Monday, August 19, 2013

Update on Paushi's Digital Literacy Project (August 14th, 2013)

The Digital Literacy Project in India is now in full swing. We have been communicating with Mr. Prabodh Manna, the caretaker of the library, regarding the progress of the Project.

Classes have begun, led by Mr. Swapan Jana, the head school teacher in Paushi. Over 35 students in each batch, ranging from ages 5 through 18, are attending the computer classes in a scheduled manner, and as a result, materials like printer toner and paper are running low. We will be sending new computer supplies and additional books to Paushi soon, to ensure that the students have the materials that they need to keep on learning.

Mr. Amit Paul, our local teacher from Kolkata, will be visiting Paushi in the next few weeks to monitor the progress of the Digital Literacy Project. He will be visiting the village regularly to make sure that the students have the materials that they need, and monitor their progress for future additions to the program.

Going forward, we intend on improving this Digital Literacy Project in Paushi, and hopefully expand it to other rural communities. Currently Paushi's library is housed in a mud hut. This is not the best environment for housing a computer, long-term. Going forward, we hope to move the Project to a more stable building, possibly built out of bricks.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Day 5 (August 7th, 2013)

Today was the most important day of the Digital Literacy Project in India, so far. With all of our equipment packed, we were ready to go to Paushi to actually implement the project. Packing the equipment into the car required the skills of a master Tetris player. The car did not have much storage space, so we had to carefully arrange all the boxes to fit. We also had to fit the large "Sponsor" banner into the car, which was the most problematic. At first we decided to tie the banner to the top of the car using heavy-duty string. Eventually we had to tie a rope around the ceiling of the interior of the car, and placed the banner on top of that, just above our heads. This was the idea of our energetic driver, Bishnu, who had been regularly stopping the car to make sure that the banner was still tied to the top of the car, at the beginning. We finally left Kolkata at around 7:30 AM, and traveled along "Bombay Road" again towards Paushi. Just like on Saturday, we stopped at the New Taramat Hotel in Kolaghat for breakfast. 

The weather was cloudy for majority of the trip. However, when we finally reached the dirt road that leads into Paushi at 11:30 AM, a torrential downpour ensued. The road had large puddles of mud everywhere. The rivers and ponds around the village started to rise, significantly. Luckily, this rain only lasted for about 20 minutes. When we reached the Paushi library, the rain had subsided to a small drizzle, and we were greeted by Mr. Mana. 

We spent the next few minutes carrying all the boxes to the veranda of the library, while trying to avoid stepping in as much mud as possible. The earlier rain made this task very difficult. After a while, all the boxes were lined up on the veranda. I decided that it would be best to set up the computer on the veranda first to show to the children. After the demo, we would move the computer into the room in the library. As a result of the heavy rain, the library lost power. Luckily we would be working on the veranda at the beginning, and the sun gave us some light through the clouds. The next step was waiting for the computer desk to arrive.

We waited under the veranda canopy for about 15 minutes, when we saw a gentleman riding a "cargo bicycle" with a newly constructed computer desk on it. The computer desk was very modern. It had a moving piece for the keyboard, and a rectangle slot for the CPU. We learned that the desk was crafted by hand in Paushi at the local furniture shop. This was very impressive as the whole desk was created from trees in the village. Mr. Mana and I moved the the desk towards a wall on the veranda, and I began planning the set-up.

Mr. Amit Paul, the teacher from Kolkata who accompanied us on this trip, and I began taking the various computer and printer parts out of their respective boxes, and placed them on a small side table. We placed the CPU in the rectangular slot, and placed the monitor on top. Next was the annoying job of connecting all of the wires to the respective parks. To make the computer station look neat, Mr. Paul and I made sure that all the wires from the CPU traveled behind the desk, and were not visible from the front. We connected the monitors, printer, speakers, webcam, keyboard, mouse, and headset to their respective locations. We then routed all the power connections through the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply), which we then connected to the library's power outlet through an extension cord. The UPS would supply emergency power and keep the computer and printer running incase of a later power outage. The power soon returned to the library around 1 pm.

