Dear Waveplace Friends,

The holidays are here and with it a year full of exciting news here at Waveplace!

March brought Tim and chief mentor/videographer extraordinaire Bill Stelzer back to Haiti to work with Haiti Partners, the Matènwa Community Learning Center, Mercy & Sharing’s Williamson orphanage and the American Haitian Foundation to develop seven pilots across Haiti, using 200 laptops that were donated to us by One Laptop per Child. The pilots went extremely well and we were so impressed with the hard work and determination of our mentors. Bill shot some excellent footage that we just recently perfected into the Waveplace Spring 2010 video. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here.

Waveplace also picked up our first Outreach Coordinator, Beth Santos. Beth joined us in Haiti for six weeks as a volunteer and we hired her to work with us full-time to help coordinate our laptop pilots. She came just in time for the first annual Realness Summit, a gathering of educators, programmers and other interested people in the worldwide OLPC community. We spent three days over Memorial Day weekend at the Maho Bay Camps in St. John, USVI, talking about what it is to be an international community and how we can help international education using the laptop that OLPC developed.

We also simultaneously held a workshop and pilot for students at St. John’s three elementary schools, in partnership with Christine Murakami and her students at the Columbus School for Girls in Ohio. We hope to return to St. John in 2011 for another Realness Summit, some more exciting workshops and, this time, a mentor training session for people worldwide who are interested in learning about Etoys and the Waveplace method and who want to get their hands dirty. You can find more info about our 2011 mentor training at http://www.waveplace.org/mentors.

In July, Beth represented Waveplace while running a pilot for 100 students at the São João Secondary School in São Tomé and Príncipe, a small two-island nation off the west coast of Africa. It was our first jump into Africa and was one of the things that ultimately encouraged us to expand from just the Caribbean to Latin America and Africa as well. That’s right– Waveplace is going worldwide, and we couldn’t be more ready for it!

In November, Tim visited Haiti to talk with local non-profits about running a range of new pilots in 2011. Tim visited 20 schools in and around the Port-au-Prince region, including the schools in Darbonne and Petite Rivière des Nippes that have been running their programs continuously since March! We’ll be returning to Haiti in late January with some of our mentors from last spring to start five new pilots with our friends Haiti Partners (working with students in the Cite Soleil Community School and Wozo Youth Choir), Restavek Freedom (a group that brings education to children who are enslaved for domestic labor), JP/HRO (founded by actor Sean Penn), and AMURT, who will be hosting the workshop. And that’s only just the beginning– Waveplace is gearing up to do more work in Haiti and also exploring possibilities for pilots in other countries over 2011.

It’s a busy time, and every minute we are working hard to bring education to those who most need it. Unfortunately, being a small start-up like us is not easy and we’re still looking for ways to help those who really do need the help, including those with no funding at all.

Gifts from supporters like you can help us go that distance and so much farther. For information about donating to our cause, visit http://www.waveplace.org/donate.

Thanks for keeping up with us in your busy lives and best wishes for a safe, happy and healthy 2011!

Happy Holidays,
Tim and the Waveplace team

At long last, here’s our video that tells the story of our 7 pilots last Spring. Once again, thanks go to William Stelzer for doing such an incredible job.

Finally got around to picking the best of the many hundreds of photos I shot while down in Haiti last month. Here’s a slideshow. Click the four corner arrows in the lower right to watch it fullscreen.

Yesterday we had a Skype conference with three of the four partners due to start Waveplace pilots in January. Collectively we decided to push the dates back three weeks to give us a safe distance from the January 16th runoff election.

Sarita from AMURT says that the last week have been very bad in her neighborhood, which is where the workshop would be taking place. Many of the protesters are located around her. There is constant shouting, singing, some gunfire, etc.

I’ll resume the countdown, and daily posts, when we’re a month out from the trip. Currently it looks like we’ll arrive in Haiti on January 27th, though this is uncertain at this point. Till then, I hope things calm down and that everyone remains safe.

