I am writ­ing this from Dhal­inybuy School in remote Aus­tralia. What’s even more impress­ive is that I am typ­ing this on a pro­duc­tion-mod­el OLPC XO-1.5!

For those who don’t know yet, in March I star­ted full-time as the Tech­nic­al Co-ordin­at­or at One Laptop per Child Aus­tralia. This basic­ally means that I man­age the tech­no­logy sur­round­ing the XO laptops, XS serv­er and so on.

We are in East Arnhem Land, North­ern Ter­rit­ory, this week for OLPC deploy­ments, as well as train­ing in Yir­rkala School and the Yir­rkala Home­lands Learn­ing Centres (HLCs).

There are eight HLCs in all, spread over a wide area. The closest one is close to two hour’s drive away from Yir­rkala, almost entirely on dirt road. Yir­rkala itself is quite remote — about 13 hours drive (again, almost entirely on dirt) from Dar­win. It’s gen­er­ally easi­er to fly to these loc­a­tions (which takes at least four hops if you’re com­ing from Sydney), espe­cially right now as a trop­ic­al cyc­lone (which barely missed us a month ago when we were out this way) des­troyed many of the roads.

In col­lab­or­a­tion with the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Sydney (UWS), and with some assist­ance from the North­ern Ter­rit­ory Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing (NTDET), we have formed teams and spread out over the eight HLCs to work with chil­dren, teach­ers, schools and com­munit­ies.

I’ll have to go into my work at Yir­rkala School at a later time, but here at the HLCs we have man­aged some impress­ive feats, if I do say so myself! For instance:

  • this is to the best of my know­ledge the world’s first deploy­ment of the new XO-1.5 devices, and we’re doing it across all eight HLCs at once
  • chil­dren can write in their own lan­guage, as we installed Yolngu Matha fonts
  • we have taught teach­ers and stu­dents to cre­ate their own e-books using Scratch, using pic­tures they take with the cam­era and con­tent we loaded onto the XOs before­hand

In addi­tion, I worked with Ian Cun­ning­ham from NTDET to pro­duce an inex­pens­ive and simple means to deploy wire­less access points to these remote com­munit­ies. These are Link­sys WRT-54GL devices flashed with DD-WRT. We con­figured each such that they will just work when plugged in. The HLCs that have satel­lite Inter­net can have their access points man­aged from any­where on the NT Schools net­work.

I left our setup to the UWS stu­dents (none of whom are tech­nic­al) on my team, and they were able to suc­cess­fully set up the access point and cre­ate a work­able area for the XOs to be charged.

Most of the HLCs have their elec­tri­city sup­plied entirely by loc­al gen­er­at­ors, which are nor­mally rationed to run at night. Dhal­inybuy school has its own smal­ler gen­er­at­or. This is enough for the basics, but insuf­fi­cient for the four desktop PCs that they have. Con­sequently, these com­puters are rarely used, and the teach­ers tell me that they are too dif­fi­cult to man­age any­way. Being bat­tery powered and far more power effi­cient, XOs are far more suit­able.

We have suc­cess­fully deployed XOs to every school-age child in Dhal­inybuy. I’m still out here, so I don’t yet know the status of the oth­er HLCs. I am, how­ever, con­fid­ent that they are oper­a­tion­al, giv­en the ease at which we got things going here.

Through the access point, every XO (and hence every child) can col­lab­or­ate and share their activ­it­ies in Sug­ar. This also facil­it­ates an Inter­net con­nec­tion for all the XOs, through the NT Schools net­work. They are now open to a wider world of inform­a­tion and com­mu­nic­a­tion.

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