Every morning, ten year old Bimala Sarki walks five kilometres to attend school in Dadeldhura district, one of the most isolated areas in Far-Western Nepal. Yet like nearly 2000 school children all over the country, she has something to look forward to despite the arduous journey – learning on her laptop at school.
The One-Laptop-Per-Child concept reached Dadeldhura through a joint initiative between the World Food Programme (WFP) and Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal), which provides laptop computers to 180 grade two and three schoolchildren in three government schools in Far-Western Nepal where WFP also provides food assistance. The laptops contain curriculum-based interactive education materials in English, mathematics and Nepali that are developed by OLE Nepal and the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), and implemented through the Department of Education.
Born out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in the late 1990s, the “XO Laptop” is a specially designed child-friendly, low-power, inter-connected laptop designed for collaboration and self-learning. In 2006, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan recognized the potential of this innovation: "This is not just a matter of giving a laptop to each child, as if bestowing on them some magical charm. The magic lies within -- within each child, within each scientist, scholar, or just plain citizen in the making. This initiative is meant to bring it forth into the light of day."
Rabi Karmacharya, an MIT alumni, founded OLE Nepal with the vision of bringing radical changes in the public education system by giving children the tool to explore, experiment and express, and engaging them in their learning. In addition to leveling the playing field for children from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, technology provides a platform to help build their confidence, and turn them into better thinkers and problem solvers. As the executive director of OLE Nepal, he is leading the movement to address the problems of quality, access, and disparity in education by accompanying the laptops with freely accessible high-quality interactive teaching-learning materials along with an education-centered digital library.
Pramila Ghimire, programme coordinator at WFP, said: “We are combining the laptops with our school meals programme so we can feed the body and the mind of school children. We wanted to give them the same opportunities for learning and development as children in other parts of the world.” This initiative aims to reduce education gaps between rural and urban populations in Nepal in the long run.
“I am happy that Bimala is using the computer. We hear that every body in the city uses the computers but now even in this place my daughter is using it,” said Bimala’s father. The majority of people in Bimala’s village are subsistence farmers with limited access to other income opportunities. The area has also been plagued by frequent natural disasters such as droughts which has left the district food-insecure.
“The children seem to be more excited to use the laptop to learn. By providing children with this laptop they have a keen interest in learning and get through their curriculum at a faster pace,” said Tej Bahadur Rawat, Principal of Bimala's school. When asked what she likes most about the laptop project, Bimala said “I like the verb game as it is improves my English.”
WFP’s School Meals Programme currently provides nutritious mid-day meals to over 182,000 primary school children living in 11 Far-Western districts. In addition, the Girls Incentive Programme (GIP) distributes two liters of vegetable cooking oil to the families of 54,000 girls like Bimala who have an attendance rate of at least 80%. This encourages increased attendance of girls in school and reduces gender inequality through education.