KATHMANDU, Nov 9: Nearly 2,000 children in 26 schools across six districts are currently using computers with internet access as part of non-governmental organization Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal´s collaborative initiative with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to transform education through technology.
“Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education is a program within the Department of Education (DoE), under which we have several models and one of them is the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) model,” informed Baburam Poudel, deputy director of DoE. “We signed a memorandum of understanding with OLE Nepal in November 2007 to implement the OLPC model and right now we are in the second pilot phase.”
OLPC is a non-profit US organization which manufactures XO laptops, an affordable educational tool designed specifically for use in developing countries. OLPC pilot phase I was jointly launched by OLE Nepal and DoE in April 2008 in two schools in rural Lalitpur.
“The results we got were positive and we initiated the second phase in 26 schools in Dadeldhura, Mustang, Kavrepalanchok, Kapilvastu, Makawanpur and Lalitpur,” said Poudel. “DoE has allocated a small amount to assist OLE Nepal but we don´t have the capacity to provide laptops to each and every child, which they are doing.”
The schools were selected for their geographical location and consist of fairly mixed communities with poor economic backgrounds. Infrastructural requirement such as access to electricity, internet and transportation were also considered. “We have provided each child enrolled at primary level with an XO laptop but our job goes beyond giving these children a device, which is a major drawback of the OLPC project,” stated Rabi Karmacharya, executive director of OLE Nepal.
“Our focus is to develop fun interactive computer programs that can be used for teaching in classes and for this we have been working closely with various government offices from District Education Office (DEO) to Curriculum Development Center,” added Karmacharya, who shut down his own software designing company to head OLE Nepal. Established in September 2007, OLE Nepal is part of the global network of OLE International, a social benefit organization based in the USA.
The schools are presently using laptops for Mathematics, English and Nepali classes equipped with ICT exercises developed by OLE Nepal. “Our regular monitoring sessions have shown that attendance by students has increased in these schools and the children are also sharing their laptops with parents and siblings at home,” added Karmacharya. Along with software for teaching, OLE Nepal is also developing an e-library which is accessible to the public at www.pustakalaya.org. The information on the website is not limited to syllables and teaching materials but also includes newspaper articles, extracurricular projects and a Nepali dictionary.
A total of 130 teachers have received training on use of laptops for class instruction. Some of the schools have taken their own initiatives to share the resource with neighboring schools on Fridays, when classes end early. A focal person has been appointed at the DEO of each district to monitor and assess the pilot projects.
“We are aware that we can´t possibly provide a laptop each to about 5 million children, but our mission is to reach out to all 75 districts by 2015 and to assist the government realize the goal of Universal Basic Education 2015,” said Karmacharya.
The challenges for OLE Nepal are plenty. Many remote areas in Nepal do not have electricity or accessible public schools. Many children cannot read or write, let alone use laptops. Another major problem is funding sustainability for the project.
“When we first approached the government in 2007, they were skeptical because we depended on foreign aid and there have been many failed projects run by non-profit organizations,” said Karmacharya. “Right now we are financially strong but funding will eventually dry up, which is why we are working with the government so that this can eventually become part of the fiscal budget.” OLE Nepal is presently receiving financial support from Danish IT Society; DANIDA, the Danish program of foreign assistance; and the United Bank of Switzerland foundation.
However, hopes for OLE Nepal are high and they have a determined work force. “OLE Nepal is the oldest and most advanced of the eight national centers we have at the moment,” said Richard Rowe, founder and CEO of OLE International. “The four key areas of the OLPC project are development of digital content, training of teachers to use these programs, installing a support network and building the government´s capacity,” he reiterated.
OLE Rwanda´s executive director Jacques Murinda, who was here recently to attend the organization´s first global assembly, said, “We are here to learn from Nepal and to localize the strategies used by OLE Nepal because they have been very successful.”
So far, OLE centers have been established in Ghana, Rwanda, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Namibia and Mexico.