OLPC Niue Ends - The first total One Laptop Per Child country now the first to quit OLPC

   
   
   
   
   

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:

Nieu girls with XO laptops
At least they get to keep them...
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.

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I was sad but not surprised to read that OLPC Niue has ended, and with it the world's first full country saturation deployment. Of course, Ni... [more]

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No problem at all from Negroponte's point of view. Now he can return to Nieu and airdrop XOs there!!

Michael Hutak (OLPC Association's Regional Director for Oceania) just posted two very thoughtful entries on the OLPC Oceania blog and they're both well worth a read:

"Niue education winds down OLPC due to funding shortfall": http://olpcoceania.blogspot.com/2011/11/niue-education-winds-down-olpc-due-to.html

"Lessons from Niue feed into other Pacific efforts:
http://olpcoceania.blogspot.com/2011/11/lessons-from-niue-feed-into-other.html

Hi, I'm the regional director for OLPC for Oceania.

You can read our comments and response to this story here:

http://bit.ly/ucNQwg

And you can find out the lessons learned from Niue here:

http://bit.ly/s8qTqW

And you can read here how it's the large international donors in the Pacific who are the key to supporting OLPC in small island microstates such as Niue.

http://bit.ly/sljQys

Michael,

The last point you make - funding - is the main reason I've always had issue with the OLPC saturation approach.

A one anything per child program is going to be expensive, both in initial technology outlay and in continued purchases for each wave of students. Ongoing support (technical & teacher) and access to content (local or Internet) is even greater.

Nuie shows that even at just two schools and 500 students and teachers, this cost of an OLPC or olpc program can be challenging.

This story does not add up, especially the "prohibitive" cost of servicing these extremely rugged laptops that were designed for repair by schoolchildren, and the prohibitive cost of a satellite connection.

The cost of laptops and Internet should be less than the cost of printed textbooks, and the Sugar Labs program for Replacing Textbooks stands ready to digitize Niue's existing textbooks and designing new ones that integrate XOs and Sugar throughout.

Also,

http://internetniue.nu/
Internet Niue provides services to those parts of the island where most people live, work and have holidays. Using our WiFi network you can go on-line with your laptop, PC, iPhone, PSP or other WiFi-enabled device anywhere on Niue where there is WiFi coverage. These services are currently free once you have a connection, which may cost as little as $25.

I see that Niue is not an independent country, but is under New Zealand.

I should go and ask some questions.

Regarding your comment about maintenance: While repairs by children are possible this is not a wide-spread practice in OLPC deployments from what I have seen. For example in Uruguay Plan Ceibal's warranty very much discourages children, parents, volunteers, and others to repair the XOs on their own.

Also, don't forget about the fact that especially early production XOs (such as the ones used on Nieu) often had a number of issues such as keyboard breakage, the notorious jumpy mouse-pad, issues with chargers, etc. All of these hardware issues require spare parts which (a) often aren't easy to source and (b) also cost money.

A clear case of the excuse, "We've never done it that way." If there were any will to fix this problem, some of the children could be given formal training and then paid a modest rate to do the repair work on the spot, using a modest supply of spare parts, also held locally.

What is the problem with governments? Do they think that only expensive contractors are worth the money?

Mokurai,

I agree something does not add up about this story. As another point, Niue seems perfectly capable of staffing repair centers with their own high-school students.

http://rocketsystems.nu/rocket-news/yes-students-show-their-skills/2011/08/

I'm still at a loss: What doesn't add up here? Do you guys think that the reason given in the interview are not the real rationale for phasing out the project?

Yes, Christoph, that is exactly what cjl and I think. We have pointed out that Niue has lower-cost options for both repairs and Internet. These are therefore mere excuses, and not reasons.

"Your problem is that you believe that politicians mean what they say."--Former California Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown

"...mere corroborative detail, designed to give an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."--The Mikado, Gilbert & Sullivan

Oh well, I guess we'll have to wait for Michael Hutak to post any further findings to clear this up...

Or you could do just a little research, say try a search engine called "Google", you might have heard of it.

When you read statements from the IUSN (formerly known as the Internet Users Society – Niue), a United States-based charitable foundation that provides Niue with free internet services.

http://internetniue.nu/about/the-iusn-foundation/
"Niue is the only country in the world in which all users have free, unlimited internet access".

As well as read of the awards that IUSN has been collecting for their work.

Information Society Innovation Fund (ISIF)

http://internetniue.nu/whats-hot/general/internet-niue-wins-international-award/2011/09/

Laureate in the digital access category of Computerworld’s 2011 Honours Programme

http://internetniue.nu/whats-hot/general/iusn-honoured-for-niue-initiatives/2011/07/

how can one not question the statement of the Education Minister that Internet connectivity is an nsurmountable problem in Niue?

Guys, ok, I know it's tough to pronounce. But the country is NIUE... not Nieu, Niew, or Nuie. Tyvm.

Thanks for spotting that, I've now corrected my mistake.

I recently visited rural Uruguay (probably the best example of OLPC integration so far) and they were telling me that servicing the laptops was also a big problem. Apparently the state has delegated maintenance to private companies under contract, but they can take up to 9 months to repair one single laptop, whereas the state maintenance team itself comes around once every year and fixes them in about half an hour.

The impact of that is that roughly one third the XOs are out of order in rural areas. This means children cannot have "one per child" as the whole concept would imply.

Even then, it was just incredibly great (in comparison to Peru) to enter a primary school classroom in the middle of countryside fields and have 6-8 years old open their laptop and connect to the internet without a trace of worry abour whether they will have internet access or not.

I am from Niue and lives in Niue.

The OLPC project is a very useful project for Niue, and its ICT development plans.

It is fair to say that it is premature at this stage to make remarks without having to do a proper review and evaluation of the overall project. There is quite an enormous amount of information and knowledge that can be derived from such an undertaking which is very useful for the ongoing development of this project. It is normal of course that there are positives and negatives but let do this first. The OLPC team of volunteers that came when it started should come back to do this task. In my village of Mutalau, in some household the laptops from this OLPC project are still being used by the children to access the internet.

Frank Sioneholo
President
Niue Computer Society (Inc.)
Mutalau, NIUE
ph (683)4148 (w) (683)3317 (h)

Frank, thanks a lot for your thoughts, your local insights are much appreciated. Please do keep us in the loop about the evaluation efforts you're mentioning, I'm sure many other projects in the Pacific region and elsewhere will find them very useful.

Also, as you can see in the comments above there have been quite some discussions about the cost of Internet access being an important factor here (or at least being mentioned as an important factor). Can you shed any light on what the situation looks like for the pupils who received XOs: Are they able to use the Internet for free on the whole island? And are the schools connected to the island-wide network or do they have separate VSAT connections?

Thanks,
Christoph

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