Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Notes on the Learning Setup

When we deploy to Mauritania, we plan to hand out 100 laptops to 100 kids. (1 laptop per student, not 100 laptops per student :P ) To make sure that their internet situation is taken care of correctly, we are in contact with Mauritel, the national telephone company, to run DSL to Tidjikja. Another NGO in the area, Worldvision, has generously offered to build a classroom specifically for teaching XO's, as we are not integrating the computers directly in the schools. The computer program will be run after school, like a gifted and talented program in the U.S.

The reason that we are not integrating directly with the main curriculum is because of the extremely high rate of teacher turnover. It is a national policy to rotate teachers around to different parts of the country every year, and as a result, teachers are not particularly attached to any particular school since they may be very far away from their families. (Mauritania has a very family-oriented culture, so being away from your family isn't fun.) Sometimes teachers leave for months at a time, at which point classes do not meet. To contain the problem that would arise around knowledge transfer from year to year and sustainability, we are working with the Peace Corps to train the teachers that arrive every year.

However, we're still working directly with the school system. We have the Superintendent of the school district (called the DREN) on our side for this project which really helps things along. It is very hard for people in a communal society like Mauritania's to understand the concept of child ownership. To them, it is common sense that the laptops should be shared between many people - that way you maximize their impact on the greatest number of people. However, as we've seen in America, having ones own computer allows one the freedom to explore, to make mistakes, and to learn without being pressured. Seth has managed to convince the DREN of the importance of child ownership and 1-to-1 computing. This is incredibly helpful because the DREN is in a position of authority and when meeting with people in town who have a stake in this experiment (parents, teachers, principals, influential townspeople), the DREN's opinion carries a lot of weight. Or at least that's what Seth tells us :).

We are sure that once we get to Tidjikja we will have to change some aspects of our plan because of delays or obstacles, but we hope that with all these people helping us we can get the laptops in the hands of these kids!

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