Kids on Computers Lab Set up in Ouled Moussa

This is a guest post from Jake Stern, current Peace Corps volunteer serving in Ouled Moussa, Beni Mellal, Morocco where we set up one lab during our Morocco October 2014 trip. His post describes our time at Ouled Moussa including our final day at the lab where we setup networking and taught a class. His original post is here


These past couple of days have been the most busy days of my Peace Corps service thus far. Beginning last Sunday, I have consistently gotten up at 8am and been finished with work at 8pm with only a lunch break in between. Now this may sound trivial to the average American schedule but in PCV and Moroccan terms this is intense.

IMG_3069

(Here we are working on the set up of the Lab)

(more…)

Categorized in equipment, Morocco, setup, Trips, volunteers.

Dispatches From Morocco: Avni Khatri

During the Mexico trip, Corey, (volunteer and VP of Operations) shared her experiences and photos from her experience on the ground.

We want to continue that new tradition and share live-as-possible volunteer stories during our Morocco trip! For the first installment, let’s join Avni, the President of Kids on Computers!

(more…)

Categorized in equipment, Morocco, Trips, volunteers.

Highlights from Assam

Our trip to Assam ended a week ago. A few times a day, my mind still wanders to our experience there and how amazing it was. Every time we reached the schools, it felt like time stopped and we had been transported to another world. I feel like we made a huge impact in the community and I wanted to share a few notes and thoughts.

  • We installed two computer labs with 20 computers total. 12 desktops and 2 laptops at Morigaon Jatyiya Vidyalaya and 6 desktops at Jatiya Vidyala Chariabahi. (Thank you Yahoo! Employee Foundation (YEF) for making these labs possible!)
  • Because we had scheduled two full weeks in India, we had enough time to do training sessions. During our past trips to Mexico, we have time to do the installation and then one training session with the teachers, but we rarely get time to do sessions with the students. Here, we did 3 official training sessions at the first school (2 with teachers and 1 with students) and 2 at the second school (1 teacher and 1 student) and many unofficial ad-hoc sessions.
  • While doing the training sessions, it became obvious how much both schools need a projector.
  • Our strength from the eyes of the schools is the content we provide with the OS. For these computers, in addition to Lubuntu 13.04, we installed the Tux Suite, GCompris, Suite of K* games, and the RACHEL content server (Khan Academy videos, Wikipedia content, MedLine content, textbooks, and more)
  • Two people – one of the computer teachers and the younger brother of a teacher (he’s in college) brought in their laptops and asked us to install Lubuntu and all of the software on the computers. Another teacher took a USB filled with content from RACHEL.
  • We were impressed with the seriousness with which the teachers begin learning how to use computers. Many would sit down through out the day and begin using Tux Type to learn how to type. At the second school, we did a contest where we asked the teachers to draw a tree using Tux Paint. The teacher with the best tree (very subjective) would get a pen. The teachers had a lot of fun kidding with each other and quickly pointed out that the tree with the most detail was done by the art teacher.
  • As always, many of the kids sat down at the computers and begin using them immediately without hesitation. They opened up Potato Guy, Tux Type, and Tux Math and begin playing.
  • One student, who was really good at geography, begin playing KGeography as a teacher looked on. He knew every state in India. He then moved onto the US and knew where many of the states were. You could see the pride in the teacher’s eyes.
  • On the other hand, some of the students had never seen a computer. Thomas, one of our volunteers, rightly pointed out during one of our sessions where we were moving onto teaching Tux Type, that some of the students didn’t even know how a mouse worked. This made me realize how much we take for granted here.
  • Localization is key. One of the challenges Kids on Computers faces by creating labs around the world is that we must also work with the various languages used in these areas. We initially installed an English distribution for these schools, but it was obvious to us that everyone at the school was way more comfortable in Assamese. Praveen, a KOC volunteer from Kerala, led the effort to install the Assamese language packs and do the keyboard mapping for the Assamese characters. The teachers still prefer to have the OS boot in English as they felt that it would benefit the students in the long run, but they found the keyboard mapping useful for writing papers or letters.
  • Vedanta, our KOC volunteer who introduced us to these schools, installed an anacron script on each computer at the first school to send us its status via email. The first school had internet by the time we left.
  • As much as we had prepared, there was still quite a bit of work to do when we got there. The OS install, software packages, and RACHEL install went smoothly. But we had to install additional packages for getting mp4 files to play on Chromium, for Flash, and for the language packs. Doing it for one computer is not so bad, but doing it for 20 is time consuming. A Kids on Computers iso would help us deploy more efficiently. We would need an iso for each language we support and they would need to be updated as new content becomes available. Let us know if you want to help by emailing volunteer@kidsoncomputers.org
  • Time moves much more slowly in India. When someone says they’ll come around noon, anytime between 12 and 2pm is acceptable. :-)
  • A big thank you goes to everyone who made this trip possible – from applying for the YEF grant, helping with determining travel logistics in India, working with the vendor, preparing software for the computers and traveling to Assam to do the actual installs. Thanks everyone so much. We are changing lives.
  • Assam is a beautiful place with amazing people. I am excited to see what this community will do with the computers and I can’t wait to go back.

