to sit with his son to help him out, which lasted a long time. When they wanted to do something new, they would ask the sister again to help or whoever was around. And they continued learning all together. This father kept on coming, once in a while, in the afternoons to work with his children or with the teacher to learn how to do different things on the laptop. He also volunteered some land space for the CowPower project (Arjun’s alternative design).  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

  We had a parents' meeting [October 2nd] one Monday evening. We had scheduled it for 7 p. m., but due to a meeting we had at Navi Mumbai we arrived late. It was already dark, and some parents were waiting for us with flashlights and cell-phones to illuminate our walk down the path. At the school, there was no other source of light that evening, and everything was pretty dark. The meeting, however, was wonderful. The attendance was impressive (even the teacher said so). Most parents, grandparents, siblings, and other children, even Mr. Deepak, were there, except for Garima, Kamala, and Vinod’s and Sanjey’s parents, who had just left because for them it was a long walk in the dark to get to their village and home). Mr. Joshi lead the meeting as representative of our Mumbai Team.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Grounding the server

  One Saturday was devoted to ground the server. It became a community event. We came with two electricians from Navi Mumbai and the metal plates. They had started a hole on one side of the school but it was too small, so they started another one in front of it. The men of the village took turns to dig the hole. People gathered around to watch, chat, and enjoy the day in each other’s company. Children were playing and carrying dirt from one side to another just for fun, and they brought a couple of plants from ‘somewhere’ to plant in the first hole.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

  After the grounding was done and the electrician had also fixed the wall outlet, the server was turned on. All the children sat around the server and the villagers that had helped stood at the back, waiting to see what would happen next. The Linux server started its activity on the black screen and white fonts quickly flashed in one by one and scrolled up. Everybody patiently waiting.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

XO with Internet connection
  We opened and switched on two XOs and they wirelessly connected to the Internet. With one we explored the OLPC Wiki page, and everybody was very happy to see a photo of Khairat school’s cymbal on the screen. Then the teacher looked into some other links and translated for the children and the people around. Then the Internet signal became too slow. That was when we realized we needed another Internet solution, since the cell-phone signal was too slow.  

—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

Every child at school

  Since those children were officially registered at Khairat school, we thought they should get their XOs, whether they came to school or not. However, a little bit of pushing would do them no harm, and it would do them a lot of good if we managed to get them to come to school and discover the joy of working with the OLPC approach. So we made a plan to invite their parents to our parents' meeting on Monday. So first thing Monday, the team split up (Arjun and Amit went to Mumbai to look for parts and Manu and I went to Khairat school). We picked up the teacher on our way, as usual, and on the way we ran into Deepak, a wise and rich neighbor from that village with some influence on his neighbors. He went with us to look for them. After a little while of going down the dirt road, we saw some children running and playing in the field, and the teacher said, there they are. But by the time we got to their home, nobody was around. So now I had a better idea of what the teacher meant about the parents and having to chase the children. We looked for their neighbors, we went inside the houses that were open, but nobody was around. After a while, one of the older sisters showed up, carrying water on her head, with some of the younger children. We were told that their mother was doing the laundry, so we went across the fields and walked into the river and upstream until we found her with one of the girls.

The teacher invited them to come to the meeting, and then we walked from there to school.


—Carla G. Monroy, OLPC Wiki

The students' names in this article are pseudonyms.