An interesting focus on the day today has gotten me thinking.

It started with my presentation on São Tomé and my assistance in the presentation on Haiti, as well as Mike Dawson and Salim Hayran’s presentation about Afghanistan. All three of these deployments have visible elements of success and all three have good advice to share.

And then, after a nice swim in the ocean and a day that was quite full of sunshine, we sat down with it: models. What model works in a deployment and why? Is it better to have a group of mentors teaching students in an extracurricular class (Haiti)? Is it better to have teachers do that (São Tomé)? Is it better to use the computers in the classroom instead, where class is being held anyway (Afghanistan)?

There are pros and cons to all, of course. I had always thought that my inability to use the laptops in the classroom was a negative aspect to our program, a failure on my part. Yet if students use the laptops outside of class, teachers are able to earn a little extra money per week, helping to stimulate a rough economy. Not only that, but the teachers are giving active attention to their computers. Rather than spending five minutes on them doing a quick activity in a lesson, they’re engaging with them for three hours straight.

But at the same time, if you don’t have a great payment setup with the Ministry of Education as São Tomé does, it can get pricey having to pay teachers for their extra hours. And how do you support that? It may be $100 per month per teacher – half the price of a laptop – but it’s still a sum that can’t be shouldered by one person, especially if multiple teachers are involved.

Which has brought me to the conclusion: If you can pay the teachers, you can do anything.

I come to this conclusion because sometimes paying the teachers is the least sustainable part of a deployment and the most necessary. Teachers around the world certainly don’t make much – a decently truthful generalization. If you can create jobs, build salaries, then people will carry the program on their own. They like the education. They want to help their students. But they simply cannot do it for free.

But if you can pay them, then they have a reason to meet every week (or twice per week, or everyday). If you can pay them, then the scary feeling of uncertainty disappears. They can take more risks in their educational initiatives and in their teaching. They can be more open to the use of the laptop, they can work to find a program that fits their school and their culture, they can shoulder more responsibility, they can take more initiative. If you can ensure a stable system of payment that will extend into the long-term, you can ensure a program that will run long-term, too. And that’s the first step to getting an educational system with the laptops that works.

Other things you need: educational content, perhaps content to last at least one year (and content that can be adjusted for use in different countries so that it’s not a cookie cutter world), a good support system (teachers email regularly and people come by the school to check up regularly too, though less frequently). Wherever you have laptops, you must have follow-up. You can’t leave a deployment alone to itself. You need constant communication and evaluation.

Many say: START SMALL! Maybe Uruguay didn’t do it…but many did, and those are the ones that are still chugging. How many small deployments are there in the world? 100? More? Fewer? How can we connect them to one another? How can we help pick them up so that they find the solutions that are potentially scalable as a project grows?

Are we going back to my thoughts yesterday about a non-profit that can take care of the small deployments?

So many things we talk about, so many notes. Tanya Kleider (OLPC-San Francisco – her mother, June, did a deployment in Madagascar) is taking some amazing pictures and I know that Jessica Curtis (New York) has been taking lots of notes. Would love to combine this all on the Realness website for an all-encompassing collection of Realness 2010!

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