Hi, I'm a new subscriber to this list. My name is Janissa Balcomb, and I am president and co-founder of Laptops to Lesotho Inc., a nonprofit organization established in 2009 to distribute refurbished G1G1 XO-1 laptops we purchase on ebay 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 partner 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 project. 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 http://olpc2010-lesotho.blogspot.com/p/2011-rules-regulations-contracts-fee.html) 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 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 ideas. 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 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 workshop. 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. Thanks, Janissa Balcomb jbalc...@laptopstolesotho.org www.laptopstolesotho.org _______________________________________________ Research mailing list Research@lists.laptop.org http://lists.laptop.org/listinfo/research