Providing Lesotho's Children with Keys to the World

This is the story of our efforts to end the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, inadequate education, and early death
in a remote rural community in Lesotho, Africa, by providing quality education and life skills
to the young children there. Join us on our journey ...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Project Support

A problem has arisen and it looks like the Nohana teachers will not be attending the January training Tony planned for them.  It is still uncertain whether or not the Kokobe teachers will be able to attend.
I had asked the teachers to pay for their own transport and food during training, but the Nohana teachers have just decided that they cannot pay.  Knowing that they might not be able to pay the expenses themselves, I also asked Matlabe to submit a proposal to Solon Foundation to pay for their training expenses.  (Cecily has already told me she would support such a proposal.)  However, Matlabe met with the Nohana School Board, and together they have refused to submit a proposal because they are afraid it will jeopardize their plans to submit a proposal to Solon for new desks. 
This is an indication of where Matlabe and the Nohana School Board’s priorities are, and unfortunately, they are not with the computer project.

Part of our original agreement was that the schools would pay a portion of the annual project expenses, and that they would eventually take complete control of the computer project, including funding.  If Matlabe, the teachers, and the Nohana School Board are not willing to make any effort, let alone personal sacrifices, to improve their own computer skills so they can help their students, then I see no reason for L2L to pay their share of the expenses. 

They are leaning on L2L too much and not doing enough for themselves.  It is my opinion that we must stay true to the project’s guiding philosophy.  We must let the project’s success or failure rest on their shoulders.

It is not clear yet how the Kokobe teachers will respond to the request to pay their expenses, either out of their own pockets or via a grant proposal.  I am hopeful that Alice will work with Florence to submit a proposal to Solon Foundation.   Florence is looking into the possibility of holding training just for the Kokobe teachers, possibly in Mohale’s Hoek, with lodging in a school dorm there.  It would cost the Kokobe teachers significantly less to travel to Mohale’s Hoek than to Morija or Maseru.

If that does not work out, we will fall back on Plan B.  The teachers would submit questions to Florence, then she and Mamatsepe would meet with Tony in Maseru to get his answers to the teachers questions.  Tony could also provide them further training on the XO laptops and the school servers, then Florence and Mamatsepe would travel to Ketane and train the teachers there.

Today is my last day as President of Laptops to Lesotho.  I have responded to these latest events as I saw best, a continuation of my slow dance of nudging, guiding, reinforcing, and prodding the Lesotho participants to get them to move in the direction I think will ensure their success.  As of tomorrow, it will be up to you all whether or not to continue down this path.  Whatever course you take, I have faith in you, and I look forward to supporting your efforts in the future.

Best wishes for a happy and fulfilling new year,

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review

My wonderful son, Craig, was born in Lesotho.  He loves to give unique and thoughtful gifts for birthdays, holidays, etc.  He did not disappoint me on my birthday.  Knowing my continued interest in Lesotho, he took the time to find books with Lesotho as the setting.

The first book I read was The Mountain School written by Peace Corps Volunteer Greg Alder.  Peace Corps Volunteers have a unique perspective on village life as they live as the Basotho do.  The author helped me experience what it is really like to live in the village of Tsoeneng.  I found his writing insightful, and it helped me get to know the characters in his book.  He was respectful of the culture and helped me experience life first hand in a Lesotho village.  The book was engaging and well written.  You can read more reviews and purchase it as an e-book on Amazon.

The other two books are Singing Away the Hunger, an autobiography by Mpho ‘M’ Atsep Nthunya, and Basali!: Stories by and about women in Lesotho. The books are on my nightstand and will be devoured over the Christmas break.

