Sorry that it’s been so long since the last blog post! There’s still an analysis in the works, but here’s a (very long) update on what’s been going on since August.

To our never-ending surprise, the computer education program at the Boys’ HS School in Bijawar is going pretty well. As the students from the first two batches (who started while I was there in July and August) learned to use the internet, each of them set up a Gmail account, and we received several emails from them. It was satisfying to see them use the Hindi transliteration in Gmail and become comfortable with sending email.

The teacher has now settled into a pattern of training each batch of students for six weeks – six days a week for one hour every day. Because the school has electricity from 9am to 11am every day, the teacher runs two batches at the same time, one from 9am to 10am and one from 10am to 11am.

Here are some numbers on how many students have gone through the program so far:

  • Batch 1 (July 15, 2009 – August 31, 2009): eight students from the 9th grade
  • Batch 2 (August 1, 2009 – September 15, 2009): eight students from the 9th and 10th grades
  • Batch 3 (September 3, 2009 – October 31, 2009): seven students, four from the 9th grade and one each from the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades
  • Batch 4 (September 16, 2009 – October 31, 2009): eight students, four each from the 10th and 11th grades

The teacher identified Lalit, a 9th grader from the first batch of students, as someone who would make a good TA; he’s smart and picked up things quickly. He’s currently working with the third batch as a TA. He stopped coming sometime in mid-September, and we talked to him, telling him that if he attended regularly for the next month, he’d get a stipend. Hopefully, this motivated him to come to class regularly as a TA. We’ve also asked the teacher to identify a student from the third or fourth batch who could serve as a TA in the future.

The electricity schedule changed in the second half of September due to Navaratri, a major festival that lasts for nine days. The teacher was only able to teach class from 11am to 12pm during this time. He had permission from the principal to teach the second class from 3pm to 4pm, but he was pulled into other official school business, like helping students fill out registration forms for upcoming board exams. When the schedule went back to normal starting September 30, the computer classes went back to the normal time.

As I’ve talked about before, there are one monitor and one CPU that haven’t ever worked. Wipro customer support is awful, but I finally forced them to supply the school with a replacement monitor. I’m having a really hard time getting them to fix or replace the broken CPU, even though the computers are under an active warranty. The teacher has reported that two of the other computers tend to freeze up whenever anything is opened in MS Office. All of this just underscores the continued need to identify people who can come to the school on a regular basis and provide IT support.

The teacher has also asked for more Excel exercises, which we put together and sent to him. He’s been using them regularly with the students, and he’s been sending us the results, which is kind of nice. In the past few weeks, he’s also gotten a lot more comfortable regularly sending us short emails to update us on what’s been going on. He’s started to understand the things that we’ve been so insistent on in the past – teaching only one kid at one computer, for example, or connecting all of the computers to the internet so they can be taught internet skills more quickly. It’s gratifying to see the teacher’s progress.

The principal at the Girls’ HS School informed us that the school was supposed to receive computers in October, which – well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

I’m planning to be in Bijawar for three weeks again this winter. Here’s a partial list of things that are on our agenda:

  1. Identify IT support and set up a regular schedule for servicing the computers. This’ll be something of a challenge. I think there are people in Chhatarpur (about 70 km away) who can provide this kind of service, but we’ll have to vet them to find dependable and trustworthy ones to hire.
  2. Get all of the computers connected to the Internet. This is something the school should really be able to do on their own, but it’s probably not going to happen unless we get it done ourselves. They have all of the equipment, and they just need someone to connect it all together.
  3. Find good computer books in Hindi that can be used as a reference by the teacher and students when they have questions or need help with something. We’re not sure if books like this even exist (they should, but who knows). If they do, we’ll have to look in Delhi or Bhopal, since Chhatarpur is unlikely to have anything like this. We’ve also asked the teacher to find the books that came with the computers, since they seem to have disappeared between last winter and now.
  4. Meet with the students who’ve already been trained and find out what they need in order to take their skills to the next level. One idea is to have the teacher open up the lab on Sundays. Students who’ve gone through the program can sign up for times to use the computers and keep their skills up. The teacher would just be supervising them and answering questions – he wouldn’t really be teaching at this time.
  5. Explore the needs of small-business owners with regards to computer services. Perhaps the students can earn some money completing small computer tasks for the community. Part of the earnings could be used to fund the computer program.
  6. If the Girls’ HS School receives computers by December, we’d like to set up a program there similar to the one at the Boys’ HS School.
  7. Identify an additional teacher to help with the computer program. Doing so would provide something of a cushion, in case something happens with our current teacher. If the Girls’ HS School receives computers, another teacher might be able to start there as well.
  8. See if there’s interest in a program that focuses on developing English language speaking skills for the students. Perhaps it would be possible to use technology – landline or cell phones, maybe – to pair students in Bijawar with people in urban areas who speak English well.

We still have a lot of planning to do for December, so I’ll keep you posted!