OLPC Nigeria One Year Later: Hard Lessons Learned

Nigeria OLPC
Khaled Hassounah introducing OLPC

Do you remember the massive press orgy a year ago when One Laptop Per Nigerian Child debuted at L.E.A. Primary School Galadima in Abuja Model Village? How the great Foreign God held high his gift of knowledge to the poor dark-skinned children of Africa, and OLPC proclaimed:

All of a sudden, School Galadima has gone from the age-old chalk-and-board teaching technology to the avant-garde one-laptop-per-child XO technology with cutting-edge features.
Well let us take a look at the lessons a year of Nigeria has taught One Laptop Per Child.

Porn Panic is Real

At first, OLPC dismissed parental concerns around content control, likening it to censorship, and discounted the real issue of online pornography. Yet, not three months into the pilot, we had a One Porno Per Nigerian Child scandal, with Reuters Africa reporting:

"Efforts to promote learning with laptops in a primary school in Abuja have gone awry as the pupils freely browse adult sites with explicit sexual materials," NAN said.

A representative of the One Laptop Per Child aid group was quoted as saying that the computers, part of a pilot scheme, would now be fitted with filters.

The porn filtering efforts continue today, with BluePrint Data's Kidsnet filters on the XO to try and keep children and nudity separate.

Electricity is Expensive

Does anyone remember the hand crank? That masterful bit of marketing set up OLPC's local partners to be blindsided when they had to start paying for generators and diesel to power XOs and Internet routers. The shocking electrical power costs quickly added up.

olpc production keyboard
Hungry for XO laptop power

From the Nigeria Chapter of the Club of Rome, we learn that the generator has to be stored in the principal's office to prevent theft, requires costly gasoline, and servicing that can take days. Worst of all, the generator broke down, burning out the UPS for the Internet, and its still insufficient for all the power needs of the school.

OLPC is a Target

Despite its feel-good image and noble cause, OLPC is not immune to local politics and predatory practices. First, the Nigerian government was persuaded to buy Classmate PCs instead of XO laptops, through a web of influence from traditional PC vendors.

Next, Lancor sued OLPC for an alleged multilingual keyboard patent infringement. No matter if it was just a scam, the effect was chilling. OLPC's ethics were questioned and its Nigerian sales hopes were quickly dashed as it tried to clear its name in local courts.

Overall Result

One Laptop Per Child did bring international attention to L.E.A. Primary School Galadima. Everyone from concened technologist to the BBC paid a visit, enriching the children's lives with much excitement and distraction.

But what about the XO laptop use now? What educational outcomes are the children and their teachers and parents realizing? Let's have Wizzy Africa explain:

Nigeria OLPC
No XO laptops in sight
Now the bad news. There are no longer OLPC laptops at the school. One of the consequences of being a pilot school for OLPC was that they were issued with beta hardware, and there were many problems with the unit, from cables coming unplugged, the wireless network disconnecting, and hardware failure.

In preparation for its replacement, the hardware was withdrawn in December 2007. However, at that point, there was a lawsuit filed against OLPC by a Nigerian keyboard maker, claiming infringement of layout and something about keyboard scancodes. As a consequence - the children are still waiting for their replacements.

I fear they will be waiting much longer too as Nigeria has subsequently canceled its participation:
Dr Aja Nwachukwu, the Education Minister, told newsmen in Abuja that the scheme was discovered to be a “white elephant” project. “We discovered that the scheme is a conduit pipe to siphon public fund,” he said.
Of course, OLPC leadership previously implying that Dr Aja is a "small thinker" probably didn't help, either. The last lesson for OLPC to learn from Nigeria? Don't insult your buyers.

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I take no pleasure in finding myself vindicated by these events. As a product designer it seemed a no-brainer that to implement something like this you need to understand how it's a system, not a product. OLPC took a completely product-centered approach, talking nonsense about how the kids would be able to do it all with the XO and someone else would come up with whatever else is needed.

At least the outcome has not been the massive failure I feared had the shipments been in the intended quantities. That would have poisoned the environment for all hands-on computer systems intended for developing countries.

There is a great deal of work to be done before the kids at the Galadima school can use computers first-hand to advance their education. And there's no short-cut.

"There is a great deal of work to be done before the kids at the Galadima school can use computers first-hand to advance their education. And there's no short-cut."

I feel pity for these children. I guess they will never have computer at school again. And I remember the videos that showed how happy they were.

Btw, what could the OLPC have done to prevent the patent scam and the "convincing" arguments of the MS centric producers?


How about the lesson of "Do not attempt to deploy a beta product that depends on good will and open communication into one of the most corrupt nations on the planet"

Yes, the children need education and exposure to thoughts outside those which the government feeds them. Yes, education is the number one need in the world. But you cannot place an unstable, unproven, and poorly supported project into this environment - it too will fall under the graft, distortion, and power plays of the environment.

There are faults aplenty for the OLPC organization, but they must be taken in context, and the big picture has to be considered. Nigeria can be helped by OLPC, but the installation, distribution, and management of the project needs far more attention than was applied.


