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Vietnam OLPC Meeting in Hanoi June 13, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 2:22 pm
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You never know how you may impact other people with your action and writing. As Nancie said, it is always nice to know that whatever you started is growing, even when you are away.

As mentioned earlier, Serge Stinckwich organized Vietnam OLPC meeting in Hanoi on June 5. Her wrote:

“Hi all, we were around 15 people for the 1st meeting of OLPC Vietnam developers.I put some pictures of the event here:
I made a short presentation of the OLPC project and a report of my visit to the Vung Vieng village. My slides (report of the VV village visit) are available here:
The conclusions of my visit are as following:
– every XOs are working and are used everyday by kids. They really enjoyed it.
– XOs are not part of a curriculum. This is more a leisure activity at the moment.
– there is a problem with the local teachers: they only stay one year in the village. We need to train them every year. Teachers need to be more involved in the use of XOs in the classroom.
– Only a limited set of activities seems to be used by the children.There is not enough Vietnamese activities
– XOs need to be update to newer versions of Sugar (0.82.1 => 0.88). We need to select specific activities (with good vn translation) and write some pedagogical documentation.
We also made some demos of the Sugar environment (on Linux & XOs). Some students present at the meeting are particularly interested in developing Sugar applications.
One of the conclusions of this meeting is that we need to grow the user & developer Sugar community in order to have more Vietnamese content. This will be one our top priorities of the next months.”


OLPC Realness Summit June 9, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 9:15 am
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I had a chance to speak to the OLPC Afghanistan Director Mike Dawson about his experience at OLPC Realness Summit, which took place in St. John May 28-31. Mike said it was beneficial for him to meet representatives from other OLPC deployments around the world. It was the first time OLPC-doers had an opportunity to meet and talk openly about what has been done and should be done in the future. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to come due to not enough advance notice, but 40 people still made it to the Caribbean to attend the summit and mentor workshop. The ideas have sprung from every continent: to start creating content together, to launch a company to help small deployments, to unite resources to work on software improvements without duplicating efforts, to create user-friendly deployment guides, etc.

Everyone had a chance to show to others new tools and approaches. Mike demonstrated eXe, a program that will help non-programmers to create educational games and content in any field for free. (Mike showed to me Hangman letter game, which he was working on when we first talked on Skype several months ago). Afghanistan is waiting for another grant to go forward with planned activities.

Besides their similarities, Summit participants also accepted their differences, which is the first step to working together. The differences are about: Which deployments are better: micro deployments or nation-wide? Should XO and Sugar be taught as part of normal school curriculum or extracurricular activity? Who should create software: Academia (Chris) or developers (Bernie from SugarLab argued that Academia takes away fun and constructionism element). Who exactly should help deployments?

Read more about the Summit by Chris, from OLPC News, and Beth, from Waveplace, the organizer of the event. I like what Bernie wrote on his blog about the Summit. He concludes:

“By the end of the summit, a strong binding was formed among all the participants, regardless of our widely different professions and approaches to world-wide education.

Many of us asked to follow-up by creating some kind of super-organization embracing volunteers from all camps: OLPC (hardware), Sugar Labs (software), educators and deployments.

As a representative of Sugar Labs, I’d be more than happy to embrace this idea. We’ve been traditionally been very weak on the education front and loosely connected with deployments. We’ve been trying to solve the problem by attracting people with those interests into our organization, but our overly technocratic community managed to repel them.

By starting off with a balanced blend of educators and technologists, we might be able to achieve what our individual organizations couldn’t. Rather than trying to focus everyone on one particular aspect of education technology, it would endorse a wide spectrum of skilled professionals involved in solving the same fundamental problem of radically improving education world-wide through technology, constructionism, interactive curriculum, free software, rugged laptops, teachers without borders and the organized enthusiasm of thousands volunteers.”

(Both pictures Courtesy of Realness)

Unexpected post


OLE Nepal, Vietnam and Boston: Part Four June 8, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 9:06 am
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I asked Rabi several questions:

What do you do every day?

