What Went Wrong With The Walrus' OLPC Review?

   
   
   
   
   

Over on The Walrus, "a Canadian general-interest magazine with an international outlook", praised author Jon Evans has put forth his learned opinion on One Laptop Per Child: What Went Wrong. Its only Too bad that Jon Evans is what went all wrong on an XO laptop review:

The screen and keyboard are tiny even for a netbook. Even its vaunted connectivity is badly flawed: my XO completely failed to connect to encrypted Wi-Fi networks that worked with both my other laptops. When you do connect, its Web browser fails to show paragraph breaks on Wikipedia pages, making the world's greatest collection of free information hard to read - on a laptop allegedly designed for education!

Nepal olpc art
Does Limbu script have paragraph breaks?

Apparently for Jon, the computing key to revolutionize education is to connect to encrypted WiFi networks so children can read properly formatted Wikipedia entries.

Forget mesh networking, sunlight-readable displays, localization, or indestructibility, he suggests the Acer Aspire One netbook as the learning tool of choice. And what is Jon's qualifications to have such an opinion?

I like to think I'm more qualified to do this than most - I write novels for a living, and have travelled through dozens of developing nations

Which I feel should be his exact disqualification to think he knows best what's right for a child in the developing world. Jon is approaching the XO as an adult with years, maybe decades of computer usage history. He already has a pre-formed idea of what computer speed, user interfaces, and connectivity models should be. Worse, he thinks that somehow children can learn learning using a cell phone:

What Negroponte & co. should have done was One Smartphone Per Child; a smartphone is not much different from a netbook that can connect to both cell networks and Wi-Fi, and has GPS...and that you can also use as, well, a phone.

good_friends_n_xos-2.jpg
Nepalese XO laptop results

Now rather than suggesting that I might be the expert to rebuff Jon's postulations, I'd like to offer two outstanding examples of why The Walrus is wrong.

  1. The success of OLE Nepal's deployments:
    In SEED Magazine's Nepal: Laptop School dispatch, Gaia Vince shows us how Rabi Karmacharya is using the XO laptop to deliver high-quality education in a valiant effort to educate a generation:
    At the start of the school year last April, the group began a test run of 200 computers, donated by the Danish IT Society, in two of Nepal's rural schools, for grades 2 and 6 (ages 6-7 and 11-12 respectively). This April, the project is expanding to 15 more schools across five districts, distributing a total of 44,000 6,600 laptops funded by a consortium of European bankers.
    Does Acer have dedicated educational leaders like Rabi on their deployment teams? I think not.

  2. Laptops are better than phones for educational change:
    None other than Cory Doctorow, in the Guardian says laptops, not mobile phones, are the means to liberate the developing world:
    I believe that the world's poor will derive lasting, meaningful benefit from widespread access to technology and networks. And I believe that laptop computers will eventually find their way into the hands of practically every child in the developing world, even if the OLPC project shuts its doors tomorrow.

    Cory goes on to point out that cellular networks, unlike laptops, make it near impossible to add custom software, are always pay-to-use, and quickly controlled or turned off by governments. And those are better reasons against hardware than Wikipedia paragraph breaks

Oh and if Jon really is going to suggest the right One Laptop Per Adult I would suggest he educate himself with the HP Mini Note.

Related Entries

19 Comments

What reviews has the XO laptop had written by students, teachers, tutors, education leaders or those dedicated to helping communities like the ones receiving via G1G1?

For childrens' review of the XO we have several accounts: Children's Reviews of OLPC XO Technology and Geeks and Kids ♥ One Laptop Per Child Technology, but we do not have fully objective trials of which OS children would prefer if given an XO or other laptop in a neutral setting that I know of. Seems no one can/has develop an objective test for that.

I don't think that really matters at this point, since you can't really compare a UI built as a learning tool for children to a UI built for suits as far as personal preference goes.

We really need to find the opinion of the XO from the perspective of those already invested in helping communities like the ones targeted for the OLPC program. If they hate it, what needs to change? If they love it, what can make it even better? Either way, I have yet to see anything remotely like that sort of review.

Evaluation is an integral part of OLE Nepal's implementation of the OLPC project in Nepal. Our intention is to fine tune the implementation model depending on the findings of the evaluation. There was a formative evaluation carried out at the test schools last year. You can read a summary of the evaluation in our blog http://blog.olenepal.org/index.php/archives/321 This year when we expand to more schools and more districts, we will be studying the impact of the laptops on children's learning.

Good article, one correction.

Nepal will receive 6600 XO's not the 44,000 as the SEED article says.


Who supports Sugar when the devs skip town in 1 or 2 years for other projects?

The OLPC Project failed for a very simple reason: it is an absurd idea that extremely poor countries can provide their children with laptops when they can't even provide them with a basic education or electricity.

It's like trying to sell a bow tie to Tarzan.


Get real.

It surprises me that people are still stuck with this cliche about how OLPC will fail in poor countries because of the lack of basic education and electricity. Well, how about using OLPC to promote and deliver basic education? These laptops can be a great resource to teach kids math, science, English.

I have traveled to remote villages and visited rural communities where local groups and parents have vowed to contribute the earnings from their cooperatives to help fund for part of the cost. This is not to say that we should use up their hard earned money from community projects on the laptops. First we have to ensure that OLPC *can* have positive impact on children's learning, and then we should seek ways to pay for the costs involved. If the communities find that the laptops do help them and their children, believe me, these parents will give all they can to give their children a shot at a better future.

Just ten years back, people would have laughed if someone had predicted that cell phone usage would have penetrated Nepal's rural areas the way it has now. Communities understand that the introduction of laptops to the schools means being connected to the outside world and access to a wealth of information that they can all benefit from. When Nepal TV was launched in mid 1980s, critics questioned the significance of TV station in a country where people do not have TVs. Guess what, even the remotest villages have TVs and people regularly watch news and other programs in places where newspapers cannot reach.

