Nepal has committed to achieve universal primary education by 2015. At the current rate we're moving, we're not going to make it. The key challenges are to get educators and educational materials out to remote areas. We can't truck in books because there are no roads. We can't convince enough teachers to go live in these harsh places.
It would be much easier and cheaper to send a hundred laptops than a thousand books. A hundred laptops don't replace math teachers but they are better than no math education at all.
A lot people argue that the OLPC project is impractical for a country such as my own. GDP per Capita is $1,675 and this country lacks a lot of basic infrastructure. A large chunk of the population lives in rural villages inaccessible by road. I argue the opposite: The OLPC project is the only way for Nepal and countries like it to provide high-quality education to all of their people.
Some people argue that it is arrogant for the OLPC organization to assume that poor kids want laptops. I think it is arrogant to assume that we don't want them and that we can't figure them out. Those kids are poor, but they're not dumb. They will figure out how to use the laptops and support them, even if their parents and teachers are dumbfounded by them.
A Nepali School
So how are we going to pay for these laptops? Nepal's yearly national education budget is only 100 million dollars. Nepal doesn't even provide education to 20% of its population in remote areas.
Nepal will have to dramatically change its education strategy and budget to provide universal primary education for all its children. We believe that we will have use funds from the government, international donors, and the villages themselves to finance this project. This will be a complicated but necessary process, certainly easier than the existing alternatives.
Let's Crunch Numbers!
I am going to crudely calculate how much Nepal needs to implement this initiative. The laptop cost $140 now and it may fall to $100 by 2008, and maybe $80 by 2009. Let's make it an even $100. Let's assume that each laptop requires $40 in annual support. We think that support will cost less here in Nepal because labor costs are quite low. Let's assume again that each laptop lasts three years.
That's a total of $100 X 6,000,000 kids + 3 X 40 X 6,000,000 kids = $1.32 billion
The Government is going to have to dramatically increase its budget to educate its populace. It will have to triple its budget to educate all of its children. Let's say the government only doubles its education budget to $200 million per year and puts 1/3 of its budget toward buying laptops. That's $200 million over three years.
In FY 2004 Nepal received USD $320 million in foreign aid. In FY 2003 it was USD $555 million. I don't have aggregate numbers for 2005 and 2006, but in these last two years the World Bank has invested over $100 million in Nepal. You can guess that much of this money did not reach many of the intended beneficiaries. Let's say that Nepal receives an even $1 billion in foreign aid every three years. Let's say Nepal's foreign donors put a full third of their largesse into OLPC. That's $330 million
Learning in Nepal
Right now, Nepal does not provide books or school supplies to students at public schools. Parents typically have to pay around $40 per year for their child's school supplies. The XO is supposed to last about five years. Let's say that it only lasts for three years.
That is $120 for textbooks and school supplies compared to $140 for the laptop. We expect the cost of the laptop to fall to $100 by 2008. Perhaps they will fall to $80 by 2009. What if the price never falls? More and more affordable computing initiatives pop up every day, notably VIA's PC-1 initiative.
Not every Nepali will be able to contribute $120 towards the laptops but the 95% will be able to contribute something. How will we collect the money? What about those that can't afford anything? Let's round the average Nepali parent's contribution to $60 per child for every three years. $60 X 6,000,000 = $360 million
Damn, that's only adds up to $860 million! Even with very optimistic numbers at that. What a failure. We might as well give up on this whole laptop thing and revert to our current strategy which is succeeding fabulously at not educating our people. Hey, 45% literacy doesn't look too bad after all! We can always send our literate citizens to earn hard currency in the Persian Gulf as security guards and maids!
In case you missed the point of this little exercise, here it is: Nepal and countries like it can draw on multiple sources of funds to finance this project. Further, the current government budget isn't necessarily a good guideline to how much money its citizens pay for even public education.
And are my numbers really so optimistic? OLPC's laptop costs $140 now. About five years ago a computer w/ the roughly the same specifications would cost you about $1000. How much will it cost in five years? Certainly under $50. Countries like Nepal have to make smart choices now in order to achieve 100% literacy within the next eight years.
I recognize that one could criticize many aspects of my arguments here. But critics don't have to make choices. I am focused on the year 2015 and how to make high quality education--not just literacy--available to every Nepali child by that time. That is why I am working towards the goal of one laptop per child for Nepal.