(He looked surprised. I know he is the Executive Director, but  want to know what exactly he does daily.) Sometimes I work up to 16 hours a day, but have to cut down my work hours to not burn out. I lead groups and make sure they all have the capabilities and resources… I manage those groups and resolve problems, work with the government officials.

Why are you doing it?

Because I care about education and  believe that you can’t just drop computers off, you have to show how to handle them, how to teach ICT (Information and communication technology), how to communicate. (I guess, miracles do not just happen, they are made by people.)

Are you happy?

Yes, even though there are always ups and downs. (Find something you love to do and never work a day in your life.)

Do you have a volunteer program?

Yes, we have a program for locals 18-19 year old, who in their gap year after high school. They get trained, and then go to schools and help teachers in April for three weeks. They get technical plus teaching experience at the same time.

What issues do you foresee?

If OLPC switches to a tablet for good, and will not support old models, that will be hard for the existing deployments. Who then gets to decide which school gets new model and which gets old model of XO? Fairness factor will be in question. Then where to get spare parts: batteries, screens, etc. for old models? OLPC should focus on making hardware and improving current model of XO, not necessary creating content or education plans. The other problem is that OLPC does not sell XOs to the public directly in small quantities. Should they? What if a private school wants to buy only 100 computers?

Where do you see yourself in two years?

I will still be in Nepal, running our deployment. There is still a lot of work to be done, especially on getting the government on board. You have to explain what kind of benefits come from the use of computers in schools. We are also thinking about providing consulting services to those who need help with getting XOs and implementing them in their schools.

(Rabi’s picture courtesy of Nancie Severs,


OLE Nepal, Vietnam and Boston: Part Three June 2, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 10:13 am
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Currently OLENepal has a team of 30 people, 15 of those work on creating local content. Rabi showed us a demo of the activities they created for learning English and math. There is enough content to teach several grades all school year! Nepali text-book curriculum was converted into computer- based and improved. The main advantages of a computer based curriculum are that the student gets instant feedback and has infinite number of practice choices, not to mention a game-like interactive way of learning.  The team of creators have to have an educators’ background because as developers they do not know what educators know. Genius techies without any educational experience will not be able to create good programs for students. The goal is to educate all students, not just brilliant ones, but those who are at average and below average.


They provided 4 day training to teachers in their first year, now it is 8 days with on-going feedback and support. Teachers are taught different way of teaching: monitoring and helping, not dry lecturing. At the end of the training, teachers convert problems into solutions and they are not afraid of saying “I don’t know but I will get back to you”. It is important to make this process easy for teachers. One of the biggest myths is that you show the teachers what an XO can do and they will create content or customize it. Unfortunately, it is not true. Teachers will not customize it, even if it requires one hour per week,  or improve or create. Why? They do not have time for that. Some of them teach 7-8 periods a day. That is why OLE Nepal started with basics – just transferred from book-based to computer based curriculum. And then created lesson plans and sample activities.


There should be infrastructure in place. “OLE Nepal has connected all the schools that are part of the pilot program to one another. The schools are also connected to the OLE Nepal central server in Kathmandu, creating an intranet connection between OLE Nepal and its partner schools.Wherever possible, schools have also been connected to the Internet. However, this has depended largely on the pre-availability required infrastructure in the area.

In addition to connecting schools to each other and to OLE Nepal, internal networks have also been set up within the schools. Each school is equipped with a school server that contains E-Pustakalaya and the latest E-Paath updates.
The school server also works as the gateway between the school and the outside network. Each school server is connected to access points in each classroom with network cable. The students can use their laptops to access the server wirelessly through these access points in their respective classrooms.”


OLE Nepal wants the Ministry of Education to have the capacity to take over, that is why they have to involve government in the process on many different levels. At one level it means having right people on the board of directors. Another level – involving policy makers into curriculum creation. Training teachers from the Ministry of Education and paying them for training is another example.  Last year OLE Nepal trained 15 teachers and then sent them to train others to total of 125. They were teaching ICT basic education – info and communication technology. Not just the teachers, but governments, ministries do not want to lose jobs. Instead of threatening them with new technology that might replace them, it is better to involve them into the process and show how it could work well for all participants.


