OLPC Peru's Enigmatic 40,000 XO-1 Laptop Purchase

   
   
   
   
   
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Pointing to a OLPC Peru future

Peru is poised to become the second official buyer of the One Laptop Per Child XO-1 computer, after President Alan García Pérez's announcement on October 11th to buy at least 40,000 XO's from OLPC this year and 250,000 more next year:

Garcia Perez announced the approval of a request for additional credit of 22 million soles to buy the first 40 thousand school computers, smaller than conventional ones, valued between $130 and $150 US dollars each.

Noting that this purchase is part of the process of incorporating technology in schools in the country, he remarked that these modern machines will enable children to learn to investigate, seek information and connect with the world through the computer.
The computers will be used in rural schools, apparently in those already included in the Huascaran program, a not-that-successful attempt by the previous administration to provide computers to schools. In a number of cases, computer labs with satellite Internet connection were set up so servers and network equipment should be available to connect XOs, though the exact details are not being made public just yet.

No official word about property of the computers has been said. Although the acquisition is made by the government, it is understood that the computers will be handed down to the students; however, there are significant legal considerations regarding transferring of ownership, and this is, most probably, the reason why nothing has been said about this issue.

The actual acquisition procedure has been less than transparent. The Request for Proposals (RfP) was sent to potential suppliers on October 3rd, with responses expected by October 5th (this is a bit of privileged information I've been able to learn but cannot support with actual documentation just yet). The terms were precisely matched to the well-known marketing points by OLPC, including power consumption (10 watts maximum, a watt more less than the only competition, Intel's Classmate), resistance to dirt and water, the aforementioned reparability by kids, and the provision for a video camera and tablet-like behavior.

The acquisition does not consider any distribution channels, installation, set-up services, post-sale maintenance or spares. One of the specific conditions laid out in the RfP was that the computers "were easily fixed by the students themselves". Nothing has been said about operation costs, beyond the fact that current Huascaran schools already have budgets for network operating expenses.

Together with this acquisition, it has been announced that:

More than 100 thousand teachers will qualify for a grant of $150 and a loan of $ 300 in the National Bank to finance the purchase of computers. The head of state referred to this loan will be repaid within four years, and allowing better access to educational content.
No precise information about this yet, but apparently a lot of computer suppliers are looking for this particular business opportunity, and the software developers' community is seeing this as an opportunity to port Sugar apps into standard Linux distros.

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José Antonio Chang Escobedo

The only suitor has been OLPC, in close alliance with a private University here in Lima, Universidad San Martín de Porres (USMP). José Antonio Chang Escobedo, the president (rector) of this university is currently on leave and serving as Minister of Education, and some of his staff has been drafted into the project;

  • consulting and evaluation services for the implementation of the OLPC computers have been requested to USMP;
  • a collaboration agreement between OLPC and USMP has been signed, making USMP "the only university in the world working with OLPC";
  • and the previous head of educational computing projects at USMP is now the National Director of Educational Computing.
The closeness between the current ministerial staff, USMP and OLPC is not reassuring, since they haven't actually requested alternative suppliers or presented RfP for services by anyone else.

What little is being discussed publicly about this project in Peru does point out the absence of transparency in the administration's dealings with OLPC, the unusual linking of the Ministry with one university (including an Honoris Causa doctoral degree for Nicholas Negroponte while in Lima to have an interview with the Education minister) and the inexistence of answers about exactly what are the goals of the project, where is it going to be deployed, and exactly how this fit into the general educational policy of Peru.

And the final turn of the screw: President Alan García Pérez stated that, thanks to United Nations' help, the computers will cost around USD $130, instead of the well-known USD $190 - $200 dollar figure. Nothing else is known about this rebate, and no further information has been gleaned by yours truly, at least till now.

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22 Comments

I don't really want to go into politics here but I'm not at all surprised that things are a bit iffy and at times fishy when it comes to a government run by Alan García. Ever since I watched him during the campaña electoral in 2001 (and had the chance to see him during a ralley in Pisco: "Alan vuelve, Alan vuelve") I'm very skeptical of this guy. He didn't do any good during his first presidency and I doubt that he'll do a better job this time.

So all this odd (mis-)information kind of overshadows that apparent OLPC Peru purchase decision for me...

"well-known marketing points by OLPC, including power consumption (10 watts, a watt more than the only competition, Intel's Classmate)"

I thought XO uses less power not more - can we please have sources for your figures - thanks.

Delphi, perhaps the paragraph leaves room for confusion, but please note that I'm not saying anything about XO power consumption, but about the maximum power consumption for any computer tendered as part of the RfP, and the 10 watt limit leaves out the Classmate.

Wayan, if you please add "maximum" after 10 watt, to clear any future confusion? Thanks.

Christoph, Alan García is not doing anything awfully wrong right now, but nothing particularly right either. Besides everything else :), I'm really intrigued by the "rebate" he mentioned. I'm still searching for more...

Eduardo said "Alan García is not doing anything awfully wrong right now, but nothing particularly right either."

Point taken, I just generally wanted to express that I'm very skeptical of this guy and everything he does or says. As they say "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me"...

