Laptops for kids

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TIER: Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions

TIER: Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions has an interesting concept of Device/Infrastructure Co-Design. It isn't enough to just deliver devices, you need secure and reliable data centers, and importantly you need proxies (or base stations) that are only intermittently connected. In thinking about how to deploy OLPC to many of the smaller islands of the Philippines, or even some of the upland communities, we may need a serious proxy tier. For example data could be intermittently uploaded by a regularly passing banca (outrigger boat). One dimension that needs to be addressed is the human capital to support device-proxy-infrastructure.

content of Fluency with IT for Teachers

I have always been unhappy with the concept of computer literacy, which in my part of the world is identified with certain narrow skills in manipulating certain standard software packages. Those skills are likely to be obsolete pretty quickly, and don't come close to capturing what the average citizen needs to deal the IT and put it to work for themselves and their communities. So I was happy to discover this framework of Fluency with IT. There is even a free online course about it at U of Washington. Apparently, a committee of the US National Science Foundation was charged to look at raising standards for computer literacy, and they decided that the concept of literacy was inadequate and suggested a broader concept of Fluency with IT or FITness. They identified 30 elements organized into Fundamental Concepts, Contemporary Skills (i.e., ephemeral, in danger of being superseded soon) and Intellectual Capabilities (the IT version of certain long-term soft skills, that need to be learned independently in the context of IT). At Cebu Educational Development Foundation for IT (CEDF-IT) we have been using this framework in some of our trainings. I think it could be adapted to meet the needs of teachers who would need to lead the change of introducting One Laptop per Child. The content of the target curriculum that I have in mind is something like this: 1. Introduction to the coming information society 2. Fundamental concepts for knowledge workers 3. Contemporary skills for life-long learners 4. Intellectual capabilities for facilitators 5. Teaching simple fluency for children 6. Leading for transformation I believe that it could be covered in a staggered schedule of 5-7 full days, with additional out-of-class work (supervised over the Internet and cell phones) in between sessions. The target participants are HS teachers in all subjects, who will be responsible for introducing IT across the curriculum. This training is separate from, and preparatory to, discipline-specific training modules which address curriculum development and teaching-learning methods. I have started to work with CEDF-IT and DOST SEIto put together some curriculum development and teacher's training for this. Dr. Gregg Gabison, Dean at University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R), who also heads the multi-institution IT Teacher's Academy that CEDF-IT established in Cebu City, has indicated he is willing to take the lead in this effort. If we can train 30 trainors this summer, and add a hundred more next summer, we are in a position to train 4,000 HS teachers who would be guiding 50,000 laptop-carrying students in a June 2007 pilot. Then we could scale to a million students over the next two years. I am planning to tap college IT faculty to be the trainors, CEDF-IT has been working with a pool of 70 (including industry-based resource speakers). Although some of them are more used to teaching programming and software development, some college IT faculty could be the best people to bring Fluency with IT to teachers and their classrooms. I plan to discuss details of the trainors training in a separate post (I will hurry is somebody leaves a comment asking for it).

Fluency with IT Training at schools with DSL

CEDF-IT had a meeting with Angeli Badelles of Globe Telecom, a leading mobile carrier in the Philippines, and Aimee Tejano, of Innove, a sister company involved in providing landlines and core networks. It seems they have an ongoing project to supply Internet connectivity to 300 schools, using DSL where it is available and dial-up elsewhere. I suggested that we organize teachers training in Fluency with IT for, initially, those Cebu schools with DSL connections, and they seemed receptive to the idea. Perhaps they will sponsor the training. Bringing new technologies to schools is great but insufficient. It gives them a fishing rod, but doesn't teach them to fish. The human factor is really important -- how do we prepare teachers and administrators to undertake the fundamental and far-reaching transformations that need to take place for their schools and students to take their rightful place in a digitally interconnected world? CEDF-IT and Globe will be starting an IT Trends series of technical talks. The first one is scheduled on December 8 with Dennis Posadas, venture capitalist and author of Rice Bowls and Chips, as a speaker (with a panel, that may include me). Globe still has to identify another speaker to talk on "creating an innovation ecosystem" or something.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Funding strategies with Department of Education

I have started corresponding with our Department of Education (DepEd). Unfortunately, the Secretary who first had contact with the One Laptop Per Child initiative resigned last July (Butch Abad, only a few months on the job at DepEd, was part of the Hyatt 10 who resigned in protest of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's handling of accusations of electoral fraud). The officer-in-charge is Undersecretary Fe Hidalgo. I know her bercause we both sit on the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Science High School system, although she usually delegates attendance to her regular representative.

