Kalpana came by for the first time in three or four days this morning. Because we’re not working with the high school girls anymore, we finally had time to introduce her to Excel.

We’d spent the last couple of days making a foolproof Excel template to replace the individual student report cards (called marks sheets here) at the boys’ high school. The teachers spend months calculating percentages and filling out these report cards by hand, so we’ll be saving them a lot of time if we manage to computerize the process. The school might even be willing to spend the money to print each individual report card (right now, the blank report cards come from the government) if we save their teachers enough time.

We then spent three hours at the boys’ high school with Ashish and Salar setting up all of their ten computers. Only two had been used on a regular basis. We also discovered that they have ten sets of speakers, a Canon laser printer, an HP Scanjet, and a dot-matrix printer. Only some of the speakers and the laser printer were even removed from their boxes. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dust (which, in all fairness, builds up quickly in India).

It’s clear that the problem here is not a lack of physical resources in schools, although the program hasn’t reach elementary and middle schools yet, especially in even more rural areas. The government hasn’t sanctioned money for computer teachers or IT personnel to use and maintain the equipment, so no one touches it.

We uninstalled of the random bloatware that came packaged with XP (MSN and Wipro’s Genius Console, among others), as well as the other sketchy software that the end-users had installed on some of them. We installed Office 2003 and Firefox. We also set up one admin account and one limited-user account on each computer, both without passwords (because whoever knows the passwords is bound to forget them or leave the school without telling anyone else), giving Ashish and Salar strict instructions not to let anyone log into the admin account unless they know exactly what they’re doing. Hopefully, this will minimize the malware and extraneous software installed on the machines.

One computer and one monitor don’t work, for separate but equally frustrating and opaque reasons. Another computer seems to have an incomplete XP installation, because it’s missing some fundamental XP programs like MS Paint. It’s also having some problems with the administrator account.

Tomorrow we’re going to try to install some antivirus and antispyware software, although I don’t know how we’re going to download the installers through this 115 Kbps internet connection that drops every 10 minutes. We also want to install the printer and scanner drivers on all the computers.

The principal also wants us to create Excel templates for some other administrative work the teachers are required to do. We’ll try to make them to their specifications, but allowing people with little computer experience to do tedious computerized data entry is always a problem. They know how to do one thing, and if they mess something up, they don’t have the ability or knowledge to fix the problem. Also, organizing their students’ report cards is going to be a problem; if they have a separate Excel file for each student, the files have to be very well named and organized if they want to be able to find anything twice. Teaching that sort of structural organization isn’t easy, especially with only a week.