Responses keep coming to A School Is Not A Building. Even made the home page of OLPC News, with comments as well.

I was talking yesterday with a woman down in Haiti, with considerable experience helping education down there. She’s been reading the responses and said, “Do the people responding have any idea what it’s like in Haiti?”

The answer is “Not really,” but that’s not anyone’s fault. It’s our job to make the picture clearer, to provide context enough to cross the culture shock. So in this post, I’ll address the realities of building schools in Haiti.

But first, here’s a video I watched today, which made me feel better after last night’s violence. The chorus of children singing “We’re okay” feels exactly right. As awful as the adult world gets, the children of Haiti are miraculous.

Okay, so what does it take to build a school in Haiti? Well, first you have to buy the land. Contrary to what you might think, land is crazy expensive in the Port-au-Prince region. This isn’t surprising when you consider that 1.5 million people have no homes right now. People aren’t selling, and if they are, they’re charging premium prices. The school I visited near the US Embassy paid $2 million for 16 acres, which is actually pretty good, but it’s still $125,000 per acre. Yes, this is premium property in a very desirable location. Let’s use a number of $50,000 for an acre, assuming we can fit a small school within the acre.

With land bought, it’s time to get materials to the location. Let’s just say that the right materials, those that can withstand an earthquake, are a little hard to come by. Even if you get a terrific deal in a place like Miami, shipping them and getting them through customs is non-trivial, and very expensive (40% markup for customs). So why not use concrete or stone, you say? Well, a large portion of the population won’t allow their kids to sit underneath concrete, even now.

Haiti Partners built two new schools with steel, after the earthquake. Here’s one that I visited in Darbonne:

Such a school, which can accommodate as many as 250 kids, cost $75,000 to build. Adding the cost of land, we’re at $125,000, or $500 a child to get started. Add to this the yearly costs of running the school, which runs about $125,000 for a school that serves food to the children. Now we’re at $250,000 for the first year of school, or $1000 per child that first year and $500 a year thereafter. Multiply this by 20 for a typical class, and we’ve got $20,000 for the first year and $10,000 a year thereafter. These numbers include food and electricity but not Internet.

One estimate for school age children is three million. Current schools can accommodate no more than 800,000, so that’s 2.2 million without a seat at school. A little math leads us to some very large numbers if we want to build schools for all of these children and pay for them year after year.

But what if we didn’t build schools? What if we used existing structures, temporary structures, or even a circle of chairs as we did in Léogâne? Given my numbers for micro schools, that yields $350 startup costs per student (a savings of $650 per student) and yearly costs of $750 per student, which is $250 more than the school numbers. Okay, so that last number needs work. We can probably get monthly costs down to $1000 as well, though remember we’re providing Internet.

So let’s do the math … 2.2 million students x $1000 to build schools = 2.2 billion dollars versus 2.2 million students x $350 = 770 million dollars. That’s a difference of 1.43 billion dollars to get started. Assume we keep ongoing costs the same, even with Internet.

Yes, there will be savings should massive building takes place, just as there would be savings should 2.2 million laptops are shipped. No, I don’t know how much this would alter the numbers. For now, take these ballpark figures for what they are: a big enough reason for micro schools to justify an investigation of the idea. Saving 1.5 billion is a pretty compelling reason.

There are better reasons though, which have to do with what each child gets from a typical school versus what they get from a laptop-centered school.

But that’s another post.

Listening tonight to a Haitian radio station and watching the #haiti #election tweets flow by was a bit surreal. Anticipation was very high. Spoke with both Benaja and John Engle tonight as well. We’re on with the Cité Soleil pilot … power, food, schedule all okay. Benaja will even have time for us, which is great news.

Given that we’ll be doing our workshop during the runoff election, I was worried that Celestin, the Préval successor, would make the cut. Riots have been a daily event this last week. He’s a very unpopular candidate. Tear gas has been used to disperse crowds on several occasions in the last week. I’m not sure if it’s related, but the Delmas chief of police was shot dead yesterday. (We’re holding our workshop in Delmas.)