Looking at the costs for the infrastructure including the cost to connect to the internet with a generator should be a real eye opener for any implementation.

I noticed how the Intel Classmate talks about using Windows XP for their laptop. Has anyone seen it in operation? It sure scares others from implementing an OLPC XO.


We had the Classmate, running Windows, at the 4PC bakeoff - didn't you see it in action: http://tinyurl.com/49nxjb If anything, the Classmate XP should scare others into implementing XO + Sugar.

Reading these stories, the Mazlov pyramid comes to mind. I really am in favour of the OLPC project, but I am convinced that you cannot drop it into any situation as the Holy Bread to feed all that starve. It should be surrounded by a decent infrastructure. Electricity? Think of solar chargers instead of generators. And make sure they serve other purposes than just the laptops. Involve village elders in the project, so it gets a place in the community. Create a user group that actively promotes and develops proper use. In other words: make it a worthwhile asset in a constructive environment, and not a gadget that makes some people envious of others. OLPC is not only about computers, it is more about a social infrastructure that nourishes education and knowledge sharing. It's a tool, not an objective.

@Lee Indeed, there really needs to be another word for "schadenfreude" that is close to the disgust in having your predictions come true, as opposed to delighting in others' misfortunes. Cassandra syndrome perhaps? But indeed; what would have happened if governments really had purchased millions of these at a time? In a way, this pilot was successful in showing that the OLPC (here, both hardware/software and the implementation "plan") was not ready for Nigeria, and/or vice versa.

Sad. Inevitable, predictable, but always sad when the inevitable happens.

Those who know the history of early attempts to force a powerful technology into an alien environment--radio, film, television--had no doubt that this would be the outcome.

The inevitable cycle: a chorus of faith in the new possibilities by the True Believers; early reports of success, e.g. such sad episodes as the Columbia report announced here as a "success," with "success" evidenced by some shaky talk of students "sharing essays." (How many students shared essays we were not told--and what the sharing contributed to learning was not discussed--all we have is a desperate search for confirming evidence.)

What is truly sad, of course, is that radio, film, television, and computers can indeed refashion "schooling," but not if their use is determined by the True Believers who do not--even now--understand why such forced injections of the technology into an alien system cannot work.

Is there some way that we can prevent these failures from resulting in adding computers to the list of doomed technology ventures?

Steve Eskow

How does this rhyme:

'Dr Aja Nwachukwu, the Education Minister, told newsmen in Abuja that the scheme was discovered to be a “white elephant” project. “We discovered that the scheme is a conduit pipe to siphon public fund,” he said.'

From the Lancor website http://www.lancorltd.com/projects.htm

"Nigeria Federal Ministry of Works

Government Agency
Appointed as Network Integration, Internet solution providers and software consultants."

I am shaking my head (in the "oh no" direction), sighing, and rolling my eyes. Totally predictable. Mostly avoidable. And very sad for the kids at that school more so than the XO.

The Foundation clearly needs to review the 5Ps: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.


Wayans post makes some good points but misses something essential. This is that the government of Nigeria is extremely corrupt and ineffecient.

There is no way to improve education working through the Nigerian government. The only solution I am aware of that might work is getting the price of XO's (or other computers inspired by it) low enough so that families and villages can purchase them without having to go through the government. And include enough self-instructional software so that the children can learn something even without school, or only a few hours a day.

I have made this general point a number of times before. Does anyone have any other idea that might work in a place like Nigeria.

Most daring new ventures fail, so it was a no-brainer to predict a Nigerian pilot project would fail. However little the children learned, all the adults involved probably learned some necessary lessons. And OLPC is not dead yet. It is older and wiser and has a few more chances before its various backers give up. Even if OLPC ultimately fails, there will be some useful additions to humanity's overall knowledge.

"Dr Aja Nwachukwu, the Education Minister, told newsmen in Abuja that the scheme was discovered to be a “white elephant” project. “We discovered that the scheme is a conduit pipe to siphon public fund,” he said."

Nigeria spend around 5% of their GDP on education (only a fraction seems to be from the federal budget). The UNESCO actually has published a plan: "Nigeria 10-Year Strategic Plan for Education: Policy, Cost and Financing Assumptions and their Implications".


Btw, if we use the numbers of Wayan (see comment to OLPC in "Nigeria by the Numbers") and compare them to the numbers on page 16 of the PDF, we see that giving all the children an XO would cost less than 30% of the most conservative budget forecasts for 2009/2010. So, contrary to what is often assumed, "informatising" education in Nigeria, in combination with savings from more economic distribution of learning materials, is not so outlandish. It is a choice well within reach:


And really, supplying electricity to schools is not an extreme demand. I would like to point out that even without laptops, electricity has its uses.

We do hope this means Dr Aja Nwachukwu will not only follow the last part of the advice he got when he was installed:

Professor Ademola Onifade of Faculty of Education, Lagos State University (LASU), welcomed the new minister to his assignment but stressed that without any doubt the task ahead of him is daunting and he should focus on the three tiers of education.

