OLPC in Ethiopia: Some Thoughts on Why Not

   
   
   
   
   

These concerns about OLPC Ethiopia are from an anonymous report from an OLPC critic working in the Ethiopian government.

1. Introduction

This brief paper discusses the proposal to provide every child in Ethiopia with one laptop. The paper argues that this would represent a misuse of resources and urges those who are working on OLPC to re-examine the desirability of the project in light of the more pressing needs that Ethiopia and other developing countries face.

2. OLPC: Some Concerns and Reservations

The principal concern with OLPC is the huge opportunity cost of the laptops. The average textbook in Ethiopia costs 4-5 Birr (50 cents). 12.6 million children are enrolled in primary school Grade 1-8 (A further 1 million are enrolled in Alternative Basic Education, I have excluded them from this analysis) and these children study 6 subjects.

olpc ethiopia
XO's better than using books?

Costs vs. Textbooks

Taking the unit price of a textbook to be 5 birr, it would cost $37.8 million to provide every child in Ethiopia enrolled in primary school with a new textbook in every subject that they take. Taking the price of the laptops to be $170 (the price I saw quoted on BBC website) spending this much money on the laptops would provide 222,352 Ethiopian children with a laptop, approx 1.8% of the children who are currently enrolled in primary school.

The charge made by the proponents of OLPC that they are not seeking to establish the laptops as direct competition for textbooks is nonsense given that the Ethiopian Government only has a limited budget with which to achieve its objectives. Within any given budget increasing expenditure on one item by definition leads to reduced expenditure elsewhere.

Costs to Government

Although at first the laptops may be provided by donors, if Ethiopia is to truly achieve OLPC (one pen per child sounds a bit more realistic) it will require significant Government expenditure on the laptops. Furthermore the initial donor assistance has a high opportunity cost; the money could be invested more wisely in a number of areas that would reap significantly larger gains for Ethiopia.

While the cost of the laptops will fall, the number of children enrolled in primary school in Ethiopia is projected to increase, according to the ten year plan, to 21.4 million in 2015. Thus the cost of providing OLPC in Ethiopia will over the foreseeable future increase dramatically.

If there are 21.4 million children enrolled in primary school in 2015, and assuming that the cost of the laptops has fallen to $100 by then, the cost of providing OLPC would be $2.14 billion. Assuming that the Ethiopian economy grows at a steady rate over the next 8 years the Ethiopian economy is expected to be approx $26.9 billion by 2015. Under this reckoning the laptops would come to represent approx 8% of the economy, which is exactly double the resource allocation that the education sector is set to receive in 2015!!!

olpc ethiopia
XO laptop usage by educators

Other costs

This would make the laptops bigger than key sectors in the economy such as horticulture. This cost is also the lower end of what will be needed since the laptops may cost over $100 in 8 years time, and it ignores the cost of re-supply of laptops that are lost/stolen or break down. Furthermore in order for the laptops to be effectively used it will be necessary to train both the teachers and pupils in how to use the new equipment.

This suggests that without an extraordinary infusion of donor funding it will not be possible to roll out OLPC in Ethiopia by 2015 or in the immediate years preceding it. However, their purchase in even a small segment of the country would be disastrous.

Cost relative to GDP

The GDP per capita in Ethiopia is approximately $140, whereas the laptops are worth $170. Embarking on a project that will provide every (or some) child in Ethiopia with one laptop is the equivalent to giving every child in the UK an object that is worth approx $45-50,000 and asking them to carry this highly visible item to school. This is the surest way to make Ethiopian children a target.

One of the reasons for parents not sending their girls to school is the fear that they will be attacked. Giving them a $170 laptop will only (justifiably) heighten this fear. The idea of OLPC is that children carry the laptop to and from school every day. Bearing this in mind one of either two things will happen.

Laptop theft

Firstly children will not carry the laptops to school for fear of being attacked. In Ethiopia parents are required to cover the cost of lost or damaged textbooks and as a result many parents do not let their children carry textbooks to and from school for fear that they will be either damaged in transit or stolen.

