In our previous posts that have followed our One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Mali program we witnessed how the fourth and fifth graders in the village of Ouéléssébougou, Mali utilized the 30 XO laptops donated by LAPTOP Magazine. We first saw how they learned to use the applications in the Sugar OS and explored the XO out of the classroom when they were able to bring them home to their families.
In the final weeks of the one-on-one program we see how quickly the kids get the hang of preloaded programs like Etoys, a program that is based on the LOGO program of the 1980s. It allows kids to make their own models, stories, and games by typing in commands. Some of the kids figured out the program quickly while others were frustrated, but the more experienced kids were able to teach the others how to create projects.
Perhaps the most interesting thing we witnessed was how the parents of these children view the XO project. As the eight week program winds down and the 30 XO laptops are taken from the kids to create a permanent computer lab at the village school, the parents and the kids share the impact the XOs have had on the educational progress.
Former LAPTOP employee Salimata Fandjalan Bangoura is the project manager for OLPC Mali. The following are excerpts from Sali’s journal for the seventh and eighth week of the program. Collaborating to Learn Etoys For the first six weeks of the program, the most popular activities were Write, Chat, Record, Paint/Draw, and Memorize. The students hadn’t explored the Etoys activity much before. When we opened the Etoys activity, I first showed them some of the tutorials like the one where you can draw a car and write a set of commands to make it move on screen. They watched very carefully and saw how in the tutorial the car was drawn, and how the car was made larger and later on smaller, but it was when they saw it moving on its own on the screen that their eyes and mouths just opened in excitement. They just kept starring at it. Some couldn’t believe what they were seeing, and poked their neighbors while pointing their other finger excitedly at the screen to see what was happening.
After the excitement died down a little bit, I asked them to re-watch the video tutorial to get a better understanding of the functions of the tools. After about 10 minutes, we went back to the home screen of the Etoys activity and opened our own new projects. Everyone wanted to draw a car as they saw in the video tutorial and see if they could recreate the motions. Most of the students didn’t have trouble figuring out the functions of the different tools, but they had a lot of trouble getting them to do what they wanted. The mouse was either too fast, or their little fingers were too fast. There is no consistency with the mouse arrow and buttons. It is too big and the buttons are too small. It would be great if the child could choose the size of the arrow as it can sometimes get lost on screen.
It took a little while to get the drawing the car down. The ones who were able to figure it out first helped out the ones who couldn’t and by the end of the day, instead of 5 out 30 it was 20 out of 30 who were able to do it. Both the kids and the teachers explored the program during the next 2 days. Final Week As the last week of the program began, the students were very sad about having to give the laptops back to the school. We informed them that their XO was going to be taken from them in order to create a computer class for all the students at the school, so they too can get an opportunity to learn about computers. They were not happy about it, but most of them understood the reason why. They wanted their brothers and sisters and friends to also learn what they learned through the program. They wanted as many people as possible to benefit from the gift of the 30 laptops. Its really nice to see students feel that way; I think that comes from the communal society they have grown up in. Some, on the other hand, could care less about the other students and they wanted to keep their XOs. They expressed their feelings to their parents, who later on came to me and told me what the students said. The parents even asked me if there was any way their children could keep the XOs even if they could pay for it. Some even harassed their parents about it and wouldn’t speak to their parents out of anger. I got a lot of cold stares. If looks could kill, I’d be dead. We let the children go home early all this week. The first reason is that this is the month of Ramadan and some of the students fast; they do not eat anything from sunrise until sunset. The other reason is that this was the last week they were going to have their XO, so we wanted them to have as much fun as possible and personal time with their little green and white friends. On Thursday, we had many of the parents come in to evaluate the use of the XOs and tells us a bit about how their son or daughter used the computer while at home. The number of parents who came out was great considering that this is the rainy season and most people are at their farms working. They spoke a lot about how excited the children were about having an XO, and how much they used it, and how they thought it improved the child’s intelligence and encouraged them to learn and do school work at home. Some even said that before the child was lazy to run errands, but now because they wanted to use their XOs, when sent on an errand or if they have chores to do at home, those are the first things they do when they get home so that they would not be interrupted while in the middle of their XO play. Some parents said they had to take the computers away from the kids because they could not stay away from it (they were happy when it would run out of battery power!). The majority said that the students used it moderately because they (parents/family members) controlled their use; they did not want the child to always be on there and ignore their other responsibilities. One mother said that her son, who hates to wake up early, would wake up early just to turn on his XO. She loved that he would teach her about things on the machine. All parents said that the children shared their computers with others at home. One mother said that even she took it from her child sometimes so she could take her pictures and learn to type. The majority of parents used the Record activity to take their pictures, and record their voices and short videos. Some used the Write activity to type. Everyone truly saw this as a great opportunity. At the beginning they said, they really had no idea what this program was about, but in the end they truly understood what it was and what it could mean for their child’s education. Most parents said they saw an increase in their child’s reading and writing.
On Friday, we had a small party with the students. We gave them certificates of participation in the program and goody bags amidst tears and frowns. It was sad to see everyone leave and the classroom closed and locked. I had a smile on my face the entire time, knowing that more laptops will be on their way to kids around the world and hopefully to Mali soon.