- We are a group of socially conscious, technically inclined students at Cornell University who wish to improve education in Africa. We believe that OLPC and its constructionist, hands-on learning method is the best way to do this.
- We are going to use technology for the rest of our lives in whatever profession we choose. Acknowledging this, it is necessary to share a part of what we have been given. All children can succeed if given the right tools. We need to go out and share the technology that has enabled us to learn.
- Improving literacy is the best application of this technology.
Who we are
- The Mario Einaudi Center has generously pledged $500 to our trip! Thank you so much Professor Ndulo and the Einaudi Center!
- The Program of Information Science and the Faculty of Computing and Information Science have donated $400 to the trip! Thank you so much InfoSci and CIS and Jennifer!
- We got interviewed by the Cornell Chronicle & they have a great article about us up on their website: Cornell Chronicle.
- The Ithaca Times just ran a piece on us here: Ithaca Times. Unfortunately they messed up James's name - it is Elkins, not Elkin.
- We have been featured in the Groton Independent - they picked up the story from the Ithaca Times.
- The Alternative Press, a hyperlocal website targeting James's hometown of Livingston, NJ, ran the press release that we send them verbatim. If any other teams need an example of a press release they can find it here.
- We're extremely excited to have been one of the 29 teams selected for the OLPCorps grant program! We want to extend our congratulations to the other winners, and our condolences to those who did not make it. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- Summer 2009 - June 20th-August 20th
750 Word Formal Proposal
Cornell OLPC proposes to introduce laptop computing to Mauritania with the goal of improving childrens' literacy. We plan to partner with the Peace Corps and the Girls Mentoring Center (GMC) in the rural “city” of Tidjikja.
The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, located north of Senegal, borders the Sahara. Mauritania is a crossroads between Black and Arabic Africa, sub Saharan and Northern Africa, with an unusual culture that blends elements of both regions.
Mauritania’s Unique Literacy Problem
In Mauritania, school subjects are taught in Arabic or French, rather than the local language. If a student does not have a firm grasp of either language, their performance suffers. To compound the problem, Arabic presents a diglossic situation as described in Mohamed Maamouri's paper. Fusha, Modern Standard Arabic, is the formal written and spoken language, and although it shares roots with the local dialect, Hassaniya, there are many differences which can be confusing for students. This impedes language instruction because children cannot connect the words on the page to the words they are speaking. The overall literacy rate in Mauritania is only 51.2%, compared to 99% in developed countries.
How the XO Laptops Can Help
The Cornell OLPC team proposes to emphasize use of the Speak program on the XO as a tool to solidify students’ language skills in Arabic, English and French. Pen-pal programs with speakers in America will be initiated by Cornell OLPC, which will expose Mauritanian students to different ideas and strengthen their language skills. (See the section below on the instructional program.)
Cornell OLPC will partner with Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) working in Mauritania. PCVs have been serving communities in Mauritania since 1967. Their mastery of local languages, cultural training, and community based service will provide access and presence within the country. President Clinton’s Education for Development and Democracy Initiative of 2000 allowed Peace Corps to create Girls’ Mentoring Centers (GMCs) to support girls’ education and empowerment. The city of Tidjikja, in the Tagant region, is one of the poorer, more isolated areas of Mauritania. The Tidjikja GMC is the site of the proposed Cornell OLPC project deployment. Every student at the GMC will be given their own laptop.
Cornell OLPC Instructional Program
Research suggests that student learning outside the classroom when integrated with computer technology surpasses that of the traditional classroom. As seen in the U.S., teachers struggle to keep pace with student learning in digital environments (NMC 2009). Students become active learners and knowledge producers when they are able to “own” their learning environment (Jenkins 2007). Informal education is a perfect space for literacy development that relies on laptop computers to promote student engagement.
A series of inquiry-based learning projects will introduce students to their laptops and help instructors map learning trajectories and objectives. For example, the team is interested in partnering with ELP, Inc, creators of TUNEin To Reading, to support their development of a "sing to read" literacy approach to learning Arabic. We hope to support students to record their own voices in song and transcribe the written words. Sharing songs and transcriptions across Mauritanian OLPC projects so that students are contributing to the inquiry projects of other teams is an ideal goal.
In nomadic Tidjikja, citizens return to outlying villages or vacation in the capital during summer. However, Tidjikjan parents are committed to their children’s education and will stay if offered this opportunity, according to PCVs. The Tidjikja GMC will be open during summer 2009 to deploy the Cornell OLPC project, and recruiting 100 elementary school students for this program is a reasonable expectation.
