Ghana Together works with our Ghanaian friends of Western Heritage Home, a Ghanaian-registered and managed non-profit, to improve social, educational, and health conditions in Axim, Ghana. Together we accomplish projects, connect WHH to resourceful individuals and organizations, and create sustainable programs. We make a real difference to real people in a local, grassroots effort. Our website at tells our story.

Feb 24, 2012

What about Those One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Computers?

As many of you know, Ghana Together has been collecting, repairing, and deploying donated OLPCs (XO-1) in Axim for some time now. Initially, we managed to provide each child of school age living in the Children’s Home with his/her own computer. With a little training from Tom Castor and me, they quickly caught on and enjoyed them so much that the Home “Mother” had to lay down a firm rule that they could not be taken to bed!

WHH Scholars with their OLPCs in 2009
But, as you know, the WHH Board has transitioned the children out of the Home into family homes. After some discussion, they decided not to let the children take them to their new homes because of electrical charging difficulties, problems within the families if one child had one and others did not, and the possibility that they’d be stolen or sold. Ideally, the idea is "one laptop for every child", but Axim is a sizeable town with hundreds of children, and only so many OLPCs!

So, they stayed at the Heritage facility. Meanwhile, wonderfully generous people donated more OLPCs. The Marysville, WA Arts and Technology High School computer repair club got interested and I was able to mentor them some (and in a very short while, they were the mentors and I the “mentee”). All in all, WHH now has 50 working OLPCs in Axim.
Some of the Marysville Computer Repair Club---I'm supposed to be the "mentor", but they're way ahead of me!!
Then, in 2011 the Methodist School was suddenly given 30 OLPCs from the government of Ghana. But they were just dropped off, with no orientation and the teachers didn’t really understand what they were. They thought they looked liked toys, not realizing that they are actually very sophisticated “learning machines” for primary school children. The headmistress found out that I was coming to Axim, and asked me to come and do an impromptu two-hour workshop with six teachers and herself, which I was glad to do.

Methodist School Teachers at Impromptu OLPC Workshop. They have 30 at their School.
Consequently, teachers Eric Jim, of the Science Center and Mykeal Ackah-Menlab worked with me to test and update those at WHH and to try to figure out how to use them there and also those in their own Methodist School. I engaged Peter Asuah, one of the original WHH scholars, to help test all the OLPCs, chargers, etc. I left a very complete manual, most of which was downloaded from sites that would be easily available to them, if they had reasonable internet service.  These guys are computer sophisticated, and I’m sure they will do a good job orienting the children.

Peter and I test chargers. The machines themselves are very robust and stand up to tropical conditions, inexperienced children, etc. But, the chargers are the weak link.
Later in my visit, when the science teachers came up for the brainstorming session, I spent the first hour as they were arriving on another impromptu workshop, introducing them to the basic workings of the OLPC. They were fascinated.
JHS Science Teachers Trying out the OLPCs at the WHH Heritage Facility prior to the JHS Science Meeting
The plan now is that when the JHS children come to the Science Center for practicums, there are usually more than 36, the maximum number to allow each child an individual hands-on experience. So, the rest of the students will use the OLPCs. Although they are not really targeted at JHS level, since these students have not had hands-on computer experience, and will have ICT questions on their JHS-3 test which determines if they go to senior high school, the teachers have decided to focus on deploying them at the JHS level, at least for a year or so.

Since the machines are designed to be “self-exploratory”, it’s been my experience that once children understand the basic way the computer functions, they do very well on their own. In fact, this hands-on, exploration approach is perfect for these children, because they have been so immersed in rote learning from blackboard and exercise books. The science teachers told me they are trying to get away from that kind of teaching, but up to now, they didn’t have materials to work with. They understand where they need to go and now they have materials and machines to work with.
Meanwhile, if anyone reading this has an OLPC you’d like to donate, we’d like to have it, in working condition or not. The Marysville Club is very skilled---they repair them, or if need be, cannibalize them. Also, I spent quite a bit of time training Eric and Mykeal, the two Axim teachers involved, on how to take them apart, use parts from one to fix another, do clean software installs, etc.

So, this kind of hands-on program with these laptops designed specifically for children in this environment is in its infancy in Ghana, but at least in Axim, it’s got a toehold.