Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Project Infrastructure and Environment

OLPC recently posed some questions about the infrastructure and environment of our project and asked us to post our responses to our blog. Here is the information, mostly describing the schools that we are working in:

We are working in three rural schools in South Africa, all of which are less than 15 minutes apart. All of the teachers and students that we have encountered are very receptive to us and our project. We tried to get to know our students on the first day we worked with them by doing an “Ice Breaker” with the Speak activity. We had each student write “My name is (name) and I like (a word that starts with the same letter as their name).” The students then stood in front of the class and played their Speak sentences for everyone. The students laughed a lot and, since then, have generally not been too shy to ask questions or share their work with us. All of the teachers in our schools have some form of higher education leading to a teaching certificate and each school has at least one or two teachers that are very dedicated to running the XO program in our absence. Each of our schools also has unique characteristics, strengths, and challenges that affect our XO deployment.

Mmaweshi Primary School: Mmaweshi is the smallest school that we are working in. Its infrastructure is average in that it seems to have enough desks, chairs, chalk, paper, etc, but it does not have enough money to buy any books. Also, the school has no electricity and charges the XOs off of a generator. Fortunately, the government is considering bringing electricity into the village and the school, so the generator should be temporary. The students had not used computers at all before our group brought 100 XO laptops last summer. This summer, the students seem to be universally literate in basic computer skills and many of the students in grades 5 and 6 show an advanced understanding of their XOs. Last year, students at Mmaweshi used their XOs to write about how their school lacks a decent supply of clean water and how this affects their lives. The school’s biggest problem is its unmanageable teacher to student ratio. The school only has two teachers to take care of 72 learners in grades P-7. Though both teachers are very dedicated to the learners at Mmaweshi, it is incredibly difficult for them to fully teach all subjects in all grades. We hope that the XO laptops will provide students an opportunity to explore and learn new subjects even when their teachers are busy with other students or classes. Aside from this, the lack of community growth is putting Mmaweshi at risk for school closing. We will be getting in contact with the local government to keep the school open.

Driehoek Primary School: Driehoek is a new school that was completed about a year ago. The buildings are very nice, but Driehoek also lacks basic teaching necessities such as books. Driehoek is prepared for electricity and even has light bulbs in the fixtures, but still has no source of electricity running to the school. As of right now there are no plans for electricity to be brought to the school. Obviously, the school lacked the funds to purchase computers or offer computer training before our group brought XO laptops last summer. After using their XOs for almost a year, the students seem to be literate in basic computer skills and interested in learning more advanced programs. Driehoek has 7 teachers to 177 students, so though they are probably overextended, they are in a better position than the teachers at Mmaweshi. We again hope that the XO laptops give the children more opportunities to learn when their teachers are busy.

Katane Primary School: Even though Katane is the only school we are working in that has power, it has the worst infrastructure overall. The 2 kilometer road that leads to Katane is literally eroding away to the point that it is not safe for cars to drive or children to walk on it. It is in serious need of repairs, but neither the school nor the government has the money to fix it. The school is also missing a large portion of its roof on one building because a winter storm tore it off. The missing roof was the first thing that the principal talked to us about when we visited the school, so we know that he is very dedicated to fixing the problem, but that he does not have the necessary funds to act. The school does have advanced technological equipment such as printers, copy machines, and PCs. The school also has a large number of books that are used by the students, and it seems to have basic teaching materials such as chalk, paper, pencils, etc. A school in Sweden donated approximately 10 old desktop computers to Katane before our team brought XO laptops last year, but the principal has explained that the computers were never used- they use too much power and do not have programs designed specifically for children. The school has thrived since receiving its XO laptops last year, using the laptops regularly during school hours and even starting a weekly after school program where the students can use their XOs together.

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