Sunday, April 15, 2007

One Laptop Per Child


The first One Lap Top Per Child school has received its computers, and I am sure that the teachers and children and community are very pleased with them. You can see more pictures at http://news.com.com/2300-1041_3-6175025-2.html?tag=ne.gall.pg
including children smiling with their shiny new computers.

While there is something to be said for Negreponte's One Laptop Per Child programme, and the computers cost $100 each and are wind up I do wonder if this is the most useful use of resources in a country that has huge class sizes, considerable poverty and easily curable diseases.

It seems to me to be part of the furore over the "digital divide" from a few years ago, which wasn't a digital divide at all, it was, and is, a wealth divide. Poor people have less access to technology because they are poor. The solution is not to give them bits of technology but to address the underlying causes. But that is more expensive, more difficult and if really done would affect the life styles of the rich:

Nigeria has something like 80 million children, so perhaps 50-60 million school age children, so the cost of simply buying the laptops is $8 billion. On top of this each school will require a satellite dish to connect to the internet - and that will need powering, so will require a generator and then there will be whatever the connection (usage) costs might be.

Then there is staff training if the computers are to be used effectively in school the pedagogy needs to change from one which is based on lack of resources - including text books - with the result that it is highly didactic to one which is based more on participation and sharing. This will be a huge culture shift for the whole of society. It may well be a good thing, but without such a change the project is likely to end up as little more than a way of downloading electronic text books. (Plus any personal use that the children may make of the computers).

If I am right about this then the cost of the computers will be a small fraction of the total cost of implementing a meaningful One Laptop Per Child programme. - running the systems, developing resources, staff training, IT support etc.

3 comments:

Elmaria said...

I am very interested in the world's perception of the OLPC project.
The first world has a lot to say about this project and, in general, the message seems to be that it is wonderful and "why did nobody think of this before". The reaction from the third world is a deafening silence. Having lived in Africa for 35 years, I understand that reaction.
I agree with your comments, as I see the project as interesting from a technological point of view, but completely misdirected. Only IT people could have come up with that idea to improve the lives of starving third world children!! How out of touch can one be with reality?
In any case, a lot of great IT development came out of it - a bit like the moon missions, amazing idea with great spin-offs, but pretty useless in itself in our current crisis-torn world.
As for the educational merit, any new input, no matter how irrelevant it might seem, will provide a starting point for more self-directed learning. What would be a great plus in those learning environments would be more teachers and better classrooms, simply to make the environment friendlier. Something to make an immediate difference to day-to-day living would be the best first world people can provide. These children often need to be fed at school - their only meal for the day. Health services are non-existent and even access to clean water is often a problem. Somehow I can understand the "we've-seen-this-kind-of-involvement-before" look on the parents' faces (see the additional photos from the link in the initial article).

wayan said...

Tom,

On OLPC News we did the budget calculations for One Laptop Per Nigerian Child, and they aren't pretty:

An OLPC purchase for all its students would absorb 73% of its entire government income while supplying laptops for each cohort of students and replacing worn out computers would be 13% of the government income per year.

Martin Dougiamas said...

I'd say the development of the OLPC itself should be thought of separately from the implementation of aid.

In my opinion, the name itself is a bit of a problem (one laptop per child!).

For sure, aid organisations and governments should be looking at providing water waaaaay before computers for all kids.

However, for those situations where you DO need computers and the education possibilities they provide, then it's very good to have those machines available.

The development and effort in producing them is immense, and has produced something that is extremely robust, powerful, very cheap and language-independent (icon driven). These are not like your average consumer model that needs a lot of expensive IT experience and infrastructure to back it up etc. The OLPC people have looked beyond just a cheap laptop to issues of power, networking, support etc.

It's terrific these devices exist and are available. It's up to others to implement them properly as part of a total plan for aid. Even one laptop per village would be amazing!