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In Nepal, XO Laptops Arrive, But Not One Per Child Yet.

by One Laptop Per Child via Flickr under Creative Commons
By Ravi Kumar

NEPAL — After years of internecine squabbling about building a $100 laptop for children to learn on in the developing world, the laptops are making their way to the jungles of Latin America to the mountain villages of Nepal.

OLE Nepal, a non-profit established in 2007 has brought 4,400 XO laptops of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative to Nepal. The country, located between giants China and India, is one of the poorest on earth with 25% of people living below the poverty line. Although it’s recently made strides to improve its education system, it has a long way to go. Nearly half the nation’s 30 million people are unemployed and unable to read.

“The introduction of laptops and digital learning materials gives students more power to carve their learning paths so that they do not need to rely on teachers as the only source of knowledge and information,” said Rabi Karmacharya, Executive Director of OLE Nepal, in a recent interview with WiredAcademic. “It will take a while before we can equip our schools and learning centers with computers, but it is a cheaper solution than continuing with the current system of doing nothing.”

OLE Nepal wants to transform Nepal’s public education by bringing technology into the classrooms. It is doing so by training teachers, building a network infrastructure to install, operate classroom technology and helping the government to build the administrative and network capacity so, ultimately, more computers and Internet technology can be used nationwide to teach people how to read, write and engage with the broader world.  Also, OLE Nepal has launched an online library, interactive websites that present educational material on a range subjects and created a software called SchoolTool. According to OLE Nepal:

“SchoolTool is a suite of free administrative software for schools. Since it can be installed easily and used with no licensing fees, SchoolTool can be used by schools for a single purpose, by individual teachers or small teams within schools, or as a whole-school comprehensive student information system, encompassing demographics, gradebooks, attendance, calendars and reporting.(Source:http://schooltool.org/)

As part of the pilot program of OLE Nepal, basic XO laptops are now in 26 different schools throughout Nepal. OLE Nepal aims to distribute the distinctive, green XO computers in all parts of the nation. The XO computers are built by the One Laptop Per Child organization, which started in 2005 as a goal of Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory. The organization had big goals for the $100 laptop and support from a host of big league companies including Google, Microsoft, Intel. But it has faced plenty of hiccups, false starts and quibbling between the big players involved. Negroponte then left in 2008, saying he didn’t have the right leadership ingredients to take the organization forward. But the organization has held on to its goals and says it has delivered 2 million of the low-cost, XO laptops to 42 of the neediest countries in the world so far:

The XO is a potent learning tool designed and built especially for children in developing countries, living in some of the most remote environments. It’s about the size of a small textbook. It has built-in wireless and a unique screen that is readable under direct sunlight for children who go to school outdoors. It’s extremely durable, brilliantly functional, energy-efficient, and fun.”

Nepal’s geography makes it even harder for the government to build a sustainable network infrastructure in remote parts. Undoubtedly, more XO laptops are helpful to teachers and young people. But besides technology, a host of basic infrastructure – such as roads, electricity and clean water – need to be built. Many schools in Nepal are in bad physical shape and need teachers, books and other resources. Most children in rural Nepal have never seen computers. More than 50% of citizens in Nepal do not have access to electricity.

We have an ongoing evaluation to assess the improvement in the learning of students who received laptops against students from neighboring schools who did not receive laptops. We expect to have some evidence of the positive impact when the report is out later this fall,” said Mr. Karmacharya. ”What these evaluations cannot measure is the steep rise in the students’ interest in learning because they have discovered a way of learning that suits their needs and pace. This helps them become confident learners without being afraid to make mistakes. Technology allows them to learn by exploring, experimenting and expressing.” 

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