Enhancing Communication in the Pacific Islands

Our group chose to focus specifically on developing the beginnings of an all-in-one kit for schools in Chuuk alongside Dr. Laura Hosman, a political science professor at Cal Poly. This kit contains hardware and software for students built around the RaspberryPi platform. We aimed to design the parameters and scope of this product so that an inter-disciplinary class at Cal Poly, led by Dr. Hosman, can develop the actual technology in Winter 2015.

Project Goals
…to deliver technology and communication to schools in Chuuck.
…to develop solutions for delivering the All-in-one RaspberryPi kits.
…to aid the work of Dr. Hosman and her project, PISCES (Pacific Islands Schools, Connectivity, Education, and Solar).
… to understand the confluence of development, technology, politics, and education through ICT4D (Internet Connectivity Technology for Development).


History and Background
The Federated States of Micronesia are located in the Western Pacific Ocean and include four main island groups — Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap, and Chuuk.

Following World War II, Micronesia became a United Nations trust territory. In 1986, it became an independent nation as well as a protectorate of the United States. Currently, Micronesia grants limited governance to the United States, from economic assistance to full defense responsibility to a substantial number of grant and program assistance; current agreements last until 2023.

The United States’ Department of Education provides substantial education aid to Micronesia and is where much of this project’s funding comes from. Notably, all the schools in Chuuk are built to the standards of American schools, though many are connected to the rest of the world by only a dirt road. Technology is also lacking from the schools, and it is the goal of our project to use communication technology to facilitate better education.


Micronesia and Education Goals
Micronesia is striving towards incorporating technology based education in their classrooms. Listed below are the five education goals that were identified in the the 2009 Focused Strategic Plan in FSM and demonstrates support for adequate technology in classrooms:

1) Improve the quality of learning in the FSM
*Declining level of student achievement is a major and this is partly due to poor and inadequate environments including lack of appropriate textbooks, learning materials, libraries and IT
2) Improve the quality of teaching in the FSM
3) Consolidate performance monitoring and data based decision making system
4) Strength participation and accountability of the education system to communities
5) Ensure that education is relevant to the life and aspirations of the FSM people, meets manpower needs, improves lifelong learning, enables students to complete post-secondary education and assists in the economic and social development of the FSM.

  • Improve grants and cooperation funds for education materials including ICT

A major obstacle to providing optimal education in Micronesia is the lack of technology resources (schools and materials) are present but educated instructors are lacking.

The Links between Internet Connectivity and Development

internet versus literacy rate.jpg
Internet Connectivity vs. Literacy Rates; it is clear that internet usage precludes (though is not necessary for) increased literacy.
internet versus gdp cap.jpg
Internet Connectivity vs. GDP Per Capita; The standard measure of development, GDP seems directly, positively correlated to internet connectivity.
internet versus child mortality.jpg
Internet Connectivity vs. Child Mortality; Again, a direct, negative correlation between internet connectivity and another standard for development.

Important information about Chuuk community
Research on the Chuuk community brought up input from community members that have been frustrated with the lack of communication and/or organization in the government and education system. The lack of communication and organization had been blamed for the inadequate education Chuuk students receive and for the significant number of students failing to perform at academic standards.
We must keep this community tension in mind and not contribute to this problem.

PISCES and the current project
PISCES is an endeavour hoping to “demonstrate a complete, replicable model for bringing solar powered computer-technology and internet connectivity to underserved schools and communities.” Dr. Hosman is one member of the team, which has been working since 2011. Some of their partners: The United States Department of Education, Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, SolarCubed, and iSolutions.

The goals and projects of PISCES are diverse and ever-evolving with the mission. Their current undertakings include but are not limited to:
…. harnessing the RACHEL server system to deliver off-line educational content to schools.
… .deploying 53 BananaPi units, in this first run. The units, pictured below, are portable computers the size of a credit card which connect to screens/keyboards/mouses/tablets. “Solar-Computer-Labs-In-A-Box.”
… teaching education professionals to use these tools to enhance education.
…constructing and teaching local professionals to maintain intra-net wifi through the islands of Chuuk.
… deploying cheap, portable weather stations for use by schools and the government.
… bringing solar-powered, wireless internet access to the University of Guam.

The PISCES group emphasizes the importance of training and education over simply deploying technology; their biggest challenges and breakthroughs occurred when the potential of the technology was unlocked by the local professionals and students.

Design Considerations for the All-in-One kits

  1. Electricity/Power/Energy: Extremely low power and long battery life; robust handling of electrical spikes, swings, dips, blackouts, and brownouts; and—ideally—at 12-volts DC to be solar-power ready
  2. Cost: Balance must be found between the lowest cost and solid, reliable, functional technology
  3. Environment-Related Issues: Reliability/ruggedness/durability are all of paramount importance (resistance to water, humidity, dust, dirt, and extreme heat); no moving parts recommended; screens are hard to repair and difficult to read in direct sunlight
  4. Connectivity: Essential to the usefulness of just about any device in any location; is what creates value for entire ICT4D ecosystem: the more connected, the more valuable the network. Main method advocated was WiFi
  5. Maintenance & Support: The best technology needs no support. Transportation for repair, maintenance, and support is expensive. Sourcing spare parts is a challenge. Technology that cannot be locally maintained, supported, and repaired is not sustainable.

Raspberry Pi (Yum!)
The Raspberry Pi is a small sized computer that plugs into a T.V. or keyboard. Despite its small size (size of a credit card) it can be used in electronics projects and performs common PC functions such as word processing.


Running RachelPacific

RachelPacific contains educational content such as…
… E-Books (Audio) in both English and Chuukese
… Wikipedia Information
… Supporting materials for teachers
*The server can be pre-installed on Raspberry and Banana Pi’s to reduce reliance on Wi-Fi.

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What our group was able to accomplish this quarter
-We recruited a computer engineer to volunteer his time to work with the software in the all in one kits. He was able to make the programs originally meant for the Rasperberry Pi to be compatible with the more cost-effective version called the Banana Pi
-We are working on a report outlining Dr. Hosman’s progress in the project so far as well as how the project can further be aided by next quarter’s class

A potential projects for next quarter to work with
-Dr. Hosman is currently attempting to design a holding case for the different components of the all in one kit. A potential project for next quarter’s class is to design this all in one kit case prototype.

Dr. Hosman’s blog, ICT4D:
An article Dr. Hosman published for the Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs, on “Training Trumps Technology” and the general scope of the PISCES project:
RACHEL, the curriculum delivering technology:
SolarCubed, providing solar technology:
BananaPi, that chill littleportable computer:
Inveneo, a close supporter of the project:

UNIV 391 webpage pic.jpg

Team Members

Brandon O’Rourke Political Science brandono@live.com or 425-638-9688
Yenny Zaldivar Biology jzaldiva@calpoly.eduor 408-688-6937
Carter Sandzimier City and Regional Planning csandzim@calpoly.edu or949-338-7092

Past Comments
Pete: Very good development of the background. You spoke with me about the two different options you had to engage with. Have you chosen one? Can you outline what you are going to do? Present website grade: 8/10