Sala hantle,


Monday, October 27, 2014

Proposed Budget for 2015

L2L Treasurer Vicki Panhuise and President Janissa Balcomb held an informal budget meeting on October 26th to draw up a draft budget for 2015, to present to the Board at their next meeting.
Here are the seven primary items L2L hopes to fund in 2015 --
  • Lesson Development and Software Licenses ($250)
  • Teacher & Student Training at Kokobe and Nohana Primary Schools ($7000)
  • Phase I of Project Expansion at Pela Tsoeu ($3524)
    • Evaluation,
    • Community Organization,
    • Leadership Development and Mentoring,
    • Limited Initial Hardware and Software Deployment, and
    • Introductory Teacher and Student Training
  • Volunteer Stipend, Expenses, & Training ($3576)
  • Hardware Repair and Replacement (from normal use) at Kokobe and Nohana ($2940)
    • deep-cycle solar power system batteries
    • laptop batteries, screens, keyboards, motherboards, replacement laptops
  • Shipment of donated laptops from Pueblo West High School to Lesotho ($1300)
  • Miscellaneous expenses ($300)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going Global? The Growing Movement to Let Kids Learn Just by Tinkering

Leslie Engle Young was at a schoolhouse in Agorhome, Ghana, surrounded by a room full of mystified fifth graders. None of them had ever used a computer or surfed the internet, and yet, Young had just handed out a stack of tablet computers, asking them to answer a few basic questions using these mysterious devices.

"The kids had no idea what was going on," she remembers. "The first girl who touched the tablet, I had to hold her finger to get her to touch it, because she was scared it was going to shock her."

Then, something happened that delighted and amazed Young: with no instruction whatsoever, the students started figuring it out. "It was instantaneous," she says. "They opened the browser, saw the empty bar at the top, and everyone just clicks on it. Then they're like 'Oh, there's a keyboard,' and started typing. It's like: 'How did you figure that out?'" By the end of a few hours, the students were presenting the new knowledge they'd acquired all on their own, using devices they'd never seen before.

Young is the director of impact for Pencils of Promise, a New York City non-profit that has built nearly 250 schools across Ghana, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Laos. Last month, Pencils of Promise began experimenting with an emerging style of teaching called the self-organized learning environment, or SOLE. In a SOLE classroom, rather than lecturing students, teachers pose a question and let them use technology and curiosity to arrive at an answer. It's a method designed to encourage critical thinking and knowledge retention.

The SOLE model didn't begin with Pencils of Promise. It's based on the theories, which WIRED explored in-depth last fall, of Sugata Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University. But Pencils of Promise is poised to take this growing movement a step further.

Rather than lecturing students, teachers pose a question and let them use technology and curiosity to arrive at an answer.

In 1999, Mitra launched a highly publicized experiment called Hole-in-the-Wall, in which he placed a computer in the middle of a New Delhi slum, and watched to see if kids could teach themselves to use it. They could, and they did. Mitra then parlayed that success into the creation of School in the Cloud, a set of schools based on the SOLE model. He argued that if students could use technology to take a more active role in their own education, they'd learn a lot more than they do in a standard classroom. Last year, Mitra won the $1 million TED Prize to bring the School in the Cloud to life.

Since then, the concept of child-led, technology-enabled education has flowered and is being tested in schools from New Jersey to Ghana. Other organizations like the X Prize are catching on, too. The non-profit recently launched its Global Learning X Prize, offering up $15 million in prize money for software that kids could use to teach themselves. Now, with Pencils of Promise on board, the SOLE model could potentially scale exponentially across its hundreds of schools. That is, if the Ghana pilot works.

Young says Pencils of Promise will be studying the two pilots in Ghana for at least the next six months, with help from a Newcastle University researcher. They'll track metrics like literacy and numeracy rates, but they'll also monitor student attendance to see if the SOLE really does keep kids more engaged, as well as its impact on students' critical thinking skills. If all goes well, the team plans to develop what Young calls "SOLE-in-a-box," that comes complete with tablets, a Wifi connection, and any other materials a teacher would need to run a SOLE.

It's important to note, however, that Pencils of Promise hasn't adopted Mitra's entire model, which entails essentially eliminating teachers and replacing them with technology. Technology, Young believes, can never replace a teacher. Instead, Pencils of Promise is teaching educators how to run a SOLE classroom for, perhaps, a few hours a week. That way, Young explains, the SOLE becomes just another part of the teacher's toolbox.

