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.

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