Read more about Scott Harper’s trip to Nepal here.

Monday, 18 November, 2013, 1:10 p.m.

I must begin this update with some words of caution: Beware an 8-year-old Nepali kid named Rahul running around the Internet. If I hadn’t already unleashed him, I have surely done so now, because I helped create a Facebook account for him. In all seriousness, I didn’t do that because I thought it necessary or even a good idea, but rather because Rahul was adamant about being able to keep up with me and show my photos to his family once I leave. He even was to the point of begging that I give him my login information without really understanding what that would entail. So I gave him a personal lesson about how Facebook works, edited his privacy settings to appropriate levels, and provided a set of rules to follow when using the website. The latter includes parental oversight and very strict and clear instructions never to send or receive ‘friend’ requests from strangers. So, I suppose if you want to test him, send him an invite. If all goes according to plan, you should be rejected.

Group work

Group work

Of course, all that is outside regular lessons at Eejot, which have themselves seen some more success. I have continued with the learn-as-you-go method of teaching concepts while the students are physically using the computers in groups of two or three. Perhaps due to a strong bias toward math and science in their regular education, lessons that have to do with numbers, equations, graphs, etc. seem to be the most successful, even when working in MS Word. For example, my lesson about how to insert formatted equations into a document was soaked up exceptionally well. Even a girl of about 7 was so adept at grasping the concepts of equation building that by the end of the day, she had guided at least three other girls through the exercise. I can see this method working for up to three students per computer, especially if there are a couple of ‘teaching assistant’ students to help the instructor keep everyone on task. It might even be flexible enough to accommodate the prevalence of habitual tardiness, because the earlier students can easily fill in the later ones.

There are still many issues to be ironed out, especially some sort of structure that ensures each student gets to actually complete the exercise with their own hands and head. But even as it is, I see the students learning a lot more than when they struggled to take notes from my formidable whiteboard lectures. And I think the best part of this last week has been that I have finally noticed some breakthroughs in critical thinking skills, even if only in certain students. I can ask them why they are doing a task in a particular way, and they can explain in their own words. Dynamic mental models of the world are being expanded, meaning hopefully some independent thoughts about what computers can do will be next.

In other news, literally and not at all facetiously, tomorrow is Nepalís national election for the Constituent Assembly, a body of representatives roughly analogous to Congress, if my rudimentary understanding is correct. And if you know anything about Nepal’s recent political history, or honestly any of Nepal’s political history since 1800, it doesn’t have a great track record for maintaining a stable government. Especially since the royal massacre of 2001, in which the crown prince allegedly killed his whole family and then himself, there has been a fairly continuous state of unrest across the country.

The closest I approached the Sisautiya polling center at the public school

The death of the royal family marks the definite end of the monarchy’s restraint of the Maoists, a group of militants inspired by their namesake, who had already been simmering in the mountains. After another seven years or so, a portion of the Maoists came to terms with the new democratic government and began participating in elections. Yet the other portion was still not satisfied, resulting in the current situation of the anti-government Maoists actively working to stop the election. There has been a week-long, country-wide strike leading up to the elections, which has halted all public transportation, including the long-distance buses to Sisautiya. As such, it is a good thing I wasn’t planning on going anywhere until after the election; otherwise, I’d be walking.

A ballot using symbols for parties, considering Nepal's 57% literacy rate

A ballot using symbols for parties, considering Nepalís 57% literacy rate

Although there’s not much precedent for danger to foreigners because so much of Nepal’s economy depends on tourism, I have still been keeping away from large groups that have politics as a potential topic of conversation, upon recommendation from the Jhas. Either way, the election fever can’t be shut out completely, especially when there are frequently cars or motorcycles, and occasionally whole motorcades of vehicles parading down the road flying the flags of a particular party. And despite the assurances of some individuals that there is no real support of political parties, which I would view as reasonable considering the ineffectiveness and corruption endemic in the system, I find that difficult to believe based on the time and energy I have seen people expend on the subject.

Of course, maybe politics is more a form of entertainment and an unusual diversion than a legitimate concern. It certainly seems like the common people are going to continue what they do regardless of who gets voted into office. But I wouldn’t complain if an honest government managed to keep the funds for a paved road to Sisautiya from draining into personal pockets. That would go a long way toward keeping the dust out of Eejot’s computers, among many other things.

Dust, courtesy of the unpaved road, illuminated by morning sun at Eejot

Dust, courtesy of the unpaved road, illuminated by morning sun at Eejot

[Election follow-up: Overall, the election was conducted peacefully, with few incidents, and was seen as a milestone in Nepal’s progress toward becoming an effective democracy. Regardless, even with an election considered to be run fairly, candidates were known to use heavy-handed tactics because personal wealth (itself likely accumulated through corruption) can negate most legal punishments though bribery. In a village nearby to Sisautiya, an armed man hired by a crooked candidate reportedly ‘damaged’ several people (in the words of Prabhat and Prashant’s uncle, Subodh), although not seriously, before being apprehended.]