You can see photos from our trip here.

Categorized in equipment, India, installing, organization, school, setup, volunteers.

India: t = 0

Kids on Computers received a Yahoo! Employee Foundation grant to set up computer labs in Assam, India. We have a local volunteer, Vedanta Barooah, who is from this area and found two schools in the Morigaon region for us to work with. Three of us are in India now and working on setting up these labs. This is the first in a series of blog posts about getting ready for the trip and our time here.

KOC team

Getting ready for an installation trip takes considerable planning and time. There are two main components to getting ready for a trip – the logistics portion and the technical portion.

Vedanta and his family managed the logistics portion for us – they found local contacts for us to work with in India, figured out where we were going to stay, and how we were going to travel from the city of Guwahati to Morigaon, where the schools are.

Our India labs presented us with a new use-case on the technical side.  Our nine other labs have been built with donated, used equipment we collect from individuals, schools, and companies. We then do software installations before we transport them and then send them get them to the country we are going to via our own volunteers or local community members who are visiting the US and traveling back.

For India, the grant allowed us to buy new computers directly in India – alleviating the problem of transporting the computers and going through customs. Vedanta helped us find a vendor in India, went through several iterations of computer configurations and made the final purchase of eighteen AMD desktops with 15″ inch monitors for two labs.

The next step was software preparation. We struggle with getting the right free and open source software ready for our computers (KOC uses and promotes FOSS). We select a specific set of apps and educational games that the kids use. Because our setup usually consists of reusing donated equipment, we never really know what computer configuration our labs will have. One computer lab can have a multiple computer configurations (though we have been moving towards making sure each lab receives the same type of laptop / computer, this is not always possible) leading to several distinct requirements for installation. One set of software is not going work for all of the computers and makes it hard to plan in advance. Additionally, we want to take advantage of the features offered by the latest software releases and new content that has been released (see Khan Academy videos, offline Wikipedia, and the Rachel offline educational content server). We scramble before every trip to get a set of install media ready for the computers as the internet is not always reliable in the regions we go to. For Assam, we put together:

install-media

  • 5 USB sticks with Lubuntu 13.04
  • 2 CDs with Lubuntu 13.04
  • 5  USB sticks with Educational Software Packages consisting of Open Office, GCompris, Tux Games, Hindi Language Packs, and more
  • 2 USB sticks for the RACHEL content server

 

We also like to have a good test-bed for trying out the software beforehand to make sure we’ve covered all of our use cases for a trip. But for this trip, since the computers were in India, we did the install on a Virtual Machine and are hoping it will work on the AMD computers. We’re heading up to Morigaon tomorrow to help with the physical installation of the computers and will try out the software then. Wish us luck!

monitor   computer

Categorized in equipment, India, installing, Khan Academy, lubuntu, organization, school, setup, volunteers, Wikipedia.