If parents are unwilling to let their children carry a textbook worth 50 cents for fear of it being stolen, the thought of sending their children on the potentially 2 hour walk to school with $170 with them will not appeal. This would significantly reduce the value of the laptops; Ethiopia would be left with an expensive piece of equipment that will be underused.


Ethiopians engaged by XO laptops

Attendance deterrent

Secondly, if all children are required to have the laptop in school in order to participate in class, OLPC will act as a disincentive to children going to school. If the journey to school is now a significantly more risky venture parents will be even less willing to send their children and particularly girls to school. This will be especially true in remote and rural locations, where approx 85% of Ethiopians live.

The proponents of OLPC have responded to this charge by saying that everyone will know that only children and teachers should have a laptop and so if anyone outside of this group is caught with one they will be in trouble. While this may be the case the extent to which the rule of law is implemented in developing countries is highly variable and typically below what we are used to in the west.

Black market

It is thus somewhat naive to think that when you give children a piece of equipment that is worth more than the average Ethiopian earns in a year that a black market will not develop. Even if the laptops are not intrinsically useful to the average man on the street they could be resold to another school below the official price, but at a large profit for the thief.

Furthermore the laptops could be taken apart and some of the parts be sold on for a huge profit. In short the laptops will have an inherent value to every Ethiopian, and in a society in which every day is a struggle for survival something that eases this struggle albeit illegally, will appeal to an element of every society especially when the good is highly visible.

Repair

One further concern is that the laptops will inevitably break down. Repairing the laptops will not be a priority for poor subsistence farmers and thus outside of wealthy families they will almost certainly remain redundant once broken.

In addition to this, it is highly unlikely that remote and rural communities (where 85% of Ethiopians live) will have either the skills or equipment to mend the laptops. It has been assumed by the proponents of OLPC that the children themselves will conduct the majority of the maintenance on the laptops, this is again highly unrealistic. This project will thus leave Ethiopia with an expensive piece of equipment that would not realise its potential.

Textbooks are few and far between in Ethiopia and are often in a state of disrepair. As a result if OLPC was rolled out in one part of the country, within a year or two the textbooks that exist will disintegrate and the children will be left to rely upon a computer for all of their additional reading. In a country in which the skills and finance are simply not available in rural areas to fix the computers when they break down, this is a highly dangerous strategy.

The breakdown or stealing of one child's computer would be a personal tragedy (the chances of it being replaced or fixed are very slim), however it this was to afflict a significant share of an entire country it would be an unmitigated disaster. Reading outside of class would cease to exist.

Ethiopia is not at a stage whereby laptops can replace textbooks, and while the proponents of OLPC may claim that they are not seeking to replace textbooks the fact that they are planning to put the entire curriculum on the laptops suggests otherwise.


A top-down teaching style

Appropriateness for education

The problem with ICT is that it becomes a vanity project for those involved. While the technology behind creating a laptop that costs $170 is clearly a remarkable achievement, what is less clear is that it is appropriate for countries like Ethiopia to buy these laptops en masse.

Since it is now possible to create laptops that cost $170 the people who have defied the doubters and achieved this feat understandably want to have the technology used. This compounded with the fact that the proponents of OLPC are by their own admission IT specialists who typically know little or nothing about the pressing needs that developing countries face has lead to them putting their own private interests ahead of the interests and needs of the developing world.

This position is entirely understandable (if I had created something I would want to see that it was used) however it does not mean that it is desirable for countries like Ethiopia at the moment. ICT does have its place in education, but in desperately poor countries in which for most people every day is a struggle for survival it should be limited to higher and possibly secondary education.

Plasma screen disaster

Every secondary school classroom in Ethiopia has a 42-inch plasma television. At about 3000 pounds per plasma, and approx 14,000 secondary school classrooms in Ethiopia, this represents a significant investment. In addition to the huge opportunity cost of the investment, the frequency of power cuts in Ethiopia combined with the paucity of skills and funding to mend the plasmas when they break down has meant that the plasmas have been an absolute disaster.

