Thursday, February 28, 2008
Tuesday the friendly folk at Reliance took a small group of us out to Khairat to visit the OLPC pilot school in India. The school has one room, one teacher and the kids are in 1st - 4th grades.
When we first arrived the teacher was giving a lecture on something in Marathi at the black board. Several laptops were in a corner being charged, most were lying on the floor with the kids, a couple were open.
Amit one of the Reliance people clearly knew the teacher and the children well, so when he entered the kids all opened their laptops and started eagerly showing all of us the different things they could do with their computers.
The laptops were passed out in early October of last year. By now everyone was very comphortable with them. They could navigate menus, understood how to click on icons, could click and drag objects across the screen, etc.
At least in the eagerness surrounding showing off their knowledge to the friendly outsiders who came in, their principal purpose in pushing buttons, clicking and dragging seemed to be to make the device do something ie. make noise or do some animation. Towards this end the kids could explore the menu system to great depth, but without any english comprehension of the meaning of the text I don't think they 'understood' the conceptual layout of the system very deeply.
They did understand the top level of icons and which ones would bring up interesting applications.
The laptops were in remarkably good condition. I saw that one key 'i' had ripped off one of the laptops, but that was the only problem I saw, and you could still get the 'i' to type by touching your finger to the contact points.
I don't know what the problem was, but the school server was not operational.
The couple hours there were wonderful. The kids are super enthusiastic and there is a feeling that 'something special' is happening. The teacher was also very nice and encouraging.
While everyone is very excited, its not immediately obvious how to use the laptops to better teach the curriculum educators are accustomed to. I see a need for someone technical to spend time working with the children and the laptops to pioneer ways of actively using them to facilitate learning beyond the conventional methods.
Maybe me :)
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Monday, February 04, 2008
I just returned from Varanasi. Its my favorite city so far. Calcutta impressed me because so many people I met were spending the large part of their days serving the poor at Mother Theresa's hospital and with other organizations. With Varanasi most people I met were studying music, yoga or Sanskrit and Vedic literature.
The student teacher relationship was much more guru style than the western classrooms I am used to. Students would meet with their guru - teacher for a couple of hours every day, show what they had learned and get advice for how to progress further. The relationships were long term often lasting many years, tho with the student leaving every year to travel or return to the west.
I spoke with my friend Freedom about his experiences. He's a teacher of Vedic astrology in Emeryville, CA. When he first started teaching he gave very individual attention to his students. He found though that it was very time consuming, and that if the students were not dedicated - the time was lost. While mentoring in this fashion he found that he often repeated much of the same information in helping them establish a foundation in the art. After some time he refined this material into a lesson plan which he could use to teach a class to a larger group of people, and later turned some of it into a book .