OLE Nepal, Vietnam and Boston: Part Two June 1, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 8:30 am
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So there we were, at Harvard Square Au Bon Pain, surrounded by chess players, Harvard students, lazy stroller, bums and street performers. Both Rabi and Nancie had Xos with them. We sat down at a table facing the street and engaged in a long conversation about OLPC, technology and life choices.

Rabi said they were very idealistic and naïve when they started OLE Nepal three years ago. They had no funding, but they believed that as long as they are doing good work and can show great results, they will get funding and eventually support from the government. They had a good team and were lucky to interest first sponsor the Danish Embassy in Nepal. Later, there were more sponsors, including Food for education group. The program is giving kids food so that they come to school to study, and if their attendance reaches 75%,parents get a liter of cooking oil every month. Richard and Rabi asked, what if these kids go to school for food at first, but in the future they will come to school for education?  OLENepal’s annual budget in year one and two was 400,000USD.

Rabi named three phases of their demployment:

Phase One from April 2008 to March 2009 (Nepali school year) was testing. They started with 2 schools grades 2 and 6 and 135 OLPC laptops.

In Phase Two from April 2009 to March 2010 the pilot was expanded to 26 schools and 2,000 XOs (2,000 more is coming). Not as big yet as Uruguay (350,000 XOs) or Peru (40-50,000 XOs), but big enough to go nation-wide.

In Phase Three, it is expected that the OLPC project will expand across the entire country. More about phases of the OLE Nepal pilot is here:

AS per Rabi, there are four essential elements in a successful deployment:

1. Content, 2. Educators, 3. Network, 4. Capacity


OLE Nepal, Vietnam and Boston: Part One May 31, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 10:21 am
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I already mentioned OLENepal earlier on my blog. Sunday was a beautiful day in Boston. Nancie and I were lucky to meet Rabi Karmacharya, Executive Director from the Open Learning Experience Nepal. Rabi went to MIT, where he received his B.Sc. and M.E. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  Then he worked as a design engineer for 3Com in CA for three years before he returned to Nepal.  He co-founded a software company HimalayanTechies, and seven years later he met Brian Berry through a running club and they together started OLE Nepal  in 2007.

Both Nancie and I were interested to meet Rabi, because he is running such a  successful OLPC deployment and just returned from Hanoi, where he attended the OpenCourseware consortium meeting on May 5-7, and met with Serge, who is contributing to the OLPC Vietnam project.

Serge  Stinckwich has lived in Hanoi for almost two years and is a professor at a university. You can find more about him here: He follows the localization efforts to get Sugar running in Vietnamese and other languages. Serge wrote:

“Right now, I’m mostly involved in the Squeak/Smalltalk community and I know very well the people behind Squeak EToys.
I’m part of a project called SqueakBot : where kids could use
EToys to control robots. I have also made a seminar in Hanoi some months ago about Etoys&Dynabook vision:“.

Serge has put a Google group together for OLPC Vietnam. He is visiting Vung Vieng village right now and will report his observations and suggestions to other OLPC Vietnam members during an upcoming meeting on June 5.

Finally OLPC grassroots’ movement is taking off in Vietnam, thanks to Nancie, the OLPC pioneer in that far-away country. Hurrah!


The Letters

> Hi Kevin,

> thank you so much for all your help and comments to my blog saigonolpc.

I have enjoyed contributing to OLPC and being a part of the Free Software
community, its natural to help other users. I enjoyed reading about the far-off
places and seeing the images of the locales and the happy kids.

> I noticed you live in Brooklyn, NY. What kind of work do you do there?

nothing to speak of.

> Ryan from the Philippines is organizing  a meet-up for OLPC interested folks
> sometime in June in NYC. Will you attend??

I am on the OLPC support gang list and I think I saw something mentioned. I
went to a meeting of OLPC NYC. I would be interesting in attending.

>I would like to meet you in person, but i live in Boston and do not visit NYC
>that often.  What are you working on right now in terms of Open Source
>software projects?  Marina.

