Saturday, July 16, 2011

East Timor Laptop Deployment

Hera,Timor Leste, (East Timor) 7 July 2011
Thursday Morning

Tom and I arrived in Hera yesterday. We were met by Branca at Dili airport and driven the 40 minutes to Hera.

Landing at Dili airport

Timor Leste is an island nation 1½ hours northwest of Australia. Originally a Portuguese colony, they declared independence in 1975 and were then were occupied by Indonesia. A bitter 25 year guerrilla war followed, culminating in independence in 1999. The nation was left with nearly all the infrastructure destroyed . Further unrest occurred in 2006. Timor Leste is now working to reestablish itself after this difficult past.

The population speaks a large number of local dialects, Tetun (the Tetun Dili dialect) is the lingua franca, and lesser amounts of Portuguese, English and Bahasa Indonesia. The two official languages are Portuguese and Tetun. Schooling is in both Portuguese and Tetun.

Kids Ark School, Hera, Timor Leste

The Kid’s Ark school is a P-4 school founded by Brazilian missionaries. It was given 20 OLPC XO1.5 laptops by the Seaton OLPC group in July 2010. One year later, Tom and I returned to evaluate progress and provide additional teacher training.

Two principles of the OLPC program are saturation (all primary school students in a region get laptops) and child ownership (the children get to take their laptops home). The Hera deployment is neither saturated nor take home.

It is not a saturated deployment because of lack of funding.

It was not made a take home deployment because of concerns that this was incompatible with a hierarchical society with different understandings of private ownership. The possibility of negotiating this with village elders has not been explored.

The main challenge facing us was to increase the usage of the laptops. The laptops are only being used for a few hours a week. They were enthusiastically adopted a year ago, the acquisition of computer skills was highly valued but now their feeling is that they had ‘done’ everything that could be done with the computer.

One strategy identified was to use the laptops more creatively, rather for rote type tasks.

A second was to identify linkages between the laptops and the curriculum.

Teacher's guide, 1st grade, in Portuguese and Tetun

Thursday Afternoon
In the morning we re-flashed the laptops and installed some extra activities. In the afternoon we did training of 10 mainly Tetun speaking teachers. I wasn’t much use there with my lack of Tetun language but Tom and Carol did a great job. First we did an activity inserting photos into a word processor document to create a personal profile. Then we used the Tux Math drill activity. Finally we showed Wikipedia in Tetun and discussed the possibilities.

Teaching the teachers

A positive sign, two teachers (class 2a and 2b) asked if they could use Tuxmath in their classes. We first did class 2a, that meant a bit of hurried installing of software for the class. Some kids had no idea of how to use the computer, one finger on the mousepad, enter etc. Nevertheless it took only about 20 minutes to get all the kids going well (video).

Next class 2b. Similar experience to 2a. Even more encouraging, the teacher when shown the Abacus Activity wanted to use it immediately because she could see its curriculum relevance. The kids continued to use this till the laptops batteries ran out, doubling and tripling to a laptop as the batteries progressively failed.

Linking the Abacus Activity to the existing curriculum

More to come.

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Blogger Bill Kerr said...

Thanks for report, Tony. The critical issues you raise are interesting.

Very briefly, I would say that the solutions of "creativity" and "curriculum relevance" are subsets of the broader issue raised by Liping Ma in connection to maths education - that some teachers have a more profound understanding of the fundamentals of maths than others.

So, the real question is which is the tail and which is the dog? I'm currently helping a home schooling family with their maths since they have hit a wall with one of their children. What I am finding is the important thing is my understanding of maths, say fractions which is a neglected area in primary maths, and that computer tasks are quite secondary to my presentation here. Nevertheless, Idit Harel did devise a complex way of teaching fractions using computers and logo but not many primary teachers are prepared to comprehend her PhD thesis!

Sunday, July 17, 2011 1:16:00 PM  

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