So finally the election supervisor begins reading the results in Petionville, three hours late. Listening to his French, listing election after election, region after region, was like pulling teeth. Finally the results: Manigat 31.37%, Celestin 22.48%, Martelly 21.84%. Less than a percent of difference between Celestin and Martelly.

Soon after, some tweets from a woman in Petionville, which is where John Engle lives and where I drove through every day for eight days:

* On the streets, “This place is gonna turn red. They’re gonna die, burn. It’s gonna go crazy.”

* 10 police vehicles just left CEP. Petionville is quiet mostly. Chilling w/ neighborhood guys.

* Well scratch that. Gun shots. Petionville

* People say protests coming up to Juvenat to Petionville now

* 8 police trucks just passed down toward canapé vert

* Radio reporting chaos at Canape Vert. Shouting, “Martelly Martelly”

* Multiple gunshots Petionville #Haiti. I guess this will be the theme of the evening.

* Riots reaching petionville. Machine gun fire. Hundreds in the street.

Okay, that last one was 2 minutes ago. It’s getting a bit too intense for me. I’m gonna calm down and read about Pakistan and Afghanistan for a while.

Knowing all these locations and caring about many dozen people there, to say nothing of … oh, I don’t know … it’s real. This isn’t news.

Yesterday’s post, prompted a good amount of discussion on various mailing lists, so today I’ll follow up with some specific ideas.

First though understand that it’s not my intention to say that schools serve no purpose, that they have no value. Quite the contrary. My visits to twenty schools in Haiti last month, several of them built after the earthquake, left me impressed and full of hope for the children and teachers I met. My purpose in these posts is merely to suggest a less expensive alternative for a country with a greater need than current funds or capacity are able to meet.

Let’s call these groups “micro schools”, which connotes both a sense of being small as well as having to do specifically to do with computers. Funding such a school will cost no more than $7000 up front for 25 laptops and training. This amount includes a school server, wifi access point, mini-mice, projector, screen, and 25 copies of courseware (printed books, videos, and files). It also includes two weeks of training for five mentors and six weeks of on-site followup and support.

Ongoing costs would be no more than $15,000 a year, which includes fair salary for each of the five mentors, along with money for electricity, Internet, and FOOD. Yes, it’s essential to feed everyone before every class. These amounts assume the mentors and children spend no more then 2.5 hours a day using the laptops, usually with a 90 minute class and another hour of work. To double the number of children, double the amounts.

But wait, you say, can’t you reach more children by having fewer than five mentors in each class? Why the insistence on a 4-to-1 mentor-student ratio? I’ll save the full answer for another post. For now, I’ll simply say that we’ve tried pretty much every permutation and 4-to-1 was the minimum to create a true environment of guided discovery in Haiti.

So let’s say we have such a micro school, with five mentors and twenty children. Where do they meet? Anywhere! In Léogâne after earthquake, there were no buildings standing to hold class so children carried chairs to a clearing and held class in a circle in the sunlight (made possible by the XO).

Just as Weight Watchers, twelve step, and countless other groups meet in the States, micro schools could meet in libraries, community centers, churches, etc. Using such structures for multiple purposes is a great use of limited resources. And should a space become unavailable, the micro school would simple move to another. Such an approach would allow a micro school turn into a real school, just as in Léogâne, where our pilot students moved into real schools months later.

Well, you say, that sounds like a lot of money for 25 students meeting for 2.5 hours. To understand our numbers, it’s vital to remember that we’re not trying to duplicate what other schools do already. We’re doing MUCH more.

But that’s another post. 🙂

A school is not a building; it’s a place where learning occurs. Reading “Three Cups of Tea” with tales of new bridges to carry wood and concrete, I’m left thinking, “Why so much cost, so much labor, merely to erect walls and roofs where children can meet?”

Once built, the work has just begun. Hundreds must travel daily to meet in too-large groups, to hear teachers speak *at* them, to take turns scrawling on chalkboards and precious paper. Of what benefit is this central meeting place to merit such a cost?