I have been involved in OLPC, first as an observer, then as a G1G1 supporter,
and now a support gang volunteer. I have been a Free Software supporter for a
long time and was interested in the combination of (mostly) free hardware and


The next day I received a letter from Hoang, my student from Saigon. After you read it you will understand what I mean about Vietnamese language not properly installed on the XO, the letter was translated from Vietnamese to English via Google translate:

Hello MarinaMarina has khong.Cong breeze of the Marina on chu.O taught us very well and I look forward grapes Marina nhieu.Chung day Marina will have to visit us

I sent a response in English and broken Vietnamese (thanks to Google translate):
Dear Hoang,
I am happy to receive  a letter from you. Unfortunately, my red computer was stolen and I lost all my pictures from Vietnam and all pictures with you. If you still have some pictures, please send them to me.
I am working right now on starting  a company that will send more teachers to Vietnam and other countries. And I hope I can come and visit you again!
Love you all,

eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part Four May 9, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 10:09 pm
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Ryan: What about an OLPC community? Is it even big in Vietnam?

Polyachka: It doesn’t really exist.  There are individuals, mainly foreigners, who know about OLPC. We have a website that Mario is running- OLPC Vietnam and I’m still doing my blog. But it takes so much more effort there than here for many reasons.

Ryan: There are so many challenges

Polyachka: Many cultural barriers, it is hard to explain, why it doesn’t work the way we expect it or the way it works here. A completely different mentality. People are still new to this whole volunteering idea. “Why am I doing it for free? Explain it to me again?”

Ryan: Its definitely difficult to cultivate a culture of volunteering, especially when most potential volunteers have mouths to feed. This is definitely a challenge for us, but thankfully, our community of volunteers is beginning to grow inside and outside of the Philippines.

Polyachka: It is a different tradition, culture; you need to understand a lot of things before you start actually changing peoples’ mentality. I realized that in Vietnam you do need some funding in order to attract volunteers; you have to pay them a little bit or create some incentives.

Ryan: Incentive program, yes, at least a dinner for the group…

Polyachka: or a trip or some other recognition, but I wasn’t able to do it, as I was doing so much besides that – teaching children, learning new programs myself. Do you remember, first time I tried an XO was when you showed it to me (back in Jan). And then I had to write about it and think about what is good for the children, not necessarily for OLPC….

Ryan: I agree, because a lot of people forget that, some OLPC enthusiasts believe that it’s the magical tool to solve educational problems in the developing countries. The XO laptop is only part of the solution.  At the end of the day, we have to figure out how children can benefit from the XO Laptop. Not how the XO Laptop will benefit from the Children.

Polyachka: I heard a complaint about small deployments, especially unsustainable ones. Rich tourists go to the developing countries and bring back nice pictures and no real results.  I thought about it. Yeah, maybe some deployments are not sustainable, but that is not their main priority. They do their part testing the product, and try to get the most out of it to benefit the children. Their goal is to make those children happy and take advantage of new technology. Sometimes it is not about achieving great sustainable results like turning pilots into a huge nation-wide deployment with some super results.

Ryan: you mean some metrics: literacy rates have gone up and this saved children from poverty

Polyachka: exactly, there are drastic examples, but even if it is a small change, I’m really happy with that…

Ryan: That is good. The XO Laptop is a tool that can benefit children in various ways.  At the end of the day, we may find that providing access to an XO laptop brought joy and laughter in their lives.  This is not “increasing literacy rates”, but this is just as powerful.

Polyachka: I agree, that is why it is grassroots – you try to do what you can… Any kind of result good for children and their education works…

Ryan: what are your next steps?

Polyachka: I want to start a volunteering company that will help small and big projects around the world…

Ryan: Would you be interested in coming to the OLPC Meeting in New York and tell about your Vietnam OLPC experience…

Polyachka: Sure!  I’d love to do it…


eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part Three May 6, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 9:20 am
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Ryan: You never got to that point? How was it structured? What was the daily activity for students participating?

Polyachka: I was teaching in a shelter, where children are orphans. It was not a school, where teachers are available to learn and then transfer their knowledge to the kids. I was a shelter, where there is a director and children living there. Children go to school every day, but school is in a different location. I would come for 2 hours in the evening Mon-Fri and we would learn something new. I don’t speak Vietnamese, so there was always a translator. A local volunteering company provided translation and transportation. We had 20 classes in total and the exam. All the girls passed it and they got the Teacher certificates, so that they can teach software Sugar to other children in the shelter.