Kids on Computers Installfest – March 16th

We are having a Kids on Computers Installfest on Saturday, March 16th in Sherman Oaks, CA from 11AM – 6PM. A local high school in Topanga, California donated 80 laptops they were no longer using to Kids on Computers. We have shipped 20 of these laptops to Colegio Britanico, a school in Puebla, Mexico.  During this installfest, we are hoping to get 15-20 more of these laptops upgraded with additional RAM and installed with Free and Open Source software so they can be shipped to a lab in the city of Molcaxac also in Puebla. We will install Lubuntu along with offline Khan Academy videos and offline Wikipedia pages. Most of the kids we work with wouldn’t otherwise have access to technology.  The computer labs we build  help kids around the world get this access and we would love your help to make this happen.  Anyone can help and we are more than happy to teach you any needed skills.

Join us for a day of fun, learning, and making a difference for a great cause. You can sign up here: LA Installfest Info

Thank you!

 

Categorized in donations, equipment, installing, Khan Academy, lubuntu, mexico, setup, Uncategorized, volunteers.

Back to Huajuapan de León

A small group of volunteers from Kids on Computers returned to Huajuapan de León in October 2012 to update existing school labs, open a new lab, and train teachers. We had great support from the school administrators, teachers, parents, and local volunteers.

Schools

After spending a few days visiting schools and assessing needs, we went to the following schools to do updates and installations:

18 de Marzo
This school is the largest lab of donated KoC computers. There are about 30 desktops and laptops here. We updated them with Lubuntu, educational packages, Khan Academy videos, and offline Wikipedia. A few machines didn’t have working USB, so we left them with older (10.x) versions of Edubuntu. Although there is no Internet access available at this school, there is a local area network and wireless access point. We added 2 desktop computers with large hard drives, and had hoped to be able to turn these into local HTTP servers for the lab. But, we found that the switches/hubs were faulty and we couldn’t get reliable IP networking to work.

HP Touchpad Demo at 18 de Marzo

HP Touchpad Demo at 18 de Marzo

 

Antonio de León
This is a new school for KoC, located in Guadalupe de Ramírez, about a 2 hour drive from Huajuapan de León. The school director met with Thomas, Avni, Bill, and Gaby in Huajuapan de León and got a preview of KoC computers using Lubuntu. Their previous experience was with about 8 Windows computers, several of which had become infected with viruses. They asked that we add a few computers to their lab, and standardize them all on Lubuntu. It was a long day, but we got the lab up and running with a total of 17 machines running Lubuntu.

Antonio de Leon

Antonio de Leon

Antonio de Leon - Edubuntu Mr. Potato Head

Antonio de Leon – Edubuntu Mr. Potato Head

 

Saucitlan
This lab has been part of KoC for several years. Since many of the computers here were donated by a Mexican bank, they do not have hard drives. So they boot from an LTSP server. We added offline Wikipedia to the computers that had a disk, plus left an additional laptop with both offline Wikipedia and Khan Academy videos. Saucitlan now has 11 computers total. Members of the school board presented us with letters signed by community leaders requesting additional computers from KoC for a library as well as the secondary school down the street. As resources become available, we’d like to be able to help.

Saucitlan - LTSP Networked Edubuntu

Saucitlan – LTSP Networked Edubuntu

 

San Marcos
When KoC previously setup a lab in San Marcos, it included an Internet connection, strung across the street from City Hall via Cat5. Since then, the City Hall buildings have been demolished and are being rebuilt. As a result, they no longer have Internet access. We updated ___ computers with Lubuntu, educational packages, offline Wikipedia, and Khan Academy videos.

San Marcos

San Marcos

San Marcos Kids watching Khan Academy Videos

San Marcos Kids watching Khan Academy Videos

 

Zapato
This is a small school with just 6 laptops. When we visited, we discovered that they have had problems with theft, so the teachers typically take the KoC computers home when not in use. They bring the laptops back to school once per week for use in class. The laptops were not in the school when we visited, so we were unable to do any updates.

