How do the Reaksmy Children Use the XOs?

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
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Trip End Jul 01, 2014


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Flag of Cambodia  , Kâmpóng Thum,
Saturday, November 26, 2011

What do the kids do with their XOS?

The Reaksmy Primary School has about 350 children that come to school. About 160 of these children participate in the English computer studies classes in the 3rd to 6th grades. Any child of any age who with their parents agree to and meet the attendance requirements is welcome to participate. It is not unusual to have older children returning to school in the youngest class.

These early XO-1s have a keyboard with Khmer option built in, but the children use them with English keyboards in the English studies Computer skills program. At first the children participating received and owned their own laptop. Those children still in school are now in secondary school and still use them. Because of the finite number of XOs and the large number of children who wish to learn with the XOs, in order to reach more children, the XOs are numbered, shared among different grades and kept in school. Each child is assigned their own laptop number and uses the same laptop each day. There are 8 classes of 20+- students a day. The students do sometimes take laptops home for out of school homework assignments, rotating by class. The sharing system seems to me to work fine.

The school has limited electricity. Many homes in the village have none. It is rare in the world today to see a place where there is not a tv in every home and without electricity, and where the light of day determines daily schedules. Those who an afford it have generators or buy power from someone who sells it. The school building is used during daylight hours and the precious electricity is turned off during the school lunch break and every evening. The children start school at 7:00 AM and finish at 5:00 PM with a 2 hour break fro lunch during the hottest part of the day.

The school’s power supply comes from a combination of solar and generator power, and and more recently from electricity purchased from a local man who has a big generator and has installed some delivery lines. It is fairly new that the school and residents can buy power from overhead lines. The school’s power is purchased with funds from the NGO that the Negropontes started: http://www.cambodiapride.org/

In the classroom, whenever the children use the XOs at their desks, they are plugged into power strips. This is how the XOs are kept charged. The electricity is turned off whenever class is not in session. The dedicated computer teacher, Channa says this procedure works well for them, saves after school power use, and eliminates the necessity to have an after school recharging procedure. Be sure to take a look at the photos of the classroom storage station! Those are the original styrofoam packing crates that the laptops arrived in and they have held up very well.

When the Negropontes began the XO project out here, they arranged for an Internet connection which is beamed by satellite from Thailand and Laos. It is shared with one other western organization working in the same general area. The Internet does not always work and the speed varies from a slow crawl to acceptable. Channa has found that it is not reliable or fast enough to download large files including the new OS builds for the XO when they are released. I had brought working downloads of 11.2.0 on a flash drive and we were both excited to get the new build with some Activities they had not seen, working!

During my visit, someone finally arrived from Siem Reap 4-5 hours away, to diagnose and try and improve things.The school had been waiting for this person already for more than a month. He looked at the satellite, and the young mango tree that provides some shade in the hot schoolyard, and said that the tree limbs were likely blocking the signal. The idea was that if trimming was done immediately while the technician was on site, then they could assess whether in fact that was the problem or whether it was something else indeed. So out came a machete, and a limb trimmer, and first, Elaine's wonderful driver and general helper, Vanny shimmied up the tree to do some trimming. Vanny upset a huge nest of large red ants and got bitten all over and had to stop. So Channa, in his professional "teachers" clothes, white pants and all, climbed the tree to finish the job. Everyone watching on the ground, including me had red ants showered upon us. Oh it is never boring in Reaksmy. I am still not sure that this improved the problem. Perhaps it is a bandwidth issue from the source.

Channa teaches 8 one hour classes each day, 2 each for the 3rd, 4h, 5th and 6th grades or forms. The forms are divided into Level A and Level B, so that the children in one grade who are more proficient can progress and so that those who require more time or assistance won’t get discouraged.

The classroom XOs are all numbered. Each child is assigned an XO by number. Some of the same numbers are shared by children in different grades but each child in each grade uses the same XO every day. This is a clever system for sharing and I hope people from other projects might find my description helpful. So even though 4 to 8 students might be using the XO in class, their work can be saved in the Journal and it can then be accessed the next day so that the children can pick up where they left off.