Ryan: So you were training educators to educate the rest of the students. That is great. They were all girls. That is the kind of stuff that OLPC wants to hear.

Polyachka: Probably, but our communication kind of stopped because we used the Google translator in the beginning but it gets messy. And sometimes it translates into total nonsense. The other problem is that we never figured out Vietnamese keyboard, as some symbols don’t work on the XO, which makes it impossible to use the Write activity. That was the point of my whole deployment – to figure out what works, what needs to be improved and what are the next steps. Unfortunately, the keyboard localization isn’t working well as several characters don’t work. That is why it is hard for children to write to me, and then I can’t translate and understand what they write. It is Latin alphabet, but with several extra symbols, you apply accents on top of every letter. One letter can be used in many different ways and produces different meaning.

Polyachka: So even though the girls achieved a lot and now they have the Internet after we installed a router, not all is perfect. We have an arrangement with the director, so that the children can use the Internet several days a week. But it is hard for me to tell what are they doing right now, whether they use computers at all, never mind teaching other kids, as I don’t have communication with them. So that is my problem. And there is no one in Vietnam who could do it on regular basis.

Ryan: It is hard to find enthusiastic people who are there all the time. What about the Vietnamese community?

Polyachka: There were a lot of people who volunteered to be my translator, they were interested in the project but no one could commit to be that liaison between the group and me because they all want paid jobs and some benefits that I can’t not give them because I have no funding.


eKindling, OLPC Philippines, and Vietnam! Part Two May 5, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 8:14 am
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Polyachka: So when are you scheduled to start?

Ryan: We were supposed to start in June but that had to be pushed back, so August is now the start date…

Polyachka: What other things do you take into consideration?

Ryan: Shipping, currently one cargo carrier is DHL. Customs checks every single DHL box, and they will charge up to 40% of the value of the laptops, which is additional $9,000. It is more than we expected and we thought of trying other carriers based in Shanghai that are cheaper but that is not an option.

Ryan: How did you deal with these problems in Vietnam?

Polyachka: We are a different caliber; you are much bigger than we are. So that is why you suffer from certain things we avoided. All I had to work with was 5 XOs, which is not much. I brought them in my own suitcase, and no one checked how many computers I had. The same with Nancie, who came to the other part of Vietnam and brought 12 XOs, and didn’t pay any taxes, only for extra weight, so that part was easy. Our small deployments are more about testing the software applicability and its customization for Vietnam. For example, we were trying to find and read ebooks in Vietnamese. We were not focusing on making it a part of the standard curriculum. It was more an extra curricular activity that children would do after school. It was hard for us to convert to bigger scale because we didn’t have strong connections to the local officials, or we didn’t have the funding so that some people could get paid to go through the training. It was interesting to work and to see what the opportunities are. There is one guy who is still there and he is officially the head of the project and the website OLPC Vietnam.

Polyachka: Also it is very segregated. I started my deployment in the south and Nancie did in the north.

Ryan: So you were not working together?

Polyachka: No, our deployments don’t even talk to each other because Nancie’s deployment doesn’t have the Internet. They are very small deployments and that is not good for OLPC, because they are looking for deployments like yours.

Ryan:  I don’t think so, we are too small. Or maybe yes, but not big enough to get the capabilities to be supported. Maybe if we were a bigger deployment of 1000 laptops, things would be different. We are small too, compared to other players that are out there.

Polyachka: Could be… but at least you are buying laptops; and we got our laptops for free… Of course, their perfect deployment is Afghanistan. Where there are thousands of laptops. But again, what I was told that OLPC is interested in all kinds of grassroots activity promoting OLPC and trying it to “plant the seeds” into different countries and concentrating on those that have the most potential.  So 100 laptops is a good start… especially if there is infrastructure to support them and training for the local people who are interested in making it a live project. In my case children are using computers but not systematically. What is expected? More publicity or better results, reports, like improved literacy rates or something similar, that we are not giving …


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