Recently, the One Laptop Per Child and the Inter-American Development Bank announced a pilot project in Haiti to test whether one-to-one computing can improve teaching and learning in Haitian schools.
As Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with abject poverty and no real government services to speak of, I can tell you right now that OLPC's pilot will be a success merely by doing something, anything, to help deliver education to the country's children.
But if we take a more practical, and long-term view of the OLPC Haiti pilot, I say we'll see the good, bad, and ugly of such an endeavor.
In a direct contraction to Nicholas Negroponte guidance at the November, 2005 IADB meeting, where he told Ministers of Education that "To do a pilot project is ridiculous!," the IADB is not only piloting OLPC, they're also going to have objective testing on the efficacy of a one to one education model:
For a qualitative evaluation, classroom practices will be continuously observed to gage whether one-to-one computing affects attitudes and behaviors regarding school management, how families value education, the use of laptops at home and the perceived educational progress of students.In addition, there will be teacher and student training on the laptops, Negroponte's dreaded "ICT skills" and there will even be a home-grown XO maintenance plan with students in vocational training schools and local information technology advisors.
UNESCO's Regional Office on Education in Latin America and the Caribbean will conduct standardized mathematics and language tests before and after the pilot project to evaluate its performance from a quantitative standpoint.
In effect, OLPC is finally realizing that pilot projects are not only required, they are necessary, and they will be subject to objective measurement to determine effectiveness. No one is going to buy laptops by believing in "OLPC magic".
One Laptop Per Child faces a real challenge in translating educational content into Creole. Not only is Creole a relatively rare language outside of Haiti, there is a serious dearth of content in Creole presently. Expect a call for Pootle volunteers any day now.
Next, I am disappointed that OLPC and IADB did not build on the efforts of grassroots programs like Waveplace Foundation, which already has connections to Haitian schools, and can provide needed follow-up a stretched-thin OLPC cannot. In addition, OLPC's efforts may reduce Waceplace's ability to get G1G1 participants involved in their worthy efforts.
Haiti is not Peru or Uruguay. It's a failed state that cannot offer even basic services to its citizenry, and outside Port a Prince, the country is run by local mafia and strongmen who brutalize their subjects. It is so bad, Waveplace Foundation staff go everywhere in armored vehicles with armed guards.
To expect Haitian children in this environment to be safe walking around with bring green $200 laptops is the height of denial, Bitfrost be damned. The laptop will have to be locked up at school with prayers that robbers will not break down brick walls to get at the computers. Or as a friend of mine soberly predicted: "There will we see the first child killed for his XO."
On a less morbid thought, but no less challenging one: how will the XO create a long-term change? So what if a poor, rural child "learns learning" in Haiti? What middle or high school could they attend? What college will be realistically in their reach? With such grinding poverty, might Haiti be too poor for the XO?
The Haitian government is definitely too poor to afford an XO pilot. If you look closely, it's the IADB and OLPC itself that are sponsoring this experiment:
The IDB will make a US$3 million grant for the pilot project, which will distribute XO laptops to some 13,200 students and 500 teachers in 60 Haitian primary schools. OLPC will contribute US$2 million to the project.If you do the numbers, 13,700 laptops at $5 million dollars means that Haitian XO's are $365 dollars per laptop. One laptop per child implementation costs are at least double the XO laptop costs - and that's even with SES donating satellite bandwidth for limited Internet connectivity.