I am Luis Ramirez, of "one computer per child" in Chile. Our goal is to achieve free and permanent access to computers for at least 1 million Chilean children living in poverty before our bicentennial (2010). Back in November, I gave an update on The Chilean way to One Laptop Per Child. Today I'll give another update:
In 4 words: No XO in Chile
After months of fruitless negotiations between the Chilean Ministry of Education and the OLPC Foundation the door for a pilot in Chile has been closed.
To the best of our knowledge - which includes my own attempts to convince David Cavallo, OLPC's Director for Central and South America - the Foundation has systematically refused to get involved in a pilot in my country, unless Chile includes around 10 thousand students on it. That is virtually impossible for a pilot, at least for a conventional one.
In this report I want to explain why - in my opinion - we have reached to this point.
In Chile, OLPC is not UCPN
Back in November 2007 I wrote a post here called "The Chilean way to One Laptop Per Child" in which I described the strategy of a citizen-led campaign we have been working on since 2006.
In this campaign we have used OLPC's XO laptop as one the best examples of the technologies available to empower children at schools and beyond. However, the Chilean campaign 'One Computer per Child (ucpn.cl)' is focused on issues such as education, inequality, lack of opportunities, under-development, poverty reduction, reforming public schools, national competitiveness, and so forth.
For us, the XO has always been portrayed as a 'catalyst', never an end in itself.
In the meantime, the Chilean government has been piloting standard laptops since 2007. During 2008 the Ministry of education wanted to include Classmate PCs and XOs on the tests. Thus, after months of negotiation - including meetings with Brightstar executives -, Chile was willing to buy as much as 900 XOs for the pilot. The answer from OLPC was always negative.
In my view, the OLPC Foundation has made enormous efforts to remain loyal to the educational principles underling their project. The idea of 'scale' i.e., 'having a critical mass to change things' has been one of the most important issues for them. That of course have been changing from the original 'million' students to more realistic numbers.
Surely, many countries such as Chile are not able to - or willing to - get involved with such large scale deployments without proper pilots. Facing that, Negroponte's team is willing to 'sacrifice' nations such as Chile in order to focus their scarce resources on those countries where they perceive a clearer commitment with their core principles. Uruguay and Perú are the closest examples that come to my mind.
Let me be clear here: I have an extremely positive view about the goals and strategies behind the OLPC initiative. However, in my humble opinion maybe it is time to for central command to loosen up a bit.
Its Time to Free the XO Laptop
The XO is a wonderful invention, no doubt about it. So why not put it freely on the market right now? And why don't put all the learning models developed by the OLPC folks on the web, available for everybody without any restraint?
It is true that some developing nations would need a lot of assistance from the wise people of the OLPC team. Yet, I am sure some countries such as Chile - with over 15 years of experience deploying technology in the classrooms- can arguably do a decent job implementing XOs according to their own models.
Our friends at the OLPC Foundation have to understand that the 'one size fits all' approach can no longer be sustained. It is time for more flexible models that take into consideration the different realities of those nations they want to help.
I have no doubt to ask for it: Mister Negroponte, it is time to free the XOs.
Unfortunately, at least in the short term the Chilean children will remain untouched by the wonderful XO. In such scenario for us in the UCPN campaign there is no choice but to follow the same advice I gave the readers of OLPC News a year ago: "Put the XO at the end, and place the kids first".
In other words, regardless the technology, we will remain devoted to achieve the dream of having every single son and daughter of this nation with a computer in their hands.