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.