[Olpc-za] looking for someone to do scientific evaluation of OLPC-like project
janissa at silverstar.com
Wed May 11 23:13:42 EDT 2011
Laptops to Lesotho Inc., a U.S.-based nonprofit organization established
in 2009, distributes refurbished G1G1 XO-1 laptops purchased on ebay.com
to children in remote mountain villages in Lesotho. We are using what we
think is a rather unique approach to setting up a computer program in a
developing nation, and we would like to find a research person or group to
do an in-depth, long-term evaluation of the efficacy of our project.
The first thing we did differently was we took 1-1/2 years to establish a
grassroots organization in the local community before we distributed a
large number of computers. We started with just two Windows-based
computers and two XO-1 laptops. With the help of a Peace Corps Volunteer
living in the community, we put two local educators in charge of the
project at the very onset. We mentored them, trained them, and made them
responsible for all major decisions. From the onset, we let them know
that our role was merely as facilitator to get them started and that,
within a matter of a few years, they would be solely responsible for the
As we guided these two project leaders, we had a series of bench marks,
unbeknownst to them, that they had to achieve before we moved to the next
step. It wasn't until they reached the point where they had enough
computer skills to supervise the project, where they were communicating
regularly with us by email, where they had shown a serious sustained
commitment to the project, and where the community had shown full
investment in the project that we began delivering laptops.
Another thing we are doing is moving at a pace of change that the
community can fully absorb without disruption. Our first deployment in
2010 consisted of 50 laptops. Our second deployment with a similar number
of laptops will be a full year later.
During the first deployment, we met separately with all the teachers,
parents/guardians, students, community leaders, religious leaders,
government officials, and local police. After those meetings, we spent ten
days helping the project leaders and school staff work out rules and
regulations to govern the project. These rules try to address every
possible scenario we could foresee and establish a procedure to deal with
situations we couldn't foresee. From this, the school staff developed
contracts for each student, parent/guardian, and educator to sign in order
to participate in the project.
The regulations and contracts clearly define responsibilities, benefits,
and penalties for all parties involved. Penalties for violating the
contract can be paid in cash or worked off by doing community service.
(The English version of the Rules and Regulations, Contracts, and Fine
Schedules is posted on our blog at
Originally, we based our project on the OLPC philosophy and guidelines.
However, the leaders, educators, and community members felt that one
aspect, child ownership, didn't fit well with their situation and the
number of laptops we were providing. They changed that to school
ownership with a system that allows the children and teachers to check the
laptops out like a library book.
As part of this system, a student must earn the right to check out a
laptop. First, both the student and their parents/guardian must all sign
contracts agreeing to abide by the Rules and Regulations. Then, the
student and parents/guardian must learn how to properly care for the
laptop and display that knowledge to the satisfaction of the student's
classroom teacher. Lastly, the student must earn a set number of points,
via a clearly defined point system, based on the student's behavior at
school and at home.
During the first deployment we spent three weeks at the end of the school
year giving all the teachers at the school and a principal from another
school in the area intensive training on how to use the XO laptop, how to
charge and repair the laptops, how to teach with laptops in the classroom,
and how to develop lessons with the laptops to supplement the curriculum.
Then we left. Three months later, one of the project leaders, who is the
school principal, was brought to the U.S. for a professional and cultural
exchange. During that time, he had the opportunity to visit a number of
schools, observe classes, and talk to principals, teachers, students, and
school board members to learn about the U.S. education system. (The trip
was paid for by FIPE, the Foundation for International Professional
Exchange.) He returned to his school with a new perspective and new
Laptops to Lesotho volunteers will return to the village in December 2011.
In the interim, the school staff is running the program. So far, the
laptops are being used several times a week in grades 4-7 and periodically
in the lower grades. Most of the teachers are using them in their
classrooms, though two are not yet comfortable teaching with them. In
order that all the students get a chance to use the laptops, those
teachers switch with other teachers for some lessons. A larger solar
power system is being installed this month that will enable the teachers
to charge more laptops at one time and that will allow them to use the
laptops even more frequently in the classroom.
It is too early to tell what significant long-term changes this project
will make, but in the short-term it has been very successful. Some of the
short-term changes we have documented at this early stage include a 20%
increase in enrollment at the school and a drop in chronic absenteeism to
nearly zero. Empirical evidence shows a vast improvement in student
behavior and an increased rate of improvement in math and English skills.
The project has also gotten the parents/guardians more actively involved
in the school and has brought the community more closely together. They
have decided to start an annual cultural celebration, a tradition that had
been lost prior to this project. They will use the celebration, along
with other community activities, to help raise funds for the project.
The school staff selected two dozen students from grades 5-7 to serve as
student leaders for the project. The staff has already begun to evaluate
schools and school staff members in surrounding villages to determine the
next candidate for expansion of the project. They have also decided to
spend part of the project funds to attend a grant-writing and fundraising
We think that our process could be replicated successfully elsewhere.
But, before we get too much farther down the road, we would like to
establish a strict scientifically-based hypothesis testing research
project to evaluate this technique both in short-term and long-term gains.
If you are interested in helping to set up this evaluation research, or
know of someone who might be, please let me know.
janissa at silverstar.com
jbalcomb at laptopstolesotho.org
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