This experience provides a stark example of how using inappropriate technology in the education sectors of developing countries induces a wastage of scarce resources. The fear is that OLPC will become the next "plasma."

The introduction of the plasmas has also significantly reduced the level of interaction between both the teachers and the pupils and the pupils themselves and has in many ways left the teachers redundant. A further key issue is thus how well integrated into the school day will the laptops be. The danger is that children will spend the majority of their time in front of the laptops and not interacting with their peers.

olpc ethiopia
1 to 1 to 1 XO learning

3. Conclusion

OLPC is the latest in a line of poorly thought out ideas that will ultimately hamper the development of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world in which most schools lack basic sanitation and textbooks.

OLPC proposes to give a highly expensive piece of equipment (expensive to Ethiopia not to its proponents, I think that this is a source of the problem, the IT specialists think that $170 is cheap, anyone who works in development knows that this is not the case) to a country in which the majority of the populace are subsistence farmers.

Due to concerns regarding security and lack of skills and equipment to fix them, the extent to which this technology will be used is highly questionable. In addition to this the notion that it is desirable for Ethiopian children to have their own laptops is farcical. Ethiopian children have more pressing needs such as whether they are going to be able to go to school at all and if they will have enough food to eat.

The scarce resources that the Ethiopian Government and the donors have at their disposal should be channelled towards these pressing needs and not OLPC.

These concerns about OLPC Ethiopia are from an anonymous report from an OLPC critic working in the Ethiopian government.

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34 Comments

Makes sense. I believe that OLPC laptops should be sold in the poor countries (so that the rich can buy them), and bought for all students in rich countries by their governments.

"The average textbook in Ethiopia costs 4-5 Birr (50 cents)."

I find it hard to believe that is accurate.

"theft" "Firstly children will not carry the laptops to school for fear of being attacked" "black market" That has not been the case in deployments so far, and theft is not a problem.

"repair" ditto not a big problem in present deployments.

The author seems to be rather poorly informed about the olpc project.

is $80 USD a fair value for a textbook? that's the reality in the US... Not meaning to contradict you, but just to add some facts, Eduardo, take into account that the 4-5 Birr probably barely cover cost of (cheap) printing on (cheap) paper, no color, few pages... etc. I've published a weekly in Uruguay, and 50 US cents can go a long way if you know how. (10 cents print cost for a 24-page copy, in my case. I sold them at 25 cents, almost broke even considering other costs and ad income)

Then besides fact, there is perception. Number one worry worldwide for administrators is kids getting attacked for their laptops. Whether it's reality or not doesn't seem to matter. BTW, I was told today of a 75-unit deployment where about 30 have been stolen, but I won't believe that as fact until I get separate confirmation, which I am pursuing, so, sincerely, I do not know if it does happen, but for a fact I know that VERY high level people are still worried about this risk.

I agree that repair should not be a problem, but do we have numbers? something objective? Yes, I would want to prove to possible buyers, hey, the XO has proved being bestest at needing few repairs, and those repairs get done, but no deployment I know has given numbers... So, either it's working, or they are not sharing about problems. Since they are not sharing about many other problems we DO know about and have independent knowledge, I am a bit worried, and do not dare to affirm the XO repairs rate is something to boast about :-(
Though I want to trust you are correct.

I am afraid that we actually as a general thing are *all* badly informed... Not that we do not want to be informed, but some of the information you address is not available to the public. Now, if you do have such info, please share!

Thanks, as always

Yama

The arguments make sense.

A crucial factor to consider: the laptops are NOT a replacment for books. They COULD be, IF electronic versions of the books existed in the public domain (free). unfortunately, that's not the case.

There is a very real risk that the laptops - in the absence of real education content - will become vanity items, one more distraction in the classroom.

In all fairness to OLPC, it should be pointed out that the same problem exists for all laptops (Intel, asus, etc.) in this category.

