Computers, internet in Yaku

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Six years ago, when I first returned to Yaku, Mohan Dhakal, a teacher, proposed to me that he would help the school get a couple computers if I would fund the project.

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Seemed worthwhile. Up my alley. My best social work has been done with computers. Mohan installed a solar panel, bought two computers, and trained the teachers. Really a big, difficult project. But the computers weren’t very useful. No printer. No video projector. No internet. An inauspicious beginning.

Three years ago when I went back, I loaded up a couple iPads and iPods with the Planet Earth videos, Apollo 11 landing, other videos, a hundred ebooks, and some fun and educational ios apps. And a video projector.

8 minute video showing Yaku

The link above is to the eight minute video that’s on my website that I made after that trip. The last couple minutes show me introducing this stuff to the teachers and then a teacher showing a Planet Earth video to his class.

During the last 3 years the school administration, with Mohan’s help, applied to the Nepal government to be the site of a new computer education program. They were chosen and now have about 30 computers and three dedicated teachers, – government funded. Here’s a short video of class starting.

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Shocking. Just shocking, the rate of change here in Nepal.

And the change is not “just technology”. Meet Manisha Ghimire, a senior teacher in the computer program. Not a traditional role. That’s for sure.

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So, then, as I planned to go to Yaku again, I wondered what I might bring that would be useful. Mohan suggested the school could use a better projector. So I took one. Oh, the technology improves so fast. It’s brilliant, so to speak. And high rez.
Thinking about what else I might take, the Khan Academy videos seemed obvious. I’m a big fan. I had sent a bunch of them on a chip by mail to Mohan. He found them useful.

Here’s Sal Khan’s Ted talk, if you’re not familiar.

Salman Khan’s Ted Talk

I looked for a way to take these videos, and other educational material in a way that all the students and teachers could use effectively. I learned a long time ago that sharing computers is like sharing tooth brushes. Doesn’t really work. So, how can every student have her own Khan Academy?

Android tablets are getting really cheap. Some are under $100. That’s still an awful lot in Nepal. But they will get cheaper. Well, I thought it worthwhile to take a bunch so the teachers and students can try them. If they are as useful as I think they will be, they’ll get their own. Nepali’s invest a lot in Education. Above almost all else.

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A crucial advantage of some android tablets is that a microSD chip can be installed. The little chip in the picture has about 2000 Khan videos – teaching math from 1+1=2 thru differential equations; and physics, biology & chemistry through high school; with 4GB free for other educational materials. These chips can be swapped between tablets and computers and files added. Students can take them home. Don’t have to have internet. Elegant.

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But the tablets aren’t of any value if there is not someone at the school who has a passion for learning and teaching how they work. Mohan is at another school. Oh my, was I so happy to meet Ramesh Thapa, 21, a recent addition to the Computer Training Program.

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In a day he was doing magnitudes more with these little tablets than I had learned in a month. And teaching others. Anyone who wants to learn. Like this:

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The day after Ramesh got the Android Tablet, he’d downloaded dozens of educational documents, some from a Nepali educational website, written in Nepali.

Now, the tablets can be loaded with educational materials with the microSD chips, but if students can use them to access the internet themselves, learning opportunities magnify again.

Internet in Yaku has been sporadic and slow. Connected to 2G cell phones, mostly. But that’s changing too.

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Meet Navaraj Shresta, a Social Studies teacher who last year took it on himself to bring the newly available WiMAX internet data service by Nepal Telecom to Yaku. It wasn’t easy. Didn’t just flip a switch.

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That little white box on the top of the pole above the house gets the WiMAX signal sent from across the Arun River and resends it down to the school. Here’s the wiring in the house.

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Talk about miracles. It works. I used this internet system to email and blog and skype for a month. Intermittent and slow, but worked. And, for me, this is another opportunity to be useful. A small investment can upgrade the system appreciably, increasing speed and reliability. Oh, then, internet usefulness increases again by many factors.

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