We got broadband in Bijawar yesterday! The boys’ high school was the first broadband connection that BSNL installed in Bijawar, which was super exciting. Since the computers don’t have WiFi, the school can only use broadband on two computers at a time (without a switch, anyway, which they don’t have), but we made sure that they can be any two computers at a time, providing that the wire reaches far enough. The BSNL people were really helpful, since they normally just set up one computer. The speed is supposed to be 256 kbps, but we’re only getting about half of that, so if we don’t see the proper speed tomorrow, we’ll have to check up on it.

The last two days have been crazy busy with long hours at the boys’ high school, trying to get their computers up and running. We’ve been trying to get there by 10, so that we can work for two hours on all of the computers before the electricity goes out at noon. Although the school has a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) that can supply some power, it cannot handle more than one or two computers at a time and runs out of charge fairly quickly. After noon, we work on the computers separately, and when the power comes back on at three, we again turn them all on again. Yesterday we actually managed to blow and burn through the fuse by turning on all the computers at the same time, so they’re going to have to look into installing proper wiring when they reach that stage in building their permanent computer lab.

We reformatted the one computer that was having issues with an incomplete Windows installation. We also installed AVG, Adobe Reader, and some free typing software on all the computers. Since the computers aren’t networked, we labeled five computers as “Class 9 Work,” “Class 10 Work,” “Class 11 Work,” “Class 12 Work,” and “Administrative Work” to ensure that any marks sheets and roll sheets that are filled out in Excel can always be found on the same computer (i.e., so that teachers don’t forget which computer they were working on and get confused about where their work is saved). We’ve also made instructions for beginners on how to turn on the computer, open and save files, and turn off the computer that we’re going to paste on each CPU.

Although today was Sunday, the principal gave us the keys to the computer lab so that we could go in and work if we needed to. We tried to go around 3pm, but we found the gate (to which we don’t have the key) locked.

We spent the rest of the day finalizing three templates for them to use in their grading and administrative work: one for the class 9 marks sheets, one for their nominal roll (used to tell the government which students will be taking which board exams and how much they have to pay), and one for their admission roll (basically a list of everyone being admitted into every grade). For the marks sheets, we even used this macro to automatically name the worksheet tabs with the roll number of the student, which will be filled by hand by the teacher using the template. I’m a little worried that all this hand-holding is going to be simultaneously too dumbed-down (what with it’s ‘foolproof’ locked Excel cells so that inexperienced computer users can’t accidentally overwrite formula cells but that also prevent anyone from changing anything, even if the school’s requirements change) and too complicated (for example, figuring out a way to save and print the files in an intuitive, efficient, reproducible way is even more difficult when the people involved don’t have any conception of the Windows file structure). This combination might basically result in no one using the templates we’ve slaved over. The ideal would have been for the teachers to spend a week actually using the templates while we helped them iron out any bugs or user issues.

I’ve been really frustrated for the last few days, now that our time here is winding down, with how little we’ve actually accomplished, despite the fact that I explicitly didn’t come into this process with any concrete goals. Three weeks really isn’t enough time to help enact meaningful change, but it just seems like all of our focus lately has been on getting the boys’ high school computers in a state where they can be used by the students and teachers. This time spent has elucidated the clear need for a knowledgeable part-time IT person to maintain the workstations; without someone to keep them running, the computers will be used until something goes wrong (even if that something is truly minor from our perspective) and then they will be basically abandoned. I’m also worried that the school won’t even get this far and that no one (besides the administrative assistants who produce things like the payroll, which is required by the government to be submitted electronically) will use the computers at all.

We’re trying to work on convincing the principal to allow students and teachers to use the computer lab in the mornings from 11-12, but he seems mainly concerned with, again, things which are absolutely mandated by the government, like the payroll. The cynic in me wants to say that the only reason he’s been so enthusiastic about our efforts to get his computers working is because he’ll no longer have to pay a sizable amount every month for one of his administrative assistants to go to Chhatarpur and have someone with an internet connection to fill out the form online, but I know this is an uncharitable analysis of the situation. Hopefully we’ll be able to find an angle that will inspire him to allow the students (for whose benefit this whole school exists!) and teachers access to the wealth of resources the school now possesses.

I wish we could have worked with the teachers to formulate a concrete plan to teach students computer skills, which they could have presented to their principal. I’m uncomfortable lobbying him ourselves, since I wasn’t really looking to plan anything or start a program myself, but we’re sort of out of time and options if we want the computers to be used after we leave. The information we’ve gathered indicates that a pilot project with 30 students and a dedicated teacher (who might be able to be funded by an external grant if there’s no money in the school budget for this position) from 11-12 am every day would be the most feasible.

Another source of frustration for me has been how little we’ve accomplished at the girls’ high school. In retrospect, I suppose this was inevitable, since there’s only one computer in the principal’s office, and the little work we were doing there wouldn’t have produced a sustainable plan until April.

Yesterday and today, we haven’t worked with the women teachers in the evenings because two of them are taking are taking the PSC (Public Service Commission) examination in Chhatarpur and one of them hasn’t been showing up lately because it’s gotten so cold in the evenings. (Seriously. I was wearing five layers yesterday. It’s not that much colder in absolute temperature than California, but the lack of indoor heating provides no respite from the cold anywhere.) Tomorrow we’ll be meeting with them again to wrap up our time here and encourage them to continue their education, as well as start programs at their respective schools to begin educating their students. Actually, Menka came by today (with her sister, who I’d asked to do henna on my hands) and mentioned that she wanted to talk with the principal of the boys’ high school to see if he would allow her and other elementary- and middle-school teachers to use the computer lab at 10 am, before they’re required to be at school. This is the kind of plan I’m thrilled to see being undertaken, because it indicates the sustainability of the meager work we’ve managed to do here.