@Irvin:
"They COULD be, IF electronic versions of the books existed in the public domain (free). unfortunately, that's not the case."

I think you are too pessimistic on the copyright front.

Given the price of the text books, $0.50, I do think the Ethiopian government has the copyrights (or simply does not pay any rights).

Given the (absence of an) Amharic educational market in Ethiopia, I seriously doubt whether there are any copyrights leveled. Most likely, Ethiopia is one of those countries where the DoEdu has all the copyrights on educational materials used.

But on the whole I too am afraid that Ethiopia is probably not a suitable country for the OLPC. Too much poverty and too many problems. However, I do know they participate in many bilateral development efforts, eg, to improve health care. In that sense, the OLPC is not a strange effort.

Winter

This poster obviously is paid by Intel.

Intel is really scared that the cheaper laptop revolution will take over also the last half of expensive laptops that Intel is still having monopoly over.

Paid by Intel? Really, Charbax? You know I love your ideas and efforts around OLPC but you need to stop seeing a Grand Conspiracy behind every negative comment. Did you not read the other two post on OLPC in Ethiopia which broached simmilar issues? Were they too Intel shills? Am I because I question OLPC about these concerns as well?

There are valid points in this post. Respond to them with the clairty and insight I know you have, not this "Intel did it" crap. I expect more and better from you.

Why would someone post anonymously if there aren't any conflicts of interest. I don't need to read much more than the first few lines of this.

Wanting to wait for XO-1.5 or ARM based XO-2 are valid decisions if you have to buy millions of units for every child in a whole country at this point.

People post anonymously for many reasons - the main one here: this person says they work within the Ethiopian government. I would take that as their superiors within the government do not want to have an underling voice distention publicly. Or it could be a government-wide policy that staff do not comment publicly.

You and I happen to have the luxury of speaking our minds openly. Not everyone does, and those that do not, do not all work for Intel.

They do work for Intel, those are Intel's frigging arguments for the past 3 years to undermine everything about OLPC in every poor country of this planet.

Cheaper laptops means less profit margins for Intel and Intel's partners. This is the only rule of the industry.

Cheaper laptops in Ethiopia, means cheaper laptops in the rest of the world which means less profits for Intel. XO-2 with ARM means 1000 other ARM Laptop models in the rest of the world which means real competition for Intel.

Actually, Charbax, these are the arguments -everyone- put forward about OLPC, long before Intel even cared about the XO.

In fact the costs, theft, appropriateness of ICT in schools goes back to the use of radio for instruction in the 1950's, before Intel was even founded. And these issues are brought up by educators all the time, who don't even know who Intel is.

Again, Intel may have influence on the IT industry, but they sure don't control the worldwide discussion about ICT in Edu.

There are about 15'000 schools in developing countries where every child now has an XO laptop. OLPC is a full success in every single of these schools. With or without Internet connection, with or without whatever teacher training or other expensive stuff you are arguing for.

Anyone not seeing this is blinded by the Intel status-quo or directly paid by Intel.

And with this comment you have just gone off the deep end.

You are now discarding the entire educational community who is looking for objective feedback from all ICT projects - OLPC or not.

OLPC is not a company. OLPC supports any program on this planet that promotes giving every child cheaper and better laptops.

Intel has never delivered one laptop per child in any significant quantities other than just small quantities dumped to try to block any real attempt at reaching all the children.

This is a pure fact.

If Intel were making $100 laptops with 20-hour battery life, very low power consumption, sunlight readability (means print-killing), WiFi meshing (means ISP/Telco-killing technology) and full open source hardware/software, then OLPC would have absolutely no problem with Intel.

The fact is Intel only cares to stop any attempt at making this technology the new worldwide standard across all ICT projects.

Charbax is a real piece of work. A perfect example of the many people who have done so much damage to the OLPC Project by deliberately ignoring legitimate questions while in pursuit of their own demented agenda.

If I didn't work for Intel, I would believe his conspiracy theories, they sound so believable!

@Irvin:
"A perfect example of the many people who have done so much damage to the OLPC Project..."

