An Open Letter to Satish Jha of OLPC India

   
   
   
   
   

Satish Jha, welcome to the One Laptop Per Child community! As president and CEO of OLPC India, you have an amazing challenge and opportunity ahead of you.


Satish Jha of OLPC India

A challenge in changing the minds of the Indian governments that one laptop per child is not "pedagogically suspect" and that XO laptops are a better investment than one blackboard per school. An opportunity, because you are right about India's scale:

"If a country can take 8 million cellular phones a month, they can take 3 million laptops in a year."

But be careful about your rush to millions of units.

First because as I've been saying for three years now, implementation matters. Just handing out XO laptops, without localized content, integrated curriculum and parent/teacher buy-in will lead to swift and massive failure. To really make a rollout work, you need a concerted, multi-ministry effort, akin to OLPC Uruguay. And I don't see you talking about that in your push for sales.

Next, we've heard all this sales talk before. Nicholas Negroponte was fond of making big announcements of grand XO laptop purchases in the millions of units that came to naught. From Brazil, to Nigeria, to Thailand, hype has greatly outpaced reality as presidents loving laptops doesn't equal ministers buying XO's. And in Libya, it now looks like OLPC was made the fool by Gadhafi.

So your recent announcement of 250,000 XO's ordered by two government organizations and one private-sector entity is exciting, but I'm starting to wonder if you've come down with a case of Negropontism. While I was the second to blog about it, since then I've received several indications that your concept of an "order" be different than ours.

Specifically, your announcement seems to have come as a surprise to many in OLPC headquarters and in the OLPC India community. I'm still waiting for an official OLPC press release, or to hear Negroponte crowing about the sale to news media. At least a blog post.

And my fact checking of the original story and later interviews has come down to your word alone. That does not inspire confidence, like say the identity of the government buyers or private-sector partner. Also, I would assume Indian government purchases of $50 million in computers would require an open RFP process that we'd hear about.

So again, welcome to the OLPC community - I mean that with all sincerity. I also mean to keep you honest in your dealings with us. We can be a source of deep love and support, but we've been burned before, and we're starting to get that bad feeling again.

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8 Comments

Good post, Wayan. I agree, until we get some solid verification, we should be rather suspicious of claims for massive orders.

Check the studies done on OLPC Uruguay: http://rising.globalvoicesonline.org/blog/2009/04/30/uruguay-one-blog-per-child/

"in spite of several problems with connectivity, malfunctioning input devices, and software not designed taking into account young children’s abilities or the need for localization, the laptops so far had a very positive impact. Children are motivated to read and write more using the laptops, they are accessing information resources that are far beyond what was previously available to them, they are creating content for the world to see, and collaborating and learning from each other."

I have said it for years now, the implementation strategy does not matter. Give them laptops, give them Internet connectivity, the rest come automatically and the rest is just details in form of Web contents and Web Applications which the developers of the world need to improve to be more useful for education worldwide anyways. Once better educational Youtubes and Wikipedias are available, all OLPC countries will benefit just as any other child with a laptop and an Internet connection on this planet.

The one who's burning with fake numbers is Intel more than anyone else. Where are the classmate laptops? Intel was supposed to deliver millions of laptops to supposed purchase agreements with governments in Pakistan, Libya, Portugal, Venezuella and Nigeria. But where are the Intel laptops? They have shipped very few if any, that's according to the actual proof that I have seen on the Internet. Basically Intel announcements in this sector are just FUD to make it look like OLPC is useless. In June 2007, Intel was announcing the $199 Asus Eee laptop. The average Eee laptop available is still $300+ on Amazon.com

As for India and China buying into OLPC XO1, Xo1.5 and XO2, they better do it if they don't want to prolong their national tragedies. Hundreds of millions of children in those gigantic developing countries are growing older each day that passes without the necessary stimulation of their brains and of their ambitions by having access to all the world wide web contents.

Sure, you need implementation plans. Obviously. But first and foremost you need cheap laptops with long battery lives and that have all the necessary features to work in the actual environments of developing countries.

OLPC has just about shipped 1 million laptops to developing world children while Intel has shipped peanuts.

Charbax,

You need to read what the Uruguay staff have to say - they're firm believers in implementation strategy. Otherwise you get OLPC Nigeria failure.

