Archive for the ‘Micro-Education’ category

1,000,000 books for Myanmar libraries

January 6th, 2010
Bogalay book donation ceremony in March 2009

Bogalay book donation ceremony in March 2009

Last summer, I officially joined as a founding board member of a new start-up non-profit called Nargis Library Recovery (NRL). This NGO was started last year in response to the devastating 2008 Nargis cyclone (hurricane) which wiped out large portions of the Irrawaddy Delta leaving an estimated 135,000 people dead, 800,000 homeless, destroying much of the infrastructure … including about 2,000 libraries.

I want to do this until I die

In late 2007, I first met NRL’s founder, Dr. John Badgley, a well-known grassroots activist who started the Institute of the Rockies in the 1970’s and has had a distinguished career in the academic world with specialties in Asia Studies and libraries. Dr. Badgley is a Burmese speaker (Myanmar was previously known as Burma) and has extensive relationships in Myanmar with scholars, monks, librarians, business leaders and more. Dr. Badgley retired a number of years ago, but like most activist leaders, that just provided him more opportunity to focus on changing the world! At our inaugural board meeting, when we asked John how much compensation he would like/expect for being Executive Director, he responded by saying that it really didn’t matter as he was committed to supporting the recovery of the Myanmar libraries until he died.

2009 Accomplishments

In our recent board meeting, we walked through the humbling list of 2009 accomplishments we were able to make … all on a bootstrap budget of ~$40,000 plus LOTS of volunteer time and in-kind donations.  Here is a sampling:

  • Our “Green Card”. In Jan 2009, we received (very rare) special permission from the US Treasury to export books, computers and other materials needed to rebuild libraries in Myanmar (currently on US blacklist)
  • Two Significant Corporate Sponsorships. 1,000,000 books from Thrift Books and 6 shipping containers (50,000 each) of books from USA to Myanmar from American President Lines.
  • Books Actually Delivered to Libraries. We shipped and distributed more than 200,000 English & Burmese language books to more than 150 hand selected libraries in Myanmar.  Estimated value of books and shipping cost of $625,000!
  • A Scalable Book Delivery System. Now have refined an end-to-end scaled book delivery logistics system which includes: (a) sourcing books in USA; (b) selection, organization and packing of books into a shipping container; (c) transportation to ship; (d) ship transport to Singapore; (e) ship transport onwards to Yangon; (f) sorting and repackaging for delivery to targeted libraries in Yangon; (g) fundraising sales of some books for purchase of Burmese language books; (h) delivery of books to appropriate libraries.
  • Public Charity Application. We applied for IRS 501c3 public charity status (currently operating as a project of Institute of the Rockies)
  • Amazingly Generous Volunteers. Significant personal volunteer time received from many people in USA and Myanmar, but with special recognition to John Badgley (NLR Executive Director), Thant Thaw Kaung (NLR director, Myanmar-based partner) and his wife, May.

For 2010, we have some additional exciting plans including rebuilding our first libraries in addition to delivering at least 300,000 books in libraries in Myanmar.

Read more and see photos at Nargis Library Recovery

Leveraging Children’s Curiosity

January 1st, 2007

There is a very interesting experiment going on for the past few years in New Delhi, India called Hole in the Wall. Free-to-use [Windows-powered] computer kiosks with Internet connections are placed in and around a number of slums. The PC’s are designed to be industrial-strength with plexi-glass on the front and plastic covered keyboard and a touchpad for a mouse function. They have built in battery backup (for the frequent power outages) and are connected to a satellite receiver on the roof of the building to provide broadband Internet connections. These are public access computers.

The research project (and now NGO) is named so because the first of these kiosks was literally put in a hole in the wall near the office of physicist Sugata Mitra who heads research efforts at New Delhi’s NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company. Mitra setup the first kiosk just outside his office and then watched through a webcam as local illiterate children started investigating this new contraption.

What he discovered:

  • Children figured out how to use the computer without any assistance … completely driven out of curiosity
  • Children figured out their own “sharing rules” for the computer usage
  • Children increased their proficiency in reading (English) and math

Mitra’s provocative conclusion/opinion … that education improves when there are fewer teachers! He contends that children have the innate drive to learn and just need tools (like access to computers) to help them explore and exploit their curiosities.

Here are some additional articles on this research experiment:

What do you think?

Are Children Learning?

August 19th, 2006

In July 15th issue of The Economist, there was an interesting article on whether the money being spent on education in developing countries was resulting in children actually learning. Globally, the World Bank alone has spent over $12 billion on primary education since 1990. Pratham, an India educational charity, reported that less than half of children ages 7-14 could read a simple passage in their native language.

One of the most successful programs to date in increasing school enrollment is to not only make primary education free, but to actually pay parents (cash or free meals) if they keep their children in schools. In Nicaragua, a pilot program like this has raised enrollment rates by 22%.

It seems that donors are more interested in school-building than they are in schooling. That is, focused on the inputs — # of buildings, # of teachers, # of text books, etc. — rather than the outputs — are children learning.

Pratham has found one educational experiment that has worked well … hiring balsakhis (which means “children’s friends”) who are unqualified high-school graduates to provide remedial education to students falling behind. These mentors were cheap, quick to train and could work in hallways or under trees reducing the need for more buildings. The result in Mumbai is that it raised the chances of fourth-year pupils grasping first-year math by almost 12% and second-year math by almost 10%.

Read article

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