Local Support

We are very fortunate to work with Carlos (Cams) in Huajuapan de León as our local expert. He provides great support for the school labs, plus he was also able to conduct a 2 hour training session for the teachers in the area at 18 de Marzo.

Also, we were introduced to another Computer Science graduate from UTM – Eliud. He’s a computer support guru and Linux specialist in Huajuapan de León. We met him at San Marcos, and invited him to help with the KoC labs as he has time. He accepted our request and came to the teacher training session. Thanks Eliud!

In addition to these technical experts, we met (and re-met) several dedicated teachers, parents, and volunteers in the area that are engaged in helping us make technology available to underprivileged kids using open source software.

Cams training teachers at 18 de Marzo

Cams training teachers on Lubuntu, Edubuntu packages, Khan Academy Videos, and offline Wikipedia at 18 de Marzo

Categorized in equipment, Huajuapan de León, installing, lubuntu, mexico, school, setup, volunteers.

KoC Lab Installation

On our recent trip to Huajuapan de León, KoC wanted to update and standardize the installation procedure where possible. About 80 desktops and laptops needed to be installed and/or updated to have usable educational packages, plus some offline content. Here’s what we came up with.

Software Updates

Many of the donated desktops and laptops in our schools in Huajuapan de León have only 256MB or 512MB or memory. Older versions of Edubuntu run OK with this much memory, but Edubuntu 11.04 and later seems to take too many resources to run smoothly.

Because of this, we decided to try Lubuntu 12.04 i386 on as many computers as possible. With the LXDE desktop, these machines boot quickly and the desktop runs smoothly without hogging resources.

With Lubuntu installed, we added Edubuntu‘s educational packages, the LibreOffice suite, and security updates including the most current Linux kernel. This collection of updates was about 800MB, so we added them via USB. We also had several machines that didn’t have working USB, so we needed to make 2 CDs to get the packages completely transferred to the target machine for updating.

In addition to the educational games and software packages from Edubuntu, and the office suite from LibreOffice, we also wanted to add some more content for the kids (and parents) to use as needed. Since most of the labs have no Internet access, but a little extra disk space (most of the computers had at least 15GB of free disk), we were prepared to install some offline content:

Khan Academy Videos in Spanish
Using a pre-packaged collection from the Khan Academy on a Stick project, we added 873 Spanish language videos to the local disk of computers that had sufficient space. This collection of static .html files and .flv videos took about 15GB of space! Loading with USB was slow, but successful on all computers that had working USB. Thanks to Khan Academy and Mujica Norberto for this great package.

Offline Wikipedia in Spanish
Finding a usable subset of the vast collection of Wikipedia content can be challenging. Fortunately, we found the Kiwix project, which offers a light-weight HTTP server (kiwix-serve) which will deliver content from highly compressed Wikipedia data files. We added this content (another 15GB of disk) to machines that had space, and started up the kiwix-serve process locally. Kiwix and a compressed Spanish Wikipedia file gives these disconnected machines 1,070,530 articles and 666,304 media files for the kids, teachers, and parents to learn from!

With this additional content loaded, we added bookmarks to Chromium to kids could easily get to the locally stored content.

Cams Training – Chromium Bookmarks

Watching offline Khan Academy Videos in Chromium

Offline Wikipedia (Spanish), running on local port 4200.

Categorized in equipment, Huajuapan de León, installing, Khan Academy, lubuntu.

Can mobile devices change the way we bring technology to kids?

At Kids on Computers,we bring computers to kids that have no access to technology. We’ve frequently debated the benefits of laptops vs tablets vs computers. I think the new devices coming out will soon lead us to phones … and they’ll change the world for kids in developing countries.