Jealous because you feel Charbax damaged the OLPC more that you could?

@Irvin:
"If I didn't work for Intel, I would believe his conspiracy theories, they sound so believable!"

Nice to know you work for Intel. It does put your words into perspective.

Anyhow, I have read the evidence brought out by the EU commission about Intel's practices. That goes WAY beyond even Charbax' wildest claims.

http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/09/400

Winter

Nice try, Winter, but no banana.

Let's assume, yes, Intel is evil.

Now, is intel responsible for the XO costing $230 instead of $100?

Is Intel responsible for the XO having poor/average battery life instead of the promised "battery life measure in days, not hours"?

Is Intel responsible for the absence of the much-touted "human (crank) power generator"?

Is Intel responsible for the defective keyboards?

Is Intel responsible for the buggy "mesh"?

Is Intel responsible for the lack of educational content?

Is Intel responsible for the lack of technical support?

Is Intel responsible for the lack of supporting evidence when it comes to the usefulness of laptops in the hands of elementary school kids?

Is Intel responsible for the lack of teacher training?

Is Intel responsible for the lack of localized content and localized textbooks?

Is Intel responsible for the entire world being skeptical of this unfinished product?


Is Intel responsible for Prof. Negroponte continued lies and empty promises?

@Irvin,
"Nice try, Winter, but no banana."

So you do work for Intel.

Obviously not. Charbax never claimed such things. He simply accused Intel of using underhanded tactics to prevent the OLPC from geting any contracts.

And lo and behold, the EU found out that exactly this is Standard-Operating-Procedure at Intel. They have engaged in such illegal dealings on a daily basis for decades.

Does make Charbax' claims much more credible (albeit not directly proven).

It is telling that you, as an Intel employee, do not refute these accusations.

Winter

Sorry, "Obviously not" was preceded by:

"
[follows long list of things irrelevant to Intel that Irvin always barks about]

Obviously not. Charbax.....
"

However, I used the wrong brackets and the line was deleted.

Winter

Winter, now Intel did not act alone. You forgot to include Masons, Jews, Scientologists, facists, the military-industrial complex, aliens, Communists, and of late sub-prime mortgage lenders too. It's a Grand Conspiracy, remember!

@Wayan:
"Winter, now Intel did not act alone..... It's a Grand Conspiracy, remember!"

Obviously, ;-)

That is why I used the word "credible". As in, "Intel does such things regularly against any competitors, but not (yet) proven against the OLPC".

And if you claim that the OLPC was capable of destroying themselves without outside help, I won't argue it.

It is just that Charbax claims are not paranoid at all. Simply not proven.

Even that is not extraordinary, as Intel has has a history of destroying evidence

Intel's anti-trust memos started vanishing from the top
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/11/intel_tortellini_episode/

Deadline looms for Intel to produce details of emails missing in AMD case
http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1046739/intel-ordered-produce-internal

Intel email retention capability just not what it could be
http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1011699/intel-anal-retention-capability

Winter

C'mon , Winter, don't be a fool: everyone knows I don't work for Intel. Wayan knows I don't work for Intel (or Microsoft or any possible competitor).

The OLPC problems - and ultimate failure - have nothing to do with Intel and everything to do with the issues that I mention in my post.

Blaming Intel only helps perpetuate the myriad problems plaguing the OLPC Project. It would be better if "supporters" like you and Charbax spent your energy telling Pro. Negroponte of areas where vast improvement is needed. There are many of those areas. Becoming official apologists does nothing for OLPC. The time to blame Intel, Microsoft, the US Government, Irvin, Wayan and Saddam Hussein is over. The reality is that the world has largely ignored Prof. Negroponte's idea. It's time to do some deep soul searching. It is the smart thing to do.

Ooo.. good catch Irving.

I forgot to add Microsoft, OLPC News, main stream media, Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban, and of course Elvis to the list Grand Conspirators against OLPC.