The Cornell OLPC team will load Sugar-OpenMSX onto each computer to utilize the Arabic educational programs developed for the platform. All team members are technically competent and proficient in programming.
Laptops will be shipped to Nouakchott, the capital, and received by the Peace Corps. Cornell OLPC will transport the computers to Tidjikja by hired taxi. The laptops will be locked in the Tidjikja GMC until the program launch.
Our budget is here.
22 GMCs exist across Mauritania. Computer labs have been in select Mauritanian GMCs since 2005. These labs are maintained by PCVs. A full-time PCV is dedicated to the GMC in Tidjikja, the site of the proposed Cornell OLPC deployment. The Peace Corps and the Tidjikja GMC provide the infrastructure for long term sustainability. Cornell OLPC will reach out to the Cornell community and beyond to fundraise to further assist the deployment.
Please comment on the discussion page if you have any suggestions!
Girls' Mentoring Centers
Girls' Mentoring Centers (GMCs) across Mauritania provide private tutoring and computer lessons, art classes and creative days, yoga and other sports classes, sessions on effective study–skills, and health and AIDS seminars and other life skills seminars. They are comparable to 4H clubs or the YWCA in the U.S. Members of the GMCs are students from each regional high school and various elementary schools, and they are chosen according to motivation and participation, achievement in school and entrance exams. Local female Peace Corps Volunteers, along with local partners, manage the centers. Locally successful professional women from different sectors (health – including HIV/AIDS, education, information technology, administration, and agriculture) also participate in the centers' activities in order to mentor the girls and provide positive role models. These centers, along with other workshops and conferences, promote and facilitate girls' academic success and their attendance in school. In order to accommodate the XO deployment, the GMC will be open to boys and girls.
Cornell OLPC - OLPC Principles
We offer a unique solution to this difficult problem based on a unique situation. We will satisfy child ownership by deploying the laptops through the GMC. The children will have a location to store their laptop when they do not wish to bring it home or if they are worried about potential theft. The central location of the deployment will also enable the Peace Corps and Girls Mentoring Center (GMC) staff to make sure that the laptops are actually being used by the children.
Working with the primary schools in Tidjikja in combination with the GMC we will identify children in the 6-12 age range who will benefit from the laptop. These children will be involved in a program that is centered around education for their specific age group.
We will achieve 100% saturation by deploying through a special program linking the primary schools and the GMC. In conjunction with our local partners, we will identify the students to partake in the program, and then, incorporate them into a program consisting of all the students that are to receive an XO. Rather than deploy at a major school, where only a fraction of the students could benefit, our program enables a group of 100 students to engage in learning.
Although Tidjikja is a rural city, there is internet access. We are exploring various methods of connectivity including use of the existing connections that have been set up. We are in talks with the infrastructure leaders of the town, including the controllers of power and internet. Additionally we plan to engage in pen-pal programs across Mauritania and with Arabic language students in the United States in order for the students to benefit both in language skills and in cultural awareness.
Free and Open Source
We plan to strictly hold by the OLPC principles of Free and Open Source software. None of the applications that we plan on using are proprietary. We will engage the students on collaborative projects and will encourage teamwork especially across the various Mauritania deployments. These projects will lay the foundation for students to learn the value of openness and will hold true to the OLPC principle.
How You Can Help
- Send a check to us (James Elkins, 9 Bear Brook Lane, Livingston, NJ, 07039), made out to "One Laptop Per Child" (P.O. Box 425087 Cambridge, MA 02142 USA) and we will forward the check to OLPC, who will immediately cash it and forward it to us.
- You can donate online here (http://laptop.org/en/participate/ways-to-give.shtml) - make sure to scroll down to the bottom to the Paypal link and you can pay by credit card or with a Paypal account. If you click the "give a laptop" button, that money has to be used by OLPC specifically for laptops - which isn't a bad thing, but that money will not get to us. The only caveat with donating by Paypal is there is no place to identify Cornell OLPC as the place where you'd like to give your money - so you should respond to the email you get from OLPC after you donate, saying that you'd like the money to go to us (Cornell OLPC). Once you do that, they will make sure that money gets to us. In both cases, we can supply you with a tax number, because OLPC is a 501(c)(3) organization.
Deployment Plan & Notes
Peace Corps & GMC Letter of Support
Letter of Support - School Dren (Superintendent)
Letter of support from the Tidjikja community
Proposal in PDF form