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.
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:
- 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!