OLPC Mission Change: Constructionism & Competition, Gone!

olpc mission

OLPC History isn't the only mysterious change to the One Laptop Per Child website, laptop.org. If you read the OLPC Mission you'll notice that the goals of One Laptop Per Child itself are starting to shift.

First let us review the last paragraph of the original OLPC mission published on the laptop.org website:

OLPC is not at heart a technology program and the XO is not a product in any conventional sense of the word. We are non-profit: constructionism is our goal; XO is our means of getting there. It is a very cool, even revolutionary machine, and we are very proud of it. But we would also be delighted if someone built something better, and at a lower price.
Then, take a gander at the new mission for One Laptop per Child, the bland, pro-general education tag line that exists today:
OLPC is not, at heart, a technology program, nor is the XO a product in any conventional sense of the word. OLPC is a non-profit organization providing a means to an end--an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community.
Reading those two sections, did you note two changes that while seemingly minor, indicate a seismic shift in the mindset of the OLPC leadership?

Nigeria OLPC
The overall OLPC goal

Gone is the phrase "constructionism is our goal; XO is our means of getting there," which until recently was a key aspect of the OLPC program and the basis for Nicholas Negroponte's insistence this is an education project, not a laptop project.

Could this shift be in response to pressure from teachers rejecting Constructionism? The acknowledgment that OLPC needs to separate pedagogy from hardware, and invest in teacher education to succeed?

Gone too is the platform agnostic, "But we would also be delighted if someone built something better, and at a lower price" which deflected earlier criticism that OLPC was out to corner the sub $100 laptop market.

I bet that false invitation for competition was rescinded when the Classmate PC started running Linux, presenting a significant Open Source competitor to the Children's Machine XO.

Taken together, this change to the OLPC mission, its core goals, may actually be for the good of the program. The previous overriding and sometimes rabid emphasis on Constructionism and the infallibility of children to self-educate has made the OLPC leadership seem completely ignorant of the real experience of education in the developing world. In addition, the smugness of the false call for hardware competition belied an arrogance that invited criticism of the XO technology.

The new mission, because of its very blandness, will allow each country, each participant, each student the opportunity to see in that mission their own hopes, dreams, life learning goals.

For once, bland may be better.

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Very good catch, Wayan. If they also start to be more sensitive to demands for testing and even allow smaller-sized acquisitions, like 1.000 instead of 100.000 computers at a time, then it will mean that the overlords of the OLPC have reached the conclusion that flexibility will be needed to achieve their goals. A welcome change.

As I've said before, my problem with the OLPC concept is the rather unmovable attitude about "do as we tell you, or else". This change may demand a different discussion, about exactly how to use it, under which circumstances, and what levels of investment may work or not in specific countries / regions. In other words, countries having to plan and set goals, instead of just waiting for the magic to happen (and then having to clean the mess.)

Constructionism isn't a term that is readily accessible to newcomers to the field of education. From my own experience, I didn't find it self-explanatory and had to spend some time googling other resources before I built an understanding of the concept.

Whether in line with a change of OLPC philosophy or not, perhaps the removal of the term was inevitable in the evolution of the mission statement.

I'm sure there are other reasons also, perhaps as speculated by Wayan, but wouldn't it be easier to ask someone involved?

I realise I'm a bit late with this response, but assuming the Mission Statement hasn't changed in the meantime, constructionism is referenced 2 paragraphs prior:

"XO embodies the theories of constructionism first developed by MIT Media Lab Professor Seymour Papert in the 1960s, and later elaborated upon by Alan Kay, complemented by the principles articulated by Nicholas Negroponte in his book, Being Digital."

Whether "embodies the theories of constructionism" and "constructionism is our goal" are equivalent is a matter for debate, but it's not like all references have been dropped.


There is a huge difference between a general "embodies the theories of constructionism" and the absolute "constructionism is our goal" as it relates to OLPC.

"Constructionism is our goal" was used by OLPC leadership as the ultimate justification for key aspects of the technology, methodology, and most dear to me, the dismissal of a defined local-level implementation plan.