The demo to the children would start at 3 pm, so Mr. Paul and I took the opportunity to eat lunch. Lunch was at Mr. Manna's house again. Just like on Saturday, we had fresh vegetables that were grown in the village, and fish that were caught in the local ponds and streams. Around 1:30 pm, I went back to make sure that the computer turned on and was functioning correctly, which it was. All of the software that we installed yesterday loaded, and we printed a test document from Microsoft Word to ensure that the printer still worked after the 3 hour journey. When everything worked as expected, we decided it was time to try out the AirTel card to see if it was registered. We were still counting on the AirTel gentleman's word from yesterday that the card would be registered. We plugged in the wireless USB stick, and saw the wireless bars turn green. The card was running on a 2G connection since we were in a very rural area, but that was fine. We went to different sites, including large multi-media sites such as YouTube, which typically takes a lot of bandwidth to load. Even though it was a bit slow, the connection worked, so I was very happy.

Mr. Paul and I did some practice walkthroughs of how we would conduct the demo, leading up to 3 pm. We ran the English learning software, and discussed which parts of the Bengali computer book that we would cover. Around 2:45 pm, school children started showing up, some coming from very far places. The moment they saw the computer sitting on the library veranda, their eyes lit up, and they kept staring at the lit up screen. I assumed that they had never seen a computer before, so this was a new experience for them. By 3 pm, over 40 school children had arrived, ranging from grades 1 all the way through first year college students studying nearby. 

Mr. Swapan Jana, the local headmaster arrived by this time. He gave an introduction and explained to the children that the organization, IEEE was funding a project to show the children how to use a computer. He then explained the very basics of a computer to the students, telling that what a mouse and CPU was. He made it easy to understand for the younger children, comparing the CPU to the human brain. After his introduction, Mr. Paul and I took over. 

Mr. Paul also taught in an easy to understand manner. He also made allusions to help the children understand how the computer worked. Mr. Paul talked to the students in Bangla, the local language, while I operated the computer and pointed to the various parts. We started off showing the screen, mouse, keyboard, speakers, and printer. Following this, Mr. Jana joined in the presentation, and we all demonstrated the use of the Microsoft Office products. We showed how Word can be used to write letters, while Excel can be used to create a table of student grades. These uses can be applied to the needs of the students who often write letters and pay close attention to their school results. We also showed the children how to save documents.

The next demonstration probably amazed the students the most. Mr. Paul and I showed the students how to print a document. One of the students typed up a few lines on Word, which we then sent to the printer. This was a jaw-dropping moment for the Paushi students. The fact that a picture on the monitor could suddenly become printed onto a hard-copy paper before their eyes astounded them. They kept asking us to print more documents. We also demonstrated how one can use the printer to make copies. In India, even in big cities, people typically have to travel to "Printing Shops" to make copies of documents. For Paushi, they had their very own copier built into the printer.

Mr. Paul and I then proceeded to show the students how to use MS Paint. This program appealed to most of the audience as they learned that they could create pictures on screen, and then print them to keep a hard copy. At this stage, we let some of the younger students play around with MS Paint. They created different shapes of different colors, which we then sent to the printer. Every time that some document printed, everybody's eyes lit up. They were each proud of their creation on MS Paint that they now held in their hand.

Following this session of MS Paint, Mr. Jana explained what the internet is and what capabilities it has. Since the AirTel connection was working at this point, we showed the students basic features of the internet such as Google and YouTube. 

After letting the students play around on MS Paint, I inserted the English education software and let it run for about 20 minutes. The program played various animations teaching the very basics of nouns and articles. The program also taught basic vocabulary which some of the children were already familiar with. While this program was running, the head of the village, the Panchayat Officer dropped by the library to see what was going on. I talked to him, and he seemed very grateful that Paushi was given the opportunity to have a computer literacy program. By this point, we felt as though the students were getting a good idea of what they could do with a computer.

About 25 minutes into the English education software, the library lost power again. By this point, Mr. Paul, Mr. Jana, and I thought that it would be a good time to move on towards handing out some snacks to the students. The 40+ students lined up outside the library in age order. Mr. Mana had arranged for small snack boxes consisting of ice cream and some Indian sweets to be delivered to the library. I handed out the boxes to each of the children in line. During this snack time, I got the opportunity to talk to some 12th grade students in Paushi, who inquired about possible certification courses for the computer. By this time, it was around 6:00 pm, so I decided that it was a good time to start moving the computer station inside the library.

Mr. Paul and I started disconnecting the computer connections and placed them on the wooden desk to the side. We carried the desk through the narrow doorway and placed it against the clay wall to the left side of the library. Just like in the morning, Mr. Paul and I set up the computer station piece by piece on top of the computer desk. We checked to make sure that the computer was still functioning correctly, and that the printer and AirTel connection were still working, which they all did.