Some of the points I have raised for discussion are about funding a pilot in 2007, and a full deployment of 1 million laptops in the following two years.

An initial purchase of about 50,000 units (plus support and training) could be funded through projects already in the budgeting pipeline. Specifically, the Japan Non-Project Grant Assistance has about 400 million pesos already earmarked for the program of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), PC's for Public Schools. I believe that a representative of the One Laptop Per Child foundation can participate in the bidding during Feb-June 2006, and deliver 50,000 laptops in the first half of 2007 in time for teacher training during the summer (April-May here in the Philippines, the peak of the dry season before the monsoon rains) and enrollment in June.

That leaves 950,000 units to reach the minimum order. I hope the OLPC foundation is amenable to spreading out the delivery over two years, 350,000 units for delivery in 2008 and 600,000 in 2009. We may need a number of innovative mechanisms to fund this. One strategy that is being adopted by Brazil is to allocate funds for new and replacement textbooks to delivering laptops with softcopy textbooks.

The website of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) seems to be down, so I can't get at details of the DepEd budget, but a government statistics page gives their FY 2004 budget as 107.5 Billion pesos. A million laptops would need an additional 5% to that budget. According to page 198 of the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan 2004-2010 (251k PDF), the textbook budget for FY 2004 is 555 Million pesos, only one fifth of the cost of 1 million laptops.

I am also concerned that the private schools have opportunities for full participation. Between 20-30% of high school students are in private schools. One idea is to for the government to provide the laptops on a matching grant basis. DepEd will grant a school 100 units if they agree to pay for the costs of an additional 100 units at the government-only price of $100 each (the commercial price is expected to be $225, if available at all). This will stretch out the government budget to provide twice as many units. I believe private university-attached high schools will easily be able to raise those funds, and this approach could be piloted in Cebu City where the Cebu Educational Development Foundation for IT (CEDF-IT), an NGO that I have been collaborating with for the past 4 years, would be able to implement a pilot involving at least 5 universities. It would be nice to also pilot it in Banatayan Island, in the North of Cebu province, where there is a major experiment in deploying wireless broadband.

For smaller private schools, DepEd may want to work on the basis of an expanded "voucher" scheme. Since the public school system can't build classrooms fast enough to meet the growing demand, it provides vouchers for some students to study in private schools. But instead of paying the schools their tuition in cash, the schools may agree to accept 50 students and 100 laptops, and pay for the laptops in "kind" through services of educating the publicly-sponsored students for free for a certain length of time. Essentially, this is an exchange deal (or counter-trade) where DepEd's budget for education vouchers for private schools is channeled towards providing laptops for those private schools, while still achieving the purpose of the educational vouchers. The private schools end up paying for the laptops they receive, but they pay for it in services so this does not create as much difficulty in terms of cash flow. Of course the private schools still have to adjust their administration to accommodate 50 more students with no additional tuition, but it is their way of investing in 100 laptops for their school. If they can raise more cash, then they will be eligible to buy more laptops at the government-only price.

In addition to national government and private sector contributions, I am certain that certain local government units with sufficient cash flow, such as Makati City and certain LGU's in Cebu, would be interested in purchasing laptops for students in their jurisdiction.

I still have no clear idea what volumes would be covered by these different concepts, but with the assistance of DepEd, I hope we can do some pencil pushing and come up with a practical and feasible model for participating in the OLPC scheme.

Bringing information tools to kids on the islands

The One Laptop Per Child initiative led by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab fits right in with a lot of things that I have wanted to see happen for a long time. I hope that a million of these laptops will soon be in the hands of students all over the Philippines, including my home island of Cebu.

When Commissioner Dondi Mapa, the brilliant and tireless guy in charge of business development for the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), visited Cebu on November 17 I had a chance to discuss some strategies for our government to fund an order -- one million units is the minimum.

Topics to come:
  1. funding strategies with DepEd (see this entry)
  2. annotated links
  3. the screen and e-book reader use
  4. fluency with IT for teachers, a training module