The pilot run of the Sugar-OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project at Our Lady of Merces High School in Goa completed a year this month (July 2011), and we decided to celebrate this by having all the people involved in the project get together informally to share their thoughts and experiences about the project. Also, to step back and look at all the work that has gone into the project so far – its achievements and its difficulties. Monsoon Grey, the local anchors for the project, helped organise the event – we decided to use the auditorium at the Goa State Museum as the venue since it is centrally located and easily accessible by public transport; it also has the facilities we needed to screen a short film that we had made about the workshop ‘Digital Storytelling in Sugar’ conducted by us earlier in April this year.
The local press covered the event well, both before and after the event, and we had a reasonably good turnout – besides the students who had participated in the workshop and their parents, the primary school teachers and the headmistress of the school were also present, as were principals from a few other schools and some educators who were interested in knowing about the project. Sashwati Banerjee, Executive Director of Galli Galli Sim Sim Sesame Workshop India was the chief guest for the event.
Gayathri started the event by welcoming all those present, and then handed over the microphone to Dr. Rita Paes, principal of NIE (Nirmala Institute of Education, partners for the OLPC project at Merces). Dr. Paes spoke about how she happened to get involved in the project and recalled what it took to get the project going in Goa. She then felicitated the other partners – Digital Bridge Foundation (represented by Ms. Rekha Sankhala), Homi Bhabha Centre for Science & Education (represented by Prof. Nagarjuna), and Monsoon Grey (Salil and Gayathri), She had a special ‘thank you’ for Harriet Vidyasagar, who had conceived and initiated this project when she was with DBF (she has since retired from DBF but is actively involved in the project as an independent consultant).
After the felicitations, the headmistress of Our Lady of Merces High School, Ms Vanda D’Souza spoke about the OLPC project in their school, what it means to them and how the primary school teachers and students have adapted to it over the last year.
The coordinator from the school’s side Ms. Isabel Fernandes and primary school teacher Hayma Walwaikar also spoke about their experiences with the OLPC project, followed by young Felon D’ Souza, a 5th grade student who had the chance to use the XO all of last year – he talked about the activities they learnt on the XO and how they enjoyed using the XO.
We then screened the 30-minute short film ‘Sugar and Spice’. made by Monsoon Grey, which is a collection of some of the stories that the participants of the ‘Digital Stories in Sugar’ workshop had produced. Everyone responded to the film very well, and it was nice to hear the children telling their own little stories in the film. As Dr. Paes mentioned later, the stories also gave a good insight into the children’s lives – their likes and dislikes, their family and friends and their little troubles and fancies. The complete set of digital stories in audio form are available in earlier posts over three volumes beginning with Digital Stories in Sugar Vol.1.
The screening was followed by a tea break, and the second half of the event was devoted mostly to talks and discussions revolving around primary school education, the theory of constructionism, the ongoing OLPC project itself, and the need to use Sugar and other Open Source software in schools, especially in the primary sections.
Prof. Nagarjuna talked about his experience working with children in OLPC projects in villages in Maharashtra and how it is making a difference to the kids there. He spoke about how artisans and farmers in those villages were themselves called to the workshops as resources from whom much could be learnt, rather than be treated as people who needed to be ‘educated’. He also touched upon the work philosophy at his workplace – the Homi Bhabha Cenrte for Science & Education, TIFR, Mumbai.
Salil Konkar of Monsoon Grey then made a brief presentation about how Sugar and other FOSS educational software could be used in primary schools without the teachers having to digress from the regular curriculum that they follow. He also showed some of the work that the teachers of the Merces school had done using Sugar activities during the Teacher Training workshop that they had been a part of last year (see earlier post Sugar Training at Merces, Goa)