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Article on German TV (3Sat) with Ron Wertlen

Last weekend, an OLPC TV Article, with eKhaya ICT was shown in Germany.

The following is a translation of that article:

Education by Mouse-Click

"One Laptop per Child" [is also a] project in South Africa

An upcoming problem of African countries and other developing nations, is that they are missing the connection as far as the technological development of digital information. How are computers to operate when there is no electricity and they are unaffordable to start with? Nicolas Negroponte of MIT in Boston had the idea of a visionary initiative called "One Laptop per Child": a laptop for children in developing countries, which costs around 100 US dollars, definitely not exceeding 150 US dollars.

In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, one of the poorest regions of the country, Ron Wertlen tackles pot-holed roads. He too has a great vision: The software developer, Ron, is one of 15 volunteers in South Africa for the campaign "One laptop per child".

Playful Introduction

Wertlen will demonstrate a special computer, which has been designed for children in developing countries. 722 pupils are taught by only 18 teachers here. There is neither electricity nor running water. Most textbooks are outdated. Modern learning is different to what is going on here. The learners have never in their lives seen a laptop - a sensation for them and for the education system. The keyboard and controls are specially tailored for children. Games and music programs will be used to introduce the machines, special learning software should lead to acquisition of knowledge.

Ron Wertlen shows the teachers an important feature of the children's laptops: The screen can be switched from colour to black-and-white mode, and is thus also readable in direct sunlight. Such details make the computer at all suitable for use in "Third World" situations. The Children's laptop was already presented in 2005 at the World Economic Summit in Davos. The then UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, and Internet guru Nicolas Negroponte of the famous technical university MIT in Boston presented the hundred dollar laptop for the first time. "Every technical breakthrough of the next five years, cuts the cost of the laptops," said Nicolas Negroponte, "which in turn benefits the children."

Large thirst for knowledge

The Children's laptop was designed by the company "fuseproject" in San Francisco. It belongs to the Swiss designer Yves Behar. The new wonder computer was designed to be simple, powerful and robust. How often does a designer get the job to connect the "Third World" to the computer-age? As that is what was being asked. "When you open the laptop, you see that every part has a number of functions," says Yves Behar. "Thus the radio antennas help one open the laptop, and simultaneously serve as a cover for the connectors. Another example: It can be used quite traditionally as a laptop or if one turns the screen, as an electronic book, which you can read."

In just one year, Behar and his team have created not only an impressively simple device, but also tackled fundamental problems, such as the electricity supply. "As far as the electricity supply is concerned, we have a dozen possibilities," said Behar. "One could use solar panels to load a number of laptops at once, there are also manual power supplies, such as the Power-yoyo. Using it, one can generate electricity by repeatedly pulling a cord. One minute's pulling power supplies ten minutes of usage. All this is feasible only because the OLPC [ed: called XO] consumes about ten percent of the electricity used by a normal laptop. "

At school in South Africa, the enthusiasm is not flagging. Meanwhile, the children have discovered the integrated camera and noticed that the laptops have automatically networked and that they, the children, can use them to communicate. "I want to learn what this laptop has to offer," says Yandisa Thanda. "I have seen that it has games, music and drawing programs. I want to master everything on it." At the moment the teacher still helps out. The long-term goal of the computer campaign is however that children teach themselves and grow independant. Currently, classical teaching methods are being used in the Eastern Cape. But for how much longer? When the government buys the new computer, it could be the beginning of a revolution - a revolution in education in the "Third World".

[First pass translation by translate.google.com, second pass by eKhaya ICT.]

See also the article previously mentioned in this blog below on Swiss TV (link to video).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 13th 2007 02:13

From my diary...

[Apropos robbery and violence:] It is a very scary aspect of being here. The inequalities are terrible. It is almost as though they will continue getting worse and worse - around the globe and in the first world too - as people close a blind eye toward them. By closing a blind eye we are not doing the right thing. The right thing is to look the problem square in the eyes, to open ones eyes and to do something about it. Spreading knowledge and understanding is one way, and it is the only way. Spreading hate, fear and armaments is not the way.

For only through self-understanding will we be able to deal with our archaic biological instincts in a modern world. Archaic biological instincts armed to the teeth with modern weapons are not a pretty perspective.

Two anecdotes concerning the growing gap in income from the developed world:
  • In Berlin one is very conscious of the growing gap between rich and poor. The poor protest and let you know about it.
  • South African friends of ours are leaving London, it is becoming just too violent because of the growing gap between rich and poor.
Are we getting poorer? Or is this just our perception, because we are programmed to pay more attention to bad than to good news? (Another example of biology dictating terms to us.)

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 12th 2007 09:17

OLPC with eKhaya ICT on Swiss TV tonight

Tonight at 23:00 CET eKhaya ICT is making a TV debut on the cultural programme of the Swiss Television (Schweizer Fernsehen, http://www.sf.tv). Being shown are interviews with Yves Behar, the designer of the XO (the OLPC laptop) who is a Swiss living in San Francisco, and with Ron Wertlen of eKhaya ICT in Grahamstown. There are also a whole lot of shots of rural learning conditions at Mndwaka JSS near Tafalehashi as well as beautiful pictures of the Wild Coast.

[ed: 2009 May] SF.TV's archive doesn't go back to 2007. I am checking copyright, and would like to post a link to the vid or host it on YouTube.