"We think teachers are really the answer to getting systemic change," she says. "They might teach 25 kids this year, another 25 next year, and so on and so on. If we can fundamentally change the way teachers are trained and supported then we would have a whole different education system."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Welcome Henk Boshoff - New L2L President

With our president, Janissa Balcomb, stepping down we are excited that board member, Henk Boshoff, has agree to take on the presidency for one year beginning Jan. 1, 2015.  Janissa has worked very hard to turn over a strong program when she steps down.  We wish her the best, and we are very happy that she will continue with L2L, only in a different role.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

L2L 2014 Trip Supports Student Learning

If furthering the mission of L2L was the goal for the 2014 trip to Lesotho, the trip was a success.  The village of Kokobe and its elementary school was the destination for the L2L team.  Another breathtakingly beautiful setting in the mountains of Lesotho awaited the volunteers.  Travel was arduous and accommodations were basic.  The enthusiasm of both students and teachers was infectious and made the trip well worth it.

Students were introduced to the use of a mouse and headsets.  Janissa had used the Scratch program to create some fun lessons to help students manipulate the mouse.  The training involved lessons that were tied to the math curricula. Evenings were spent writing lessons for the next day’s classes. The lessons were designed to help students’ problem solving skills.  Students were engaged in the lessons and both U.S. and Basotho teachers helped students with the day’s lesson.


Students were trained on how to set up the solar panels and set up the computers in the classroom.  This was an important step in developing long-term sustainability.  L2L president had the following to say about pacing for the project.

“We may not see a significant impact until the current first graders graduate

 or even until the next generation.  We are trying to make major changes in

the way people learn and think.  That takes time.  We have to be very

patient and keep plugging away at this.”


“One thing about our philosophy and approach is that we have to go at the pace

of the local participants, and we have to accept that delays or even outright

failures will happen.  That has to be part of their learning and growing process.

Part of learning to succeed is discovering that things aren’t always easy and that

failure is a possibility if you don’t try hard enough.  We as an organization have

to let the local participants succeed or fail based on their own investment in and

leadership of the project.  Then we have to mentor them in ways to overcome any

failures or setbacks.”

Kokobe teachers were left with the tools to help support their math curriculum with the XO Laptops.  With the project’s goal to develop long-term sustainability, the ball is now in their court.

                                                                   2014 Team

Note From The President

After 5 1/2 years as founder and head of Laptops to Lesotho (L2L), I will
be stepping down at the end of this year and shifting my focus to lesson
development. As a result, L2L is searching for someone to take over and
lead L2L into the future.

We are looking for someone who is familiar with Lesotho and has experience
working with Basotho.  Though we are based in the U.S., the president doesn't
necessarily have to be someone in the U.S.

We have a board member in Pretoria, South Africa, who is reluctantly willing
to act as Interim President, if necessary, until we can find someone who
will serve a full 3-year term.

In Lesotho, we currently have a native project leader, project
coordinator, and volunteer.  We also have seven directors in the U.S. and
South Africa and over 2 dozen part-time volunteers in 4 countries. Two of
the volunteers are handling fundraising, so that sometimes onerous task
would not necessarily be a part of the president’s duties.

As we are an all-volunteer organization, the presidency is a unpaid
volunteer position.

The president would primarily serve as a figurehead, leader, and
motivator, keeping the organization true to our founding philosophy and
approach, as well as acting as a liaison with our Basotho participants and
overseeing all project operations.

The L2L philosophy is to mentor, train, and encourage Basotho leadership,
with community involvement and investment in the project before the
schools or students receive any benefits, and to give Basotho control of
project design and daily operations.

L2L is currently supporting educational work at two schools in
Lesotho, serving nearly 600 students.  We are looking to expand to a
third school sometime in 2016, with groundwork being laid in 2015.

I plan to stay active on the Board, so I will be available to offer
support and guidance, if needed, as the new president gets familiar with
our work.

If you are interested in applying for the president's position, contact me

Janissa Balcomb