We then went out to buy a fan for the library, as it was very hot inside the library, so it was vital for the students and computer to stay cool. After we got the fan, we showed the students the free version of "Angry Birds" which comes pre-installed on Windows 7. I could tell that they were having a fun time playing as they laughed every time the bird flew across the screen. 

By this time, it was around 7:15 pm, and the sun had gone down. Everything except the library was pitch black, as the village does not have many lights. By this time, Mr. Manna told the remaining students that it was time to go home. I talked with Mr. Jana, who assured me that he would create groups based on student ages and would start teaching computer classes next week.

After saying our goodbyes to Mr. Manna and Mr. Jana, we departed Paushi Village around 7:45 pm, and reached Kolkata after midnight.

I was very tired, yet satisfied with the way that the day had gone. I was very amazed at how interested the Paushi students were in the computer. It was nice to see that the computer was a device that the students actually wanted to learn. I had several students throughout the day ask me how soon the classes would start, which really showed me that they were interested in learning. 

I hope that the students continue their enthusiasm towards wanting to learn how to use the computer. This was a very enlightening experience for me. It was fun planning and deploying this Digital Literacy Project in India.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day 4 (August 6th, 2013)

We spent most of today doing a "mock set-up" of all of the computer parts in my house in Kolkata. We took everything out of their respective boxes and spent a few hours connecting all of the devices together on the floor. Setting up everything ahead of time gave good practice so that we could efficiently set up the computer station in Paushi tomorrow.

We connected the printer to the computer and installed the printer software onto the CPU. We then printed a page from Microsoft Word to check if the printer was working, which it was. An SQL database was developed by members of the BRHS iSTEM Club. This database was designed to store data for the Paushi library, and help keep track of the books. I uploaded the SQL file to the computer and ran it using phpMyAdmin.

We tested the borrowed AirTel card on the computer to make sure that the computer could connect to the internet, which it successfully did. I then created a Skype account for the computer named "PaushiLibrary", which was used to test if the headset/microphone and webcam were working. Everything was going well at that point, so we were happy.

In the afternoon, we had a gentleman from AirTel come to set up the new AirTel card that the computer would be using in the village (The card we had been using was borrowed from a neighbor). He installed the software, but gave us the unfortunate news that it would take 3 WHOLE days to "register" the connection. This is bad as we are demoing the project TOMORROW. We spent the next few hours constantly calling the local AirTel center asking them if they could register the connection today. They kept saying that they would do it "in the next 30 minutes to one hour". That was there response every time we called them, each hour. We called the manager of the AirTel branch and told them the urgency of the connection and that we were doing a project in rural India. We said that he would have it done by the morning.

Counting on his word, we packed all of the computer parts and printer back into their boxes ready for set-up tomorrow when we head to Paushi.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day 3 (August 5th, 2013)

Today was an important day for the Project. We went to buy the computer and accessories. In May, members of the IEEE Student Club of Bridgewater-Raritan High school researched computers, printers, and accessories, available in India and within the budget. Based on this list, we compiled a list of potential computer and printer models. We checked the internet and asked our neighbors for good computer stores in the Kolkata area. We heard many recommendations to check out a place called "E-Mall". We were told that it was a mall, full of only computer and electronic stores. Hearing that the stores in the mall were all reliable, we decided to check it out.

Upon arriving at the "E-Mall", I was amazed at how large and modern the building and stores were. Companies like Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, HP, Dell, Apple, and many others each had their own stories in the mall. We spent time walking around looking for which shops sold desktops. It was pretty tough to locate desktop sellers because most companies and consumers are trying to shift to smaller devices like notebooks and tablets. We finally found that Dell and HP each still sold desktops.

We checked out the Dell shop first, but left after realizing that they didn't have much variety and their desktop screen was too small. We proceeded to the HP store and found a nice desktop with many available options. We selected a computer with a 23 inch screen option. The larger screen would be useful in the Paushi library so that many students can view it. The CPU was a basic 2 GB RAM, 500 GB HardDrive; typical of the average desktops being sold in 2013. The computer came with Windows 8 pre-installed, but we bought Windows 7 software, as Windows 8 has a very different GUI in comparison to its predecessors. It would be easier to learn with Windows 7. We also bought Microsoft Office to teach the students the basics of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. We also purchased a Black&White HP OfficeJet printer so that the students can learn the basics of printing. We bought basic accessories like speaks, a wireless mouse, and a power extension as the power outlet in the library is not in a convenient place in relation to where we plan to place the computer. Finally we purchased a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) to protect all the electrical items from power surges and current losses that accompany the Indian Monsoon season.

