Leverage Afghan Children: More XO Laptops, Not Troops


A recent editorial in the New York Times, "More Schools, Not Troops" suggested that instead of sending 40,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, we could build thousands of schools there.

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Empowering girls' education
"For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there."
Building schools is a great idea but is a long term project and should be done by the Afghans themselves, albeit with outside help. I feel direct distribution of educational materials to children would offer a quicker and possibly greater impact.

Such a program would, as Nicholas Negroponte says, "leverage the children", to teach themselves in a country that lacks teachers and schools. I suggest that the distribution be in three stages:

  • Stage 1. A backpack containing inexpensive items, such as paper, pencils, crayons, ruler, calculator, hand lens, etc.
  • Stage 2. A solar lantern for power and so that kids can work after dark. An example lantern is the "d.light" which has a solar panel and can also charge mobile phones.
  • Stage 3. XO laptop.

Using a staged approach, by the time kids receive laptops, their parents will be interested and feel that the program is not some CIA conspiracy but a genuine desire to help. I'm guessing that the backpack would cost $20, the lantern $30, and the laptop $100. Distribution costs might be $100, making the total cost per kid about $250. So the comparison is between one soldier, 20 schools, or 1000 education kits.

I have some questions about this idea that OLPC News readers might be able to answer:

  1. The solar panel should be able to charge the laptop as well as the lantern but the d.light web page does not provide enough detail to tell if it does. Maybe a more expensive system is required.
  2. Can the Measure Activity on the laptop monitor and plot solar panel voltage (i.e., solar radiation) and battery charge, with data points say, every 10 minutes? This could help keep the battery charged as well as teach a bit of electricity, meteorology, and graphics.
  3. Can the XO come with prepackaged hardcopies of Wikipedia and Google Maps to mimic an encyclopedia and world atlas? How many books can be stored in a laptop? The laptop should remain useful by itself, without wi-fi communications if it is stolen, smuggled, or whatever.
  4. What should be the order of distribution? Obviously the Afghan government should decide this but here are some ideas.

Every kid in the country should get a backpack as soon as possible to provide some quick results and publicity for the program. Then lanterns and last, laptops. Start with schools that already have laptops, then urban schools, and finally rural areas. Maybe some city kids could become teachers in rural areas.

If the older kids get laptops before the young ones, they will be able to help teach the younger ones and also be less likely to steal laptops.

Douglas McLain, at 71 years old, is becoming a grouchy old man.

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I made a comparison of the Dlight products and found out that they all use 6 volt batteries.

A kerosene light is only 2 to 4 lumens compared to a 60 watt bulb with 900 lumens. energisticsystems.webkit.com/kerosene.html

The Dlight Kiran S10 is five times brighter than a kerosene lantern or a 20 lumens.

The Dlight Solata Solar LED Lantern is 5 - 6 times brighter than a kerosene lantern or 24 lumens.

The Dlight Nova S200: Mobile Charging Solar Lamp is 8 to 10 times brighter than kerosene lamp or 40 lumens.

I have a Coleman rechargeable LED lantern that 145 lumens on High. It lasts 5hr high and 10hr low. It uses a 5amp 6 volt battery.

Basically, each student would need to have enough battery storage to use when there was no sun.

WikiBrowse ( http://wiki.laptop.org/go/WikiBrowse ) exists for English or Spanish articles, but not for the main Afghan languages (Dari/Persian and Pashto). FA.wikipedia.org has many articles in Farsi/Persian, which hopefully is not too different. Someone closer to the project would know better.

As for Google Maps, a map of Afghanistan alone is a large amount of data. The Map Activity ( http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Activities/Map ) needs internet access, but maps can be dragged to the frame and saved as an image. I maintain the project and haven't seen a download from Afghanistan.

There's also the possibility of a less-detailed map in SVG. It'd be an interesting project, if it was something the Afghan program wanted to do.

Great idea, Douglas.

Maybe you should email Vivek Kundra. He is Obama's CIO, and he's an open source fan.

your given solution is no doubt perfect for Afghanistan even for Pakistan. Children in our region needs educational facilities like you mention. OLPC should focus in this region.

Why focus exclusively on children? Probably many Afghan adults would like additional education too. If we are going to keep spending billions of dollars there, why not saturate the country with telecomputing equipment. Most people would love the new toys, and any Taliban fanatics that try to destroy the new telecomm infrastructure would make enemies among the more sane local people.

"More XO Laptops, Not Troops"

What a foolish remark!

Afghanistan needs **both** security (for which armed, well-trained troops -whether Afghan or US - are basically the only option) **and** development opportunities (of which OLPC is one of many options).

To simply suggest replacing security with laptops or schools ... and wait for the Taliban to come blow them up ... is just , well , a foolish statement.

Project development is part of my mission here in Iraq. It is not just building the school, you need teachers that are willing to work and teach. Most of the destroyed schools here in Iraq were destroyed by AQI (insurgents). Therefore teachers are scared to go to work.

You need the Soldiers and personnel from other agencies such as Department of State to engage local authorities and find out if they need a school, because in many cases they rather get potable water or other basic services.

When we find out what their priorities are, let us use the school as one of their main priorities, we need to find out if there are teachers for this school because a school without teachers is just a building.

Government Agencies and NGOs such as the Institute for Peace, among others use Soldiers for Security, because these people are high value targets for the insurgents and without Soldiers most likely they would not be able to build the school anyway. Contrary to popular believe, Troops are not just for combat operations.

Additionally, if the writer of the article is talking about schools build of mud and stick, yea you might be able to build 20 for the price of one Soldier. However, if the plan is to do it right it cost a bit more that that. I agree that fixing the education problem would fix many other problems not only in Afghanistan but also here in Iraq and in many other places in the world.

However, when the culture of the country is to keep people ignorant so they can be convinced to strap a bomb to their body to kill infidels, it does require a lot more than just sending a backpack with inexpensive school materials followed by a solar lantern and a laptop. It requires a network of people to deliver these items and help the people understand the importance of education.

Before I forget USF in Iraq, have delivered thousands of backpacks with inexpensive school materials to thousands of kids and build hundreds of schools in Iraq. I told a headmaster in one of the Schools I visited that he and the other teachers that are still willing to go to work in a building that I would not let any of my daughters get close to it, much less stay there for a class, with no drinking water or bathroom, that they were my heroes.

He did not ask for a computer or school supplies he asked for a bathroom and running water for the kids. After reading the article it is obvious to me that the person that wrote it has never been in a conflict area and has no idea what is he talking about.

You've got to think outside the box. The standard approach of building schools, hiring teachers, etc that you describe, won't work well in Afganistan because the security situation is so bad.

With olpc you can make an end run. Produce millions of XO's loaded up with books and self-instructional software, and simply give them to the innumerable children who have no schools to go to. It's not ideal, but they can learn a whole lot on their own, and it's far better than any other option.

Hi Guys,

I'd love to write comments... but not really my job... so let me answer the questions...

To make it clear - please see www.olpc.af - many parties are involved in a serious pilot running here.

Re the power requirements - you may have noticed our previous human power efforts. Data about the XO power consumption is on the OLPC wiki.

I would invite those folks interested if they can help us in any way they feel qualified please email [email protected] - and check the project background info out...

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