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One laptop per child benefits Nepal

19 December 2008

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With their little green laptops, students in Nepal now find their English and Math lessons more interactive. Facilitated by Open Learning Nepal, the innovative exercise is less about gadgets and more about quality education in developing countries.

As the morning bell rings, students of the Biswamitra Ganesh Secondary School line up in the playground and sing Nepal’s stirring new national anthem.

Students of grade two and six walk to their classrooms and turn on their little green laptops. The school has been selected to test how computers specially designed for children in developing countries can be integrated into daily teachings.

Six months ago each student here was given these robust XO computers by Open Learning Nepal with support from a Danish group. Teachers are being trained to provide computer-based exercises.

OLPC Nepal_Steve Malloch.jpg
Image credits: Steve Malloch / Children with their laptops in class

Active English verbs are on the menu for today’s English lesson in grade two. Walking, dancing, singing - it says on the black board. The children are busy constructing sentences on the computer. The right answers are rewarded with a happy beep.

“Before I only had my textbook, but now I have many more opportunities in my teaching,” says teacher Pawan KC, “the computer helps the children improve pronunciation”.

The break bell rings again. But not all the students rush out. Marita Shrestha in class six turns on her computer. She tells us, “The computer has sound and pictures and if I make a mistake I can correct it immediately”.

Before I only had my textbook, but now I have many more opportunities in my teaching. The computer helps the children improve pronunciation 

For Rabi Karmacharya of Open Learning Nepal, internet and computer based education is less about gadgets and more about quality education.

"Learning can be more fun and interactive," he explains.

"There’s also an aspect of self-learning and self-evaluation and the children can take the computer home".

Nepal’s spending on education today is an average of Rs 3,000 per child, and many argue that schools need text books, furniture and roofs, not computers.

Karmacharya argues that it’s not a question of either/ or.

"If we believe that education leads to positive development, then we have to invest in better education. If the benefits match the expenses, then I am confident that we can find the means to continue," he says.

The American Internet guru and founder of One-laptop-per-child Nicolas Negroponte launched the idea that children from developing countries should have access to ICT-based education. His group developed the XO, now costing $195, and marketed as the ‘$100 computer’.

Cheap computers for children in the developing world have been tried elsewhere, but this is the first time a project includes specially developed teaching materials too. So far, materials for English and Math have been developed. Soon, some for Nepali will follow.

It’s still too early to say how the laptops will affect learning capabilities and the teaching of the 135 students at the Biswamitra Ganesh School who got their computers in April. Next month, the Ministry of Education will decide if it wants to continue a larger pilot project. The findings from Nepal will feed into projects in other countries.

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