I liked this post a lot, Wayan.

Having lived from very very close all the Uruguayan experience, I can say for sure that implementation matters. I'm glad my country's authorities are taking Plan Ceibal seriously. And in part because of this, a lot of social movement is happening around, supporting the plan and making it possible.

However, if this social involvement doesn't exist, it doesn't matter how hard a CEO can work, the results will be very limited, at least in the short term (and low costs).

Charbax, your quote from Uruguayan studies refers to early results when only one village in Uruguay had computers (Villa Cardal). Now we can see many new results, of which I'd like to write soon.

Regards,
Pablo

@Wayan: without localized content, integrated curriculum and parent/teacher buy-in will lead to swift and massive failure

You don't understand, the children will magically develop content themselves, and localize it. That's the wonder of an open platform. I mean sure skilled programmers are spending months developing unstable useless programs, so I see no reason why an 8 year old Indian child couldn't develop a complete stable Sugar learning application with integrated educational content.

@Charbax:
"in spite of several problems with connectivity, malfunctioning input devices, and software not designed taking into account young children’s abilities or the need for localization, the laptops so far had a very positive impact. Children are motivated to read and write more using the laptops, they are accessing information resources that are far beyond what was previously available to them, they are creating content for the world to see, and collaborating and learning from each other."

Look at how much time children in North America spend on their computers. They read (web sites) and write (IMs, forums) using resources like World of Warcraft and that has had a very positive impact on their education...

the rest come automatically and the rest is just details in form of Web contents and Web Applications which the developers of the world need to improve to be more useful for education worldwide anyways.

You make it sound like "educational content" is a simple afterthought that will magically appear.

It isn't. One needs to understand developmental psychology, and how children learn to develop content. It takes time and research to develop educational content, and IMHO good open educational content (that is and can be translated / localized) is crucial to the success of OLPC as an educational project. Wikipedia as an example is a good source of raw content, but it isn't exactly structured for ease of learning of any defined content for children.

Wikiversity? http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Main_Page

It's OK but it's nowhere near complete.

This reminds me of the FOSS self congratulatory cirle-flick behavior. "Woohoo, we got the underlying program down, now all that needs doing is 'just' the UI and the documentation"

Even though the UI and documentation is how the user interfaces with the program, and requires knowledge of how people think, and is as big a job as the underlying program, it still somehow gets depreciated. And it shows. The interface and documentation for a lot of "open projects" is awful.

Same with educational content and this project.

In general the points made are reasonable. But look at India and you know that between an initial order and getting paid there falls the shadow. Until the government has paid, an order does not mean much. But that is stil an order because it does not come out of the woodworks without an understanding at the cabinet level that they wish to support the program.

Do not forget that anything Negroponte does now will have to go through much more detailed scrutiny because reportedly the government had rejected it once. Its also because of teh Media Lab flap with a technology minister once. It is rumored that the education minister personally said no to MIT and Negroponte and if the same stuff was made in India they will be happy to go ahead with it.

I hear that at least three states have gone to the press to say that they want it. I also hear that at least four states have signed up for 400,000 laptops in India. How soon it will be monetised depends on how ready OLPC is to get the order out.

Let us not forget that while OLPC donated 500 laptops to some employees of Reliance who posed as if they were working on behalf of Reliance, even the power of Reliance could not get one laptop ordered. In teh even whatever OLPC India has managed is a feat in its own right. And without a sales team and without a budget.. Even Intel and Microsoft cannot make such claimes despite a serious business development budget.

So let us give credit where it is due. I hope we hear more good news for OLPC from India. But without investing in India whatever OLPC has accomplished is little short of miracle.

"If a country can take 8 million cellular phones a month, they can take 3 million laptops in a year."
its rubbish if you are talking about child laptops.....
cell phones were sold bcoz they were style symbol... child laptops can't make that effect

Wouldn't it be cheaper to use Electronic paper displays such as that of eink.com, instead of LCD/TFT? Power consumption would also be less. ARM-9/ARM-10 processor based mobile phones running linux are nowadays available for around $100. Wouldn't it be possible to use similar components/technology to manufacture laptops too within that cost?

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