Imagine a world where cooking never happened at home. Imagine state-mandated cafeterias where hundreds traveled daily to sit quietly in rows while prepared meals where dished out without regard to individual taste. Imagine hours of journey each day to an unnecessarily remote place, to be served by adults who knew you only as one of many. Yes, this happens of course, in the military, in camps, in shelters. But never is this considered ideal. One always longs for the comfort of your own home to prepare and eat your family’s meal.

So long have we been stuck in the institutional rut we call “education” that we forget its original purpose: to provide skills for an industrialized workforce. Just as military canteens serve food for military purposes, schools serve knowledge for industrial needs. Learn your lessons, then take your place in the river of red lights you drive each night after a day of forms and calls and pointless meetings.

But it doesn’t have to be like this at all. Many of us learn and work with laptops from pretty much any location we want. For twelve years I’ve run my business without really knowing where in the world my associates are located. With the Internet and the computer, we’ve achieved true location independence, which allows us to live where we like, work where we like. I’ve long since left the days of rush hour waiting, so why are we asking children to walk miles to learn?

In Haiti, where only half the children go to a single day of school, why are we still talking about building schools? Why aren’t we talking about training adults to use laptops instead of chalkboards? Why aren’t the teachers going to the children, to teach in small local groups?

Why isn’t learning, as with cooking, an activity favored for the home?

We’re nearly done with our new Waveplace Accord, which details the roles and responsibilities of Waveplace and our partners. First though, we need to outline what we aim to do together. Here’s the text from our accord called “The Waveplace Plan”. This is a pretty good summary of the parameters we’ve tweaked throughout our 18 pilots. It took a while to get these right.

  • Each Waveplace class consists of five mentors and 20 children between the ages of seven and eleven. Classes are usually held after school for 90 minutes each day.
  • Each child and mentor receives for their personal use an OLPC XO laptop with the Sugar platform and Squeak Etoys learning environment.
  • Daily lessons are taught from the Waveplace Courseware, a collection of two-week units covering topics from a general primary school curriculum.
  • All classes teach the Basic Etoys unit first, which covers the Etoys learning environment itself. The remaining units can be taught in any order.
  • Mentors use techniques such as guided discovery, iterative refinement, and peer collaboration to foster a sense of ownership by each child of their own education.
  • Children build projects which can then shared through the Internet with other children and distance mentors for ongoing inspiration and guidance.
  • Children and mentors continuously reflect and write about their experiences, providing the basis for dynamic assessment and evolution of ideas.
  • Mentors are trained in two week workshops with five trainers and 20 mentors.
  • Mentors are typically taught concurrently with children at the start of a pilot. This allows them to witness our teaching approach directly as they reinforce their own understanding.
  • Waveplace stays in continual contact with all mentors, providing support and encouragement while requiring weekly progress reports and frequent uploads.
  • Waveplace assesses mentors at six month intervals, promoting mentors to higher pay levels as they meet specific criteria. Each mentor manages four mentors of the next lower level.
  • Mentors are encouraged to create new units to share with the Waveplace community, just as they use units created by educators worldwide.

More work today on proposals and budgets. Trying yet again to slim down my rap, the endless conversation, the Why of Waveplace. Today I told Beth, “The most important tool in writing is the delete key.” Someday I’ll be happy with it.

Here’s a great TED talk that covers many points. If you substitute “math” for “creative problem solving”, you’re pretty much there. I particularly like his highlighting of programming as a benefit in itself. Also great is the end, where he refers to the new subject, as yet unnamed, that should be the center of it.

During lunch I discovered “Auto-Tune the News” and watched for an hour or so. There’s a brilliance to semi-political commentary thrown in, the thoughts we all should be having, but aren’t. In this one, I love “maybe something in between, like mediocrity, etc.”

What does this have to do with Haiti? Pretty much everything. Teaching children to think for themselves starts with showing ways it can be done. We need a Mystery Science Theater approach to news and politics, questioning everything as we roll up our sleeves to fix things ourselves. Remix the world.