On primary education, he told Daily Sun that Dr Aja-Nwachukwu “must expend much energy at this level being the foundation. Once the foundation is well laid, all other levels will fall neatly into place. Much money needs to be pumped into this level to improve infrastructure, provide teaching materials and motivate teachers through adequate welfare package. The state’s SUBEB boards should be chaired by persons with academic and professional background to improve the standard of primary education since the position is an executive one.”

According to him, like the primary school level, funds must be injected into the secondary education sub-sector, adding that the country could still maintain the Junior and Senior Secondary tiers, stressing: “The advanced level programme should be re-introduced. Apart from ensuring the academic maturity of the students before entering the university, it will also provide an alternative route for students who do not pass UME. They will not need to roam the streets any more.”

For the tertiary level, Professor Onifade reminded the education minister that university education in Nigeria needs special and huge funding while acknowledging that the system was almost grounded because of obsolete infrastructure, brain-drain, inadequate facilities and equipment.

His words: “The new minister must be aggressive and determined to stop the wastages in education. A lot of funds that should hitherto be used in improving education in Nigeria go into private pockets.”

He does show he interprets the last paragraph about the waste. But the OLPC as private pockets?


Lessons Learned?
Porn Panic: which self-respecting professional would plan, let alone implement a porn-filterless internet access for ANY network used by children? And I dare say that schools with electricity available are now not that hard to find in Nigeria. Looks like the OLPC Nigeria project was meant to fail?

"Looks like the OLPC Nigeria project was meant to fail?"

I do not know anymore why they chose this school district. But it is clear they wanted to have a "rural" school that might display some of the real problems they will encounter in a real roll-out. They did some serious redesigning to prevent the breakages they encountered.

I think the web-filtering was forgotten because they didn't expect good internet connectivity (but that is speculation). And these were supposed to be younger children, where porn scares are less likely (again, pure speculation).

But I know attitudes differ between the developing and developed world. I read about a Bengal (?) paper recycling plant that stopped using Western "used paper". The reason was that occasionally, there were adult magazines in the paper. Something not really seen as a problem in the West.


There (unexpectedly) is good internet connectivity in rural (and therefore presumably infrastructure-inexistent) Africa? And about value systems, the sexual-awareness differences between my sweet ten-year-old daughter and my adolescent fourteen-year-old son appear to be the same as in the West?
Why do presumptions seem to take the place of project management tenets in Africa?

"Why do presumptions seem to take the place of project management tenets in Africa?"

Humans are imperfect and limited. Any group of people planning anything at all will always use untested presumptions.

For better or worse, it is impossible for humans to have no presumptions and not to rely on outdated information. That is were pilots come in.

As far as I remember, this project was NOT planned to involve 14 year olds. But maybe you know better?

You see, even Americans can make errors. Especially if they have to organize things in Africa where even the "locals" have no experience with. If you do things the first time, you tend to overlook problems.

Furthermore, all I wrote was speculation meant to get an idea of what could have gone wrong. You assume that we somehow know what they actually did and who is to blame. I don't actually know what went wrong.



Americans make alot of mistakes when it comes to other cultures! I know of a guy this Summer flying in with buddies from California that wanted to make Christians in Bogota, Colombia but he did not think that maybe giving his trip money to a local pastor would have been a better use of his trip money. He thought the local guy would be a thief and could not be trusted, even though he was just going to be there 2 weeks before moving on to another country!


If you want kudos for the obvious prediction that OLPC deployments would encounter bumps in the road, you need to get into line behind the rest of us, including those of us who work (worked) at OLPC. But your characterization of that "OLPC took a completely product-centered approach, talking nonsense about how the kids would be able to do it all with the XO and someone else would come up with whatever else is needed" is at best hyperbole and to what purpose? I recommend that you read the OLPC Deployment Guide; feel free to make constructive contributions to that document (Please see http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Deployment_Guide ).

I would also caution extrapolating too much from this one school trial. There are literally thousands of schools doing OLPC deployments. To read too much into one of the early trials is at best statistically suspect.

How about some constructive criticism for a change?


I believe that I have included as much constructive criticism as I could in my posts on my blog (particularly on my post "Alan Kay Comes Through" - see http://fonly.typepad.com/fonlyblog/2005/11/alan_kay_comes_.html).

Tinker has recently posted on my blog his request that I become the coordinator of an effort to continue "stamp collector" development of the XO educational courseware as it ought to be. With thanks to Tinker for his confidence in me, I must point out that I do not necessarily agree with one of the fundamental assumptions of the OLPC project - that problems of economic development can all be resolved through revolutionizing the educational system.

In my experience the lever point is communication rather than education when it comes to helping people rise from poverty. Throughout my entire career I have pursued the creation of products that facilitate non-hierarchical communications in the support of development of community.

I consider the XO to be an important platform for development in many different areas - I myself am assisting a friend in the area of mesh networking, and will be seeking assistance for this friend from others who are intimately familiar with the networking structure of the XO. But I have little to add to an argument whose premises I do not accept.

i eddy by name i am looking for a pilot in nigeria i want to become a pilot please help me at?