I saw that all of the children, even the little ones who began he XO program just this year, know how to use the XO appropriately, to open and close Activities and use the proper “Shutdown” method. In the  3B class, the youngest children do not yet know their ABC's. The English language teacher (in the best of worlds) works in tandem with the computer skills class. At the time of my visit, the children had only been introduced to 6 letters of the English alphabet. With these children, Channa chose the GCompriis Activity. It has a 'space invaders" type shooting game with ABC letters (or math) and Channa had the children saying the letters out loud when they appeared on the screen. It was noisy and hard to hear. I had brought a dozen pair of inexpensive cute headphones with me for the classroom and they came in handy. The ABC memory game is a good Activity for this level also. These youngest children might not yet know all of their ABC's but, I was impressed to see that they already know how to use the XOs, and that they were careful to open and close Activities and to use Shutdown to preserve overall battery life.

The 4th graders were learning Scratch. Scratch is probably the most popular activity and I see that Channa has found ways to make it very versatile also. The children were drawing with the paint tools and color. When I arrived, the children had made a video (with audio too) to welcome me using Scratch. I had been wanting to learn Scratch but had not had time to play around with it so on the first day, I sat down with the children and tried to draw my own picture that I could later learn to animate. I figured if a 4th grader can do it...but it was hard and my first effort was embarrassingly primitive in comparison to the kid's work. By learning to draw with Scratch, the children will acquire the skills necessary for using computers for graphic arts. They are learning many related English words every day too. Their skills transfers easily to the Sugar “Paint” Activity and this skill set will transfer to Desktop Publishing on PCs and Macs. I hope that at least some cases, the ease with which these children use computers will open employment doors as the children grow up. How could it not? 

The Reaksmy Primary School Project does not stop in Reaksmy, or at the primary school. Prior to the XO program, very few children continued their formal education. The success of the XO computer and English classes has motivated more children from the primary school stay in school. The children needed a secondary school, and so, in 2008-2009 Elaine and Cambodia~p.r.i.d.e. built the ”Junior High School.”

The Junior High School in Robeing has about 280 kids and draws from several area primary schools.  When the Reaksmy children arrived with XO laptops that others did not have, this did create some problems. CAMBODIA~p.r.i.d.e. provided generator electricity and the XO library in
the secondary school. Now, they are looking for a technology teacher to live in Robeing and hold a proper class. Since the graduating children from Reaksmy no longer own their own XO, perhaps the library will need more XOs. Well, that will be a good problem to have!

I asked how many kids from the English and computer classes are continuing on to secondary school and to high school, and how does that compare to the statistics of children from classes and schools without the XOs. I don’t have the answer yet but Elaine agrees that this is an important statistic to gather. She will work with Channa on it and let me know.

Not long ago, using their XO skills learned in classes with Channa, the Junior High School students created & “published” a newspaper. They envisioned and produced something like a school newspaper but one that could also bring news to and benefit the community. The first issue, 400 copies sold by the kids around town, quickly sold out.

The kids were very excited with their newspaper report and it was so professional that the Government censors and bureaucracy quickly killed the effort. I heard that for the children to continue reporting the local goings on in town, they would be required to make formal, expensive applications for approval and licenses. The kids loved doing the newspaper. They learned about reporting and writing, and graphic design. There is talk about trying again with a “school report” not called a newspaper. Perhaps they can write a blog about their school and about their Computer classes.

How did the kids manage to produce the first print newspaper in their area? What are the young journalists doing next? How can you use the XOs to teach journalism and produce a newspaper? Scroll below to the Table of Entries and look for my Journalism Entry for the details!

Having the same "technology" teacher for several years brings many advantages. Channa has developed expertise and tools for teaching which include projecting/enlarging the XO screen for teaching. This day, in the 5th grade, the children were learning as a group and once again practicing how to Save their Scratch drawing projects so that they could return to work on them some more on the next day. I can see how important the "teacher" and teaching is. Especially in this culture, it is hard for many kids to learn what to do with the XO, without formal instruction. Again, please check the photos.

On my next day, some of the younger kids had a mystery sound assignment. First Channa introduces the English words and concepts for the lesson. What is a “sound.?” The children were supposed to take the XOs outside around the school and using Scratch, record a “mystery” sound that could be played back in class. The students would then all listen and try and guess what sound was recorded. This active and fun lesson took 2 days, because as it is the English class, the instructions are given almost exclusively in English. sometimes there are communication errors.