@Irvin:
"C'mon , Winter, don't be a fool: everyone knows I don't work for Intel. Wayan knows I don't work for Intel (or Microsoft or any possible competitor)."

So I am the only one around who missed that piece of information.

But that is the reason I took your "If I didn't work for Intel, ..." as meaning you do work for Intel. You get that with second language learners.

Still, no answer to my claim that Intel is currently (heavily) punished for doing to AMD exactly the things Charbax claimed they did to the OLPC.

Ah, but answering question is your weak side.

And where did I say that Charbax was right? There is a difference between "credible" and "proven", and I tend to observe that difference.

Winter

C'mon, Winter, don't be a fool.

The burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim. Charbax has to provide credible proof of his wild assertions. I'm not under any obligation to prove a negative; it's impossible - as anyone who has gone through school - or has some common sense - knows.

Once again, I really couldn't care less about how good or bad Intel is. To me, the list of factors I mentioned in my post are the real reason for OLPC's failure. Not Intel, Microsoft or the Devil.

A very good point to keep in mind: nobody, including Intel, Asus and OLPC has managed to capture the world's attention or target market when it comes to one-laptop-per-child programs. OLPC failure is far worse than Intel's or Asus' only because the results - for OLPC - are so incredibly far from the promises and expectations laid on the table by Mr. Negroponte.

The bottom line is that very few people think that investing on laptops is the best way to spend education dollars. Thus the lack of interest - from wealthy and poor nations alike.

@Irvin,

Let us go back to the start of the thread:
Irvin wrote:
"Charbax is a real piece of work. A perfect example of the many people who have done so much damage to the OLPC Project by deliberately ignoring legitimate questions while in pursuit of their own demented agenda."

"so much damage to the OLPC"?
"demented agenda"?

Claims, proof? And why is his agenda demented?

@Irvin:
"If I didn't work for Intel, I would believe his conspiracy theories, they sound so believable!"

"Conspiracy theories"?
"they sound so believable"?

Indeed, given Intel's past record, they DO sound believable. Proof of past behavior was included.

So in total, you insulted Charbax and claimed his ideas were proof of paranoia (demented+conspiracy theories=paranoia in the books).

Now you cannot stand that I show his ideas are not paranoid, but entirely credible. And I still make the distinction between "credible" and "proven". And nowhere did I write that even if Intel DID what Charbax claimed, that was the reason of the problems of the OLPC.

All combined, Charbax is not paranoid about Intel (proof enclosed) and the OLPC might not have needed the help of Intel or other outside parties to fail one way or another.

You all read too much into my writings. It is just as simple as it looks. But Irvin seems to see his own character projected into others and has trouble with such simplicity.

Winter

I guess you do enjoy being a fool! I'll let you get the last word. Go ahead.

:-)

How is it possible half the topics, no matter what the subject, to end up in Microsoft or Intel and the other half on how biased Irv may be?
It is clear that you ALL work for Microsoft and Intel and Irv is your manager, so you make sure that no matter what the subject MS, Intel and their representative, will get enough exposure!
And now that we solved that can we go back to the issue at hand please?

The question at hand is how poor a country must be in order for OLPC-XO or any laptop project to be inappropriate?
Whoever interested please raise your hand.

PS: regarding the specific post my major argument would be that in the "education" part makes no specific arguments other than "cost". An issue addressed throughout the post already.

The "too poor to implement" will be coming up every time and everywhere. In every setting actually will always be people that think money can be better spend elsewhere. However, this can not be the main argument regarding education.
What if I claim that given the conditions in Ethiopia no public education should be provided at all and teachers should be working on more productive jobs to fulfill other immediate and survival related needs. And that all the kids sould be working an age appropriate jobs to support their substance.
Would this be OK too? Is there a country "too poor for education"?

PPS: I'm not saying that a laptop project is what education (in Ethiopia or elsewhere) needs. I'm saying that cost can not be the only "education" argument.

Mav wrote:

"The "too poor to implement" will be coming up every time and everywhere. In every setting actually will always be people that think money can be better spend elsewhere. However, this can not be the main argument regarding education."

