Back in 2008 the tiny island-state of Nieu became the first country to realize the vision of one laptop per child after having distributed XOs to all of its 500 primary and secondary pupils and their teachers.
Now this morning I came across a story by Radio New Zealand International which says that the island's Education Department decided to end its OLPC program:
Lisimoni Togahai (acting director of Education) says the programme's first two years went very well, with children's computer literacy and understanding of issues such as climate change improving.
She says unfortunately the scheme is expensive to run and the Education Department hasn't got the budget to pay technicians to service the laptops.
"When the pilot ended and the school could not afford to pay for the high cost of maintaining the V-SAT that's connected to the satellite for the internet access. So it's just phased out."
It is very unfortunate to hear that the program will be stopped despite the fact that the early results were apparently very positive. At the same time it re-emphasizes two important facts about OLPC and similar ICT4E initiatives which we've repeatedly mentioned here on OLPC News:
- Simply distributing laptops isn't enough. Support and maintenance are resource intensive key aspects which such projects need to provide.
- Connectivity, and particularly access to the Internet, is an important value which ICT4E projects provide. In its absence locally (either directly on the laptops or on school servers) available content repositories and digital libraries are measures which also provide a lot benefits.
As far as I know this is the first time that an OLPC project running for several years has been shut down by a country. Since Nieu's project was one of the earlier OLPC efforts I therefore can't help but wonder whether we're going to hear more such stories over the coming months and years. Especially when you consider that in 2012 the first batches of XOs in the field will start to reach the end of their expected lifetime of roughly five years.
On the bright side the pupils in Nieu will be able to keep their XOs so hopefully at least some of them will continue to get value out of them.