Here are some of the new devices:

Small devices like this would help us solve some of the problems we have:

  • Shipping. It’s really expensive to get computers to some of the rural places where we are trying to bring technology. Shipping full size desktops to rural Mexico or Zambia can be challenging from a cost perspective. (It’s also challenging for customs reasons, but that’s a different topic!)
  • Power. Most of the places we’ve set up schools don’t have strong power infrastructures. (Most of them don’t even have telephones.) Not only have we blown power to an entire school trying to turn on just a couple of computers, but we’ve often had to stop our work while we waited for power to come back on. All of the schools we’ve set up are in places with frequent power surges and as a standard practice, they cut power to the whole room whenever they are not using the computers to help protect them. (This has also led to problems. In one school they didn’t realize the importance of shutting down the computers first and they were shutting them down by flipping the power switch to the room …)
  • Cooling. Most of the schools we have helped so far are in warm locations (Zambia, India, Mexico) and keeping a room full of computers cool is tough. Especially when power is not reliable.

So the new devices which would be relatively inexpensive and accessible for people living in areas with less infrastructure, would be terrific. My cell phone has worked in all the places we’ve been so far … being able to give a cell phone with all the capabilities of the web to these children would be a wonderful experience to watch.

Disclaimer: I work at Mozilla.

Categorized in equipment.

Working on computers in Huajuapan over the weekend

Over the weekend, Hermes and some of his friends worked on the computers donated by “Caja Popular Mexicana”.

From Hermes:

Talking with Kees, another volunteer, we decided that the best way to use these computers is with LTSP. The computers are older and many don’t have a hard disk or they have a very small one.

My friend Mario David May Cuevas (maqquq) helped us. He is the guy from the lab on “El Jicaral”.  My sister and my girlfriend also helped us.

My friends Efrén Sánchez Juárez (rootsan) with debian t-shirt and Ángel Rodolfo Pérez Canseco (ikkaro) working on a computer.

Over the weekend we set up 12 computers with LTSP, and they worked very well.

The repaired machines!

My friends rootsan, ikkaro and Mario David May Cuevas, next to the books.

Ikkaro sleeping in the car after a very busy weekend.

All the friends that work on the computers this weekend.

rootsan: Efrén Sánchez Juárez
maqquq: Mario David May Cuevas
ikkaro: Ángel Rodolfo Pérez Canseco
Gris: Griselda Legaria Ortega (my girlfriend)
Maguito: Margarita Esperanza Ojeda Ruiz (Hermes’ sister)
Thot: Me :)

We still need some DDR 233MHz sticks and PXE network cards. The best part of this weekend was the Pentium II (233Mhz) computer, running like a new computer, using LTSP.

Thanks to Kees for the memories sticks, they were really useful.

UPDATE: 25 of the computers from this batch are now working!

Categorized in equipment, installing, setup, volunteers.

Need your help to get computers to Mexico!

Would you like to help install computers in Mexico or Argentina? We are looking for volunteers to help set up several computer labs.

No time? Consider helping out with money for shipping computers.

With help from many of you,we set up our first computer lab in a disadvantaged elementary school in the mountains near Oaxaca, Mexico last June. The project has been a tremendous success. The school has gone from being one of the poorest schools in town to being one of the most sought after. The parents, principal and teachers were all very actively involved. As part of their efforts to build the lab, the school has also gotten a new library as well as an office for the psychologist. (All the kids in the school have one or two parents living away from home.) The parents all chip in a few dollars a month now and they’ve hired a computer teacher. The teachers are delighted at the progress the kids are making not just with the technology but also in areas like writing. As soon as they get internet, they plan to open the lab up to the community in the evenings.

We now have 45 more computers to ship to schools in Mexico. But we don’t have money to ship them.

Please help us get these computers to kids without access to any technology in their lives.

$35-100 will ship a computer. Any size donation will help. You can donate through paypal to donations@kidsoncomputers.org, on our website http://www.kidsoncomputers.org/donate or by sending a check to Kids on Computers. (Email me at stormy -at- kids on computers -dot- org for the address.)

Thanks very much in advance for your help, whether it’s installing computers or helping with shipping. The kids, the parents, the teachers and the community thank you.

Categorized in donations, equipment, setup, shipping.