After purchasing all of the items, the employees of the HP store installed Windows 7 and Microsoft Office for us. It was convenient so that we wouldn't have to deal with the hassle of installing all the software. Following the installation, we brought all the parts back to my Kolkata house to do a "test set-up" and to make sure that the printer and internet worked, which they all did.

Day 2 (August 4th, 2013)

Today, we focused on creating a banner to highlight the parties involved in this Digital Literacy Project.

We created a word document that displayed the name of the project and listed the sponsors including IEEE-EPICS, IEEE PCJS, and the iSTEM Club of BRHS. We also added the IEEE logo to the document. We then sent the document to a local printing center, who is printing out the document onto a large banner that we can use to display in the Paushi library.

I also reviewed the computer book and software, kindly donated by the Volunteers Association of Bangladesh, with Mr. Amit Paul, a local teacher in Kolkata. The book is written in Bangla, so Mr. Paul kindly translated the contents, while I thought of a lesson plan for the students in Paushi.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 1 (August 3rd, 2013)

Today was my first day visiting the village of Paushi. This visit was used to survey the village and plan how to implement the Digital Literacy Project in Paushi. We started our trip around 7 AM, traveling along "Bombay Road" en route to Paushi. The road was pretty smooth and did not contain many pot-holes, despite the heavy monsoon rains. We stopped at the roadside, New Taramat Hotel in Kolaghat, West Bengal for a local breakfast. As we continued on the journey to Paushi, we tested two wireless USB sticks (AirTel & Tata Docomo), in the car, to compare the effectiveness of each in rural areas. As expected, both connections began to fade as we moved farther away from the main city of Kolkata. Eventually, the Docomo USB failed to create a connection, while the AirTel connection was still functioning. We decided that an AirTel connection would be best for the computer in the village. Since the AirTel USB that we used was borrowed from a neighbor, we will purchase a new one tomorrow. We continued for several hours, passing rice paddies and other types of tropical vegetation.

An interesting event took place upon reaching Paushi. After disembarking the car, we noticed that the van got stuck in mud. One of the wheels was deeply lodged in the mud, a few yards away from a river. A large group of small school children who were passing by noticed the stranded car, and suggested that we place wooden boards and large rocks in front of the tires, hoping that the wheel would roll out of the mud and onto the boards and rocks. This did not work, as the tire dug itself deeper into the mud, but it was interesting to see how creative the children in the village were. Without hesitation after the tire dug deeper, they all ran behind the van, and started to help push the vehicle out of the mud. With a large team effort, the car was able to escape the mud, and safely reach the dirt road. After being in Paushi for just 5-10 minutes, I got a good understanding of how friendly and helpful the villagers are.

We proceeded to the house of the village physical therapist, Mr. Prabodh Kumar Manna, who is also in charge of operating the library in Paushi. He was very friendly and gave us a tour of the library. We were surprised to learn that the entire building was made of hardened mud and clay. He gave us basic information on how many children visit the library, and a brief description of the village as a whole, including the fact that its population was 4,000 people. I also learned that Paushi's main source of income was connected to harvesting rice and cultivating shrimp for exporting.

After learning about the village, I started to plan out where to set up the computer in the library. We took the measurements of the room and the distance to the power outlet. Since there was no table present, we requested Mr. Manna to order a computer table for the library.  Following the tour of the library, we ate lunch at the doctor's house. His wife prepared a large meal, comprised of fruits and vegetables all grown in Paushi. The entire meal was cooked on a wood-burning stove.

After lunch, we met the local school teacher named Mr. Swapan Jana. He volunteered to help teach the computer material to the children. Mr. Jana, in fact has a bachelors degree in Electronics Engineering, and is therefore extremely familiar with computers. We feel as though Mr. Jana is the perfect teacher in Paushi to teach the Digital Literacy.

We left Paushi in the late afternoon, and reached home, in Kolkata at 10 pm. We plan on buying the computer parts on Monday, and then returning to the village on Wednesday to start setting it up.