If a country can't find the financial resources to build a school and hire teachers, where is it going to find the money to buy these laptops that are useless (in an educational context) without schools and teachers?

Unless you buy into the risible and demented idea that mere possesion of a laptop will miraculously result in a formal education...

I agree with many of his critiques- the XO team was naive in many ways. The laptop's keyboard is indeed hard to use (yes, even for kids). The laptop is indeed horribly slow.

That being said, I still like it overall. It's more rugged than an Acer and costs less. I can view Wikipedia pages just fine with my XO laptop- perhaps they need to upgrade their OS. I agree that it's annoying that encrypted WiFi doesn't work, but a kid in rural Niger doesn't need to worry about that. And arguing that kids in Sub-Saharan Africa are being harmed because they're not using a Windows interface is silly- my first computers were TRS-80s and Apple IIs, and I had no problem moving to a graphical interface. Once the kids learn how to use a trackpad in a GUI on the XO, I think they'll be able to figure out Windows or MacOS.

But- you can't defend the XO's shortcomings by saying that it's only intended for poor kids in Nepal on one hand while selling them direct to Americans through G1G1 on the other. This is why the G1G1 program failed- For the cost of an XO laptop (x2- you're actually buying two), you can get a more fully featured netbook. So people spent their money elsewhere.

@Robbie Honerkamp:
"The laptop's keyboard is indeed hard to use (yes, even for kids). The laptop is indeed horribly slow. "

Compared to what? Remember that the alternative for these children is NO computer and NO connectivity at all.

The XO could be better. Actually, PixelQi is building a better one.

But any complaint that the OLPC should have use an Acer eee instead of designing the XO is laughable (like in the article). The Acer was designed BECAUSE the XO was build. Futhermore, no Acer eee would last long in the places the XO has to go.

"But- you can't defend the XO's shortcomings by saying that it's only intended for poor kids in Nepal on one hand while selling them direct to Americans through G1G1 on the other."

The first G1G1 was set up because Americans were begging the OLPC to sell them the XOs. The OLPC has always insisted that they would NOT sell to the developed world. After it became clear their distribution and marketting plans didn't work, the G1G1 were set up to get laptops to the children.

Each and every buyer knew what they were going into (hardware wise).

Winter

Winter wrote:

"The first G1G1 was set up because Americans were begging the OLPC to sell them the XOs."

Only American GEEKS were screaming to be allowed to buy. And Negroponte sold a good amount, even they botched the delivery.

The second G1G! Prpgram failed miserably because there were no more GEEKS left to foot the bill.

Conclusion: regular folks DO NOT have any interest in the XO. They see competing products (by Intel, Asus, HP, etc) as much better, thus the good business for others and the poor business for OLPC.

@Irv:
"Conclusion: regular folks DO NOT have any interest in the XO. They see competing products (by Intel, Asus, HP, etc) as much better, thus the good business for others and the poor business for OLPC."

I think only Wayan might be more obsessed by the OLPC than you are. And I am pretty sure you are not a geek.

Therefore, Irvin, you just disproved your own statement: There are non-geeks like yourself who are totally obsessed by the XO.

Winter

Irv the reason the 2nd G1G1 had lower sales than the 1st G1G1 is because the US economy is in the worst state since the 1st Republican depression. The G1G1 was planned and the XOs for it, ordered from the factory before the sharp decline of the economy became obvious to the general public.
Many people have held off spending any significant amount of money on non-essentials because of the change in the economy. There have been many layoffs and uncertainty in the US with these factors having more effect in November and December. The retail sector had major decline in sales and other computer manufacturers have had a drop in sales. Intel is closing plants due to lack in demand. The failure is not OLPCs. The failure is the US economy.

Brisalta wrote:

"Irv the reason the 2nd G1G1 had lower sales than the 1st G1G1 is because the US economy is in the worst state since the 1st Republican depression"

Your point would be valid if all laptop retailers had the dramatic sales drop that the XO had. However, that's not the case.

In fact, "netbooks" are selling like hotcakes:

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20081221-netbook-sales-surge-in-economic-downturn-wheres-apple.html

@Winter: Asus EeePC

Acer Aspire One

Asus Eee came before Acer A1. And unlike OLPC, they sell to the general public and are able to get volume costs going.

Instead of "Books, not bombs" the reviewer sounds more like -- "Phones, not books" (with a laptop-educational-book-reader equating to a lot of books).


nevertheless -- there's no such thing as bad publicity? At least it is still getting serious reviews/articles, nit-pick though we may.

When the writer of this article used the amazingly tired and thoroughly debunked "get market prices texted to you while fishing off the Indian coast" shtick I knew that he was a hack. That line is the "Information Superhighway" of the early 21st century.
The OLPC is clearly inferior to the Acer Aspire One (I have both) in computing power. OLPC is not meant for supplementing desktop computers though. It is meant to be an educational tool for the third world. Whether it has been successful in that effort remains to be seen, but comparing it to most anything else (warts and all) is pretty weak.

Brisalta wrote:

"Irv the reason the 2nd G1G1 had lower sales than the 1st G1G1 is because the US economy is in the worst state since the 1st Republican depression"

Republican depression? that is just stupid on so many levels and it makes you sound like a f**y liberial - i know this is old fourm but seriously, *a*

oh yha there is a problom when shit dont display right and it cant connect right

XO Tablets for Sale

Buy Your XO Tablet on Amazon.com
OLPC is selling the new XO Tablets on Amazon.com for just $149. Buy yours today!

xo-tablet-amazon.jpg

Discussions

Recent Comments

Community Forum

Close