OLPC Mali: The Kids Get The XOs
After introducing the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop to the teachers involved in our OLPC pilot project in Ouéléssébougou, Mali it was time to give the 30 laptops bought by LAPTOP Magazine to the third and fourth grade children. While here in the U.S. laptops might just be given to children by teachers, in Mali things are done a lot more formally. Former LAPTOP employee Salimata Fandjalan Bangoura is the project manager for OLPC Mali. The following are excerpts from Sali’s journal for the fourth week of the program where the children were given their XOs and actually began using them. We wanted to present the 30 kids with their laptops in a formalized ceremony as is typical here in Mali. We kicked off the program with the third and fourth grade children and their parents. We had a great turn out of teachers from the village schools. Also in attendance at the ceremony were the Mayor and select government representative of Ouéléssébougou. The village chief, the police director and his colleagues along with the all of the directors (principals) of all the schools in Ouéléssébougou also attended. The ceremony began with a brief welcome and blessings by the village chief, as is customary in villages across Mali. This was followed by a welcome and introduction speech by the school director. He spoke at length in both French and Bamaman (the most widely spoken language in Mali) about parent and community support and involvement, and what the project could mean for the future of the village of N’tentou, Ouelessebougou and Mali as whole. After the speeches, we had a small demonstration of the XO. We gave the XO to the Mayor and the village chief and showed them how to use the Chat activity and talk to one another through the laptops. After the demonstration of the XO, we distributed the 30 XOs one-by-one to the children. The next morning we officially began the program and by 7:30 a.m. the kids were at the school, although classes did not start until 9 a.m. When we started class, the teachers went over basic computer terminology and the applications on the XO. By the end of the day, they had all named and picked a color for their XOs, made friends, taken pictures, made videos, written a note to each other (at least those who could read and write; 5 students had difficulty so they were paired with the ones who could easily read and write). One issue we had was coordination. While one of the teachers or volunteers was showing the entire group how to do something on the laptops, the kids were distracted and began to just experiment with the laptops without actually listening to the instructions. This required the teachers to go around to many of the students to help them one-on-one. However, many of the students just figured things out on their own. During the first and second days of the program, our biggest problem was keeping the computers charged. On both days, by 11 a.m. all of the computers died. They were taken to different locations to be charged since there was no electricity available in the classroom. We also only had 1 solar panel charger (though we have ordered more from OLPC). We knew we would run into this problem, however, getting electricity into the school was easier said than done since the school itself wasn’t wired for electric power. To get electricity installed in a school you must put in a proposal to the Energy of Mali. When that was approved, we were put in touch with the Energy of Mali electric company in the village, who then came and surveyed the terrain so they could install the poles and wiring. Finally we were able to outfit the classroom with electrical outlets. The students were only without electricity in the classroom for two days. Over the next couple of days, the students mastered everything that took the teachers and volunteers two weeks to do. They could open and close activities, take pictures and record videos (a very popular activity), write their names and about themselves in the Write application, Chat with one another, connect to different mesh networks as well as disconnect. Next week we will begin implementing their curriculum into the lessons with the notebooks and they will be allowed to take them home at the end of the day.