The Intel Education Service Corp (IESC), a team of Intel volunteers, is in Egypt helping children and teachers more effectively use the Intel-powered Classmate PCs. Mustapha Abdulai, a test research and development engineer, recaps first weeks experiences in Beni Suef, Egypt.
Making an Impact in Beni Suef
by Mustapha Abdulai
Our team arrived in Beni Suef which is a village in Upper Egypt (Upper = South) with the intention of maximizing the utilization of the 500 Intel-powered classmate PCs (CMPCs) deployed by the previous IESC team in 2009. Over the previous four days, the team retrained both technicians and teachers as well as providing maintenance to CMPCs.
Our NGO, CARE International, worked with each of the ten schools that have had CMPCs deployed to send at least one teacher and one technician to the Beni Suef Women’s Center for 2-days of training. Despite the fact that the teachers and technicians were requested to attend on their own time, after school hours, and had to travel for several hours they still showed up two hours before the scheduled training, full of excitement and ready to go.
For the first two days, the team split into a technical team (Hicham and I) and a teacher training team (Hadj, Gina and Bassam). At the end of the training sessions, we had a better understanding of some of the obstacles that have led to the underutilization of the CMPCs over the past year. Some of those barriers included undertrained teachers, miss-configured equipment (access point, teacher PC or CMPCs), undertrained technical staff and no single point of contact to escalate more complicated technical questions. The Technicians brought most of the nonfunctioning equipment with them to the training so we spent most of the second day debugging, ghosting new images onto CMPCs as well as resetting and configuring the Access Points. We also walked the teachers through a demo of the education software stack, with the teacher acting as students and we as teachers.We then visited each of the ten schools, breaking up into two teams so that we would have a native Egyptian on each team (Bassam took Hicham, Hadj and I took Gina). The first school did not have their network configured correctly which we quickly fixed and were able to walk the technician through a few how-to’s including how to restore a CMPC from an image on a USB stick. Each team visited about three schools per day so we arrived at some of the schools right around lunchtime which meant the kids got to either see us on our way in or out of the school. You can see how excited the kids were to see us, they immediately started practicing their English by asking us questions until they ran out of the standard questions and had to switch to Arabic. For a brief moment, we knew what celebrities must feel like but of course that feeling was short lived as we started our drive back on the very rough roads back to our hotel. We visited two schools were the CMPCs were already setup and was being used as intended, this made us very happy and hopeful that we can get all the other schools to this level. We were disappointed that we couldn’t get the systems up and running at two of the schools, one with a teacher laptop that blue screened every time we tried to reinstall Windows XP and the second with a completely nonresponsive access point. We took the laptop and access point back with us, we’ve contacted HP to get the laptop fixed and CARE will look into replacing the access point. Next week, we are roughing it to Al-Minya by taking the train and will be repeating the training and debug, we’ve learned so much about the teachers and the schools by now so our expectations are even higher for Al-Minya, stay tuned for more.