In the meantime, we can send interested parties a copy, just drop us a line using the form.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 8th 2007 07:26

Interviewed by Cristina Karrer at Mndwaka JSS

The highlights of the interview were undoubtably:
  • The singing of the Mndwaka JSS learners for at least an hour in the background - they even got on the camera crews nerves because of sound quality. Such enthusiasm simply cannot be dampened!

  • The way the children and teachers together tackled the XOs working as a team to unravel the mysteries of the devices was great to see.

  • The opportunity to explain why communities need to be lifted holistically - that one cannot prefer one form of infrastructure at the detriment of another, e.g. roads vs. internet. And indeed that the OLPC project must go ahead and pilot in the area near Zwelenqaba.

  • When questioned about justifying the high cost of OLPC, replying: well how much is the Iraq war costing? In environmental and dollar terms.
I will try to post soon when the clip will appear on German and Swiss TV, and also make available a copy here.

Mndwaka JSS is about 4 kilometers South of Tafalehashi as the crow flies and a candidate for the solar school computer lab project as a satellite school. It is definitely an energetic school with some dedicated educators who are doing great things under difficult conditions. I hope the Department of Education keeps it's promises and delivers the much needed infrastructural upgrade.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 28th 2007 03:31

Bulungula Incubator

This is a vibrant happening crowd... check them out:

This project combines sustainable growth, solar and environmentally friendly operations, and a complete development concept (in its birth stages) for the Bulungula Community.

I hope to learn a lot from them.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 25th 2007 05:35

SF.TV comes to Eastern Cape for eKhaya ICT led OLPC pre-pilot

It looks like we are getting some initial international attention for our project location. Next week I shall be demonstrating XO-1 OLPC hardware at a junior school near Tafalehashi. Actually, I will just play a facilitatory role, the demonstrators will be the kids themselves. Antoine van Gelder, the local OLPC-za champion has warned me that the little learners will quickly grasp some of the possibilities and soon be doing head-spinning things on their little $100 laptops.

Recording the action will be Crisitna Kerrer leading an SF.TV camera team. I am looking forward very much to the outing and hope to learn a lot from it!

I hope that the exposure will help the school that will take part in this "mini-pilot" to improve their conditions and infrastructure. Perhaps when the rest of the world looks at what we have in our backyard the DoE will be forced to step in and do something about these poorest of our schools.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 17th 2007 08:35

Nokia "wireless village" in Eastern Cape

Rhodes University and the university of Fort Hare Dwesa Project, often mentioned on these pages, is most likely to be bolstered by a new arrival on the scene. The Nokia "wireless village" is a ultra-low cost GSM mobile base station with a radius of about 10 kilometres. The business model is that an operator runs such a wireless village allowing free calls within the cell and charging very little for calls between such cells. Calls out of the operators low cost network are charged at regular rates. The concept is on trial in various parts of Africa. On my visit to the Meraka Institute in June, I first heard of the "wireless village" and that it had been rolled out in Mozambique and other places in Africa, and that an installation or two were coming Meraka's way. Owing to Rhodes' close links to COFISA (Cooperation Framework on Innovation Systems between Finland and South Africa - think COoperation-Finnland-SA), they managed to attract some of the wireless village to the former Transkei - congratulations!!
The Dwesa Project gains momentum with this addition of essential high-tech gadgetry. Mobile technology is the way to quickly roll-out applications in Africa, and we are going to be concentrating more on software for mobiles at eKhaya ICT (more about that later...).
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 10th 2007 07:27

For our German Friends and Partners

eKhaya ICT is going through a period of expansion. Yesterday, we upgraded our website to include a German translation. Also we are looking at applying our own SEO principles to the site.
  • Focused language on each page, and not so much waffling.

  • More incoming links.

  • More press releases...
Since Friday, there is another desk in our offices. It's the workplace of our new junior programmer, Kagiso, who will be starting in October. He is going to hopefully be doing a whole lot of good with the OpenOffice.org package helping our partners get their data under control.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 30th 2007 08:52

Critical thinking: German vs. RSA media

Since moving back to South Africa, I have been struck by how poor the standard of reporting is in this country. In particular, there is a lack of questioning about underlying causes. So often am I left wondering "Why?!" after reading an article in any of the SA papers. Statements and events are reported unquestioningly - the reason why cabinet voted one way and not the other is not investigated, nor is the gas emitted by decaying fish that kills 5 fisherman named.

In Germany, I had come to expect such investigations and in depth explanations, which I could then go and verify for myself in many cases.

I have since come to believe that the reason for this hole is twofold - first, the lower literacy rate means that some of the knowledge required to think about such questions and to find them interesting is missing. This is a problem in the education department. Secondly, such questions are not interesting because of the authoritarian manner of South African society (Heather wrote a great critique of a Carte Blanche wikipedia article, which echoes this sentiment). This manner is mutating and changing for the better I believe.

As we come to espouse and value other perspectives than ours, we come to see that facts often have a depth that extends beyond a binary black & white face value.

The internet promises great progress in the introduction of critical thinking and broadening of horizons, not only at schools like Zwelenqaba, but also in the developed areas of the planet.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 7th 2007 08:39

p.i. plateau reached

I guess we won't be hitting 500'000 accesses per month by December. The last few months show a stable 4000+ hits per month.



How did this come about
  • In July and August eKhaya ICT carried out a number of commercial projects which were only loosely related to the core project.

  • The summer break in Europe put a brake on the number of page impression from there as activity of our NGO there was curtailed.
I am hoping the next phase of the core projects will produce another jump.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 4th 2007 07:59
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