That's NOT the argument. The argument is this:

"Is a one-laptop-per-child program the best way to spend our education dollars?"

That is a very clear, legitimate question that is completely appropriate in poor and rich countries. The answer seems to be:

"No. We can do other more effective things, like building more schools, hiring or training more teachers, buying more school supplies, etc.".

That, to me, seems to be the answer because that's what most countries keep doing - to different extents, of course, given the different situations in those countries.

It follows that the burden is on proponents of one-laptop-per-child programs to provide evidence that their ideas can bring more benefit to a child's education than the traditional methods.

@mavrothal:
"How is it possible half the topics, no matter what the subject, to end up in Microsoft or Intel and the other half on how biased Irv may be?"

Because Irvin is omnipresent. He lives and breaths OLPCnews.

Winter

@mavrothal:
"What if I claim that given the conditions in Ethiopia no public education should be provided at all and teachers should be working on more productive jobs to fulfill other immediate and survival related needs. And that all the kids sould be working an age appropriate jobs to support their substance."

The productivity (and health) of an adult is directly related to the level and quality of his/her education.

Economic growth depends on an increase in productivity that can only partly be met by capital investments.

To forgo education of children is to ensure them lifelong poverty and to deny their country future economic growth.

Does that answer your question?

Winter

One of the most intriguing (to me) sections of the original post was the reference to what they call 'plasma education' in Ethiopia.

What lessons might the experience of Ethiopia in equipping its schools with very expensive plasma screen televisions in an effort to 'transform education' in a poor country through the use of new technology, have for educational technolgy projects like the OLPC?

It is my understanding that much of the early hype and circumstances that paved the way for the introduction of 'plasma education' anticipate some of what many proponents of projects like the OLPC are saying today.

These include things like an interest in 'leapfrogging', access to the 'latest cutting-edge technology', strong support from the head of state, a desire to which mirrored much of the hype (if not the substance) around the OLPC project in other places, concerns about low teacher quality (and thus a desire to partially disintermediate teachers through technology), access to educational content developed elsewhere, etc.

To anticipate potential responses: I certainly know that there are *many* differences between OLPC and so-called 'plasma education' -- dozens of them should be immediately obvious. I am not wondering about whether an individual laptop is a better learning tool than a television -- the answer to this should presumably also be obvious. Rather, I am wondering: Can we glean any insight from the Ethiopian experience with one large scale educational technology initiative that might be relevant to the one that so engages visitors and posters to this web site?

(Perhaps the original poster has some views on this?)

I found this article made a very convincing that OLPC makes no sense in Ethiopia. Seriously, in a country with GDP per capita of $140 and 50 cent textbooks, it is mind boggling that any of you would support spending double the entire education budget just for the laptops alone. It sounds like they could hardly afford one laptop per classroom in this country.

An "obvious" Intel shill, Charbax? WTF? This article can't make any money for Intel.

Perhaps the problem is the model (& the context) used to roll-out computer-in-classroom projects (& ICTs in general) in school systems -- and not *just* in the developing world? OLPC made this seemingly crazy decision to skip small pilots and immediately roll the whole thing out in an entire country through ministries of education. I don't really think the foundation stopped to consider how much a pencil or a textbook costs. I also don't think they stopped very long to consider making each laptop contextually relevant.

Then again, given that there has been research on the ineffective use of TV in classrooms, one wonders if the governments being targeted have themselves got access to all the evidence out there?

Have the Ethiopians even invested in radio learning programs? Most studies of radio delivered distance education have shown positive effects on costs, effectiveness and learning outcomes. It would be interesting if someone could follow-up on this.

Having said this, there just hasn't been enough use of ICTs within contexts where they could be making a real, effective difference to learning and learning outcomes at different levels of education: rural areas, war zones, and refugee camps.

The author has some really good points and lessons re: the Ethiopian context and the OLPC, if not the roll-out of ICTs for learning in general and in any context, developed country or not.

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