The kids (& I with my camera) headed outside with their XOs. I first saw a child drum her hands on a steel drum and record that. Then a few others did that too. They spotted the school bell hanging nearby and made a good racket with that. Next, one child talked an adult with a motor scooter into revving that up to be recorded. The kids loved this Activity and I was impressed that they were doing this in Scratch, not in Record. I enjoyed seeing the XOs being used outside and the children’s smiles and laughter were priceless.

Back in class, Channa discovered that the English word “mystery” had been “lost in translation.” Everyone had such a good time, but now it was time to playback and guess the sounds. Most of the kids had the same sounds so the game was too easy. The children sat around Channa in a circle. He had a sound amplifier and speakers wired so that each XO could be plugged in and the recorded sound played. After each sound, the children all clapped for one another. And then Channa explained the game more clearly. At the end of school, the children in this class would stop by and pick up their XO and take it home, and record just one sound that might be hard for the rest of the class to guess. And the next day, indeed, the class was fun. There were sounds of animals, of cooking, and of scraping and sawing. The kids were very creative and most of the sounds, could have been one of several things and were hard to guess. I can tell you that the children are excited with their XO classes!

I mentioned that the classroom has a few Panasonic "army specs" Toughbooks' donated or bought used and refurbished. And that Cambodia~p.r.i.d.e is always looking for more of these for the older kids. Should your local police or fire department ever be getting rid of old ones, please contact CAMBODIA~p.r.i.d.e. or get in touch with me and I'll steer you to someone that can help! Like the XOs, the Toughbooks seem to be one of the only computers that can withstand the harsh environment, the dirt and sand, wet weather and heat out there.I saw the 5th graders working intently on quite sophisticated Scratch drawing projects to turn into films and games, and the 6th graders using a combination of XOs and Toughbooks for research Assignments using Google in English on the Internet.

On Fridays, there is some free time to choose Activities. Some of the kids were working to perfect their Scratch drawings and others were playing games. Channa also holds a Friday Repair class with the older kids. I had identified some XOs that I thought I might be able to fix and while I was working in the classroom on them, some kids from each class were really interested. I encouraged some of the children and let them help me put disassembled XOs back together. Several boys had never before used a screwdriver. It only took them a second to learn. Frankly, their little fingers and sharp eyes (to find dropped screws) were a big help. I loved working directly with the kids!

I hope this verbal snapshot together with my photos will give you an idea of what an XO project can do in one of the poorest rural places in the world. Even with the many daily challenges that the extreme poverty in this location present, the Reaksmy kids have opportunities, beyond those of their peers who don't have XOs or any type of computer education.

There are many obstacles to success. The extreme poverty of this location presents daily challenges and the financial needs are great. As with other XO projects in poor locations around the globe, the Reaksmy children and their community benefit from the XO project.  Even if the children here will become rice farmers, (and someone needs to grow the rice), they need to learn about the greater world they live in. With access to the Internet and the skills to use it, the children will have the tools to learn. They can learn and teach about business, farm (agricultural) science, health and nutrition. They will be better qualified to compete for jobs. Some may continue their studies and become more proficient farmers, or teachers, or doctors. All will have a “head start” to a better future.

Elaine is modest and does not seek publicity for her work. I want to respect her privacy but I must mention that her personal contribution, fundraising for CAMBODIA~p.r.i.d.e, traveling to and living in Cambodia for months at a time, being present and persistent, advising teachers and parents and students of all ages, and always tackling hard problems with determination, has effected great change already. I think that sometimes she does not see the overall accomplishments and progress being made, because there are so many immediate daily needs and challenges. Elaine is one terrific example and role model for the community, as is Channa, the gifted teacher she inspires. No doubt she has inspired others there too, as she has me! How fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to visit Reaksmy.

Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions about details that might help you with your own XO Projects. I'll try and get the answers for you.

I apologize in advance for any errors or misstatements. The errors are my own and I will be happy to make corrections.

If you would like to help the Reaksmy children please contact http://www.cambodiapride.org/




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