OLPC XO consumes 0.5-2W depending on Black and white ebook mode or full color backlight modes, while the Classmate consumes +11-30W.

When using the same battery in full backlight mode, the Classmate consumes 4-5 times more power at the minimum. That is the difference between a fanless and a fan-cooled computer system.

OLPC XO consumes 0.5-2W depending on Black and white ebook mode or full color backlight modes, while the Classmate consumes +11-30W.

When using the same battery in full backlight mode, the Classmate consumes 4-5 times more power at the minimum. That is the difference between a fanless and a fan-cooled computer system.

"well-known marketing points by OLPC"

This, by itself, is not too uncommon or overly shady; a lot of government agencies have policies about being open to anyone who fulfills the RfP and/or bans against requiring any specific brand/product line. If you want something very specific, you have to tailor your RfP to require things that only your ideal solution can provide. For example, if you want a specific piece of educational software by company X, but there's a competing solution by company Y, your RfP would be carefully edited to require some function that the Y software couldn't do. Sure, it's a bit shady, but the lack of follow-through on distribution and educational implementation are much more worrisome.

The phrase about power consumption is really confusing... And it should actually read "a watt less" not more!

Jon's comments ring true from my experience at Apple when it tried to get federal/state/local govt. contracts. Those agencies that wanted Macs would write the rfp one way, but the majority wrote them to favor IBM or MS. The losing side usually challenged this routinely.

There's a regulation in Peruvian acquisition statutes that supposedly does not allow for anything to be bought if there is just one supplier possible. That, for instance, creates a lot of problems when somebody wants to buy a Mac for a government agency, since there is no other computer that runs OSX. The only way around in these cases is a Supreme Decree (like a Presidential Order) allowing such a one-off acquisition. It looks like that's the way OLPC purchases will have to take, though there's a lot of issues with this approach, including potential parliamentary review and (very much unlikely) cancellation of such a purchase.

I've changed the power consumption sentence to read "10 watts maximum, a watt less than the only competition" which should be more clear for everyone.

"I've changed the power consumption sentence to read "10 watts maximum, a watt less than the only competition" which should be more clear for everyone."

But we all know what those "milleage" numbers in the adds actually mean.

I would like to see some independent tests on botht the XO and the Classmate in real use. But then, who doesn't.

Winter

I'm honestly not that interested in the power-consumption figures. It would be nice to know to have a detailed breakdown but it's not all that important.

What I'm really more interested in is the amount of time the laptops can run on a single charge of batteries with a normal day-to-day (school-) usage scenario. Because in my opinion that is going to be the real challenge here. OLPC uses some very advanced approaches when it comes to power-saving (that's also why I'm saying that a single power consumption figure isn't all that useful) but it really remains to be seen how long the production models can run. 8 hours is the bare minimum I'd say, 10h would be great and 12h would be outstanding!

I guess it's a testimony to the geekiness of the subject, but still I'm amazed how little about the actual acquisition in Peru has been discussed and how much about power consumption.

The XO-1 may run for 24 straight hours on one battery charge and still be useless for education, and a colossal waste of resources. The preliminary report released by the people "assessing" the XO-1 impact on education stated that math teaching has improved because "students could check out results in the computer's calculator". That's my worry, a great piece of technology wasted in a worthless project.

Firstly, thanks for the clarification on the power consumption figure.


"I guess it's a testimony to the geekiness of the subject, but still I'm amazed how little about the actual acquisition in Peru has been discussed and how much about power consumption."

Things like power consumption, display readability and other mentioned in the terms are major factors in how useful these laptops will be for those kids and rightly should be the starting points in evaluation. After all, if a laptop spends most of its time being charged or you can only use it indoors then not only its usage will be severely limited but also the running costs are going to be substantially higher. It's nothing about "geekness" - just common practical sense...

Delphi, you are assuming that the computer has a place in education. If that is the case, I agree that evaluating power consumption makes sense, though there are strategies to minimize consumption and to allow for different usages.

But you are missing my starting point: what if the computer does not make sense? What if the instructional design, the pedagogical strategy and the actual usage in class is flawed? Then power consumption and similar measurements are irrelevant, since the computer becomes just a toy. That's the case in Peru right now, and the improvisation and lack of planning are serious issues, more serious in my view that something that can be fixed or enhanced in time.

Eduardo Villanueva Mansilla,

"Delphi, you are assuming that the computer has a place in education...But you are missing my starting point: what if the computer does not make sense?"

Any information processing tool has a potential to be used in education. Take a simple 'computer' eBook reader - I'm certain that (especially with timber and other resources needing a much careful management than till now) it will be in a common usage as a replacement for (most) books (and I'm assuming that you agree on books , at least, having a place in education) in the very near future - all that was still needed were cheap print-like-resolution display and efficient and safe battery technology, and these seem to be with us now. The further improvements in those technologies and production methods will make them cheaper still.

OLPC XO computer takes that functionality even further and (without getting into discussion about Constructivism) even as the most basic Internet browsing tool, I hope you'd agree that giving (all) kids ability to access to even more information resources (ie Internet) would be beneficial to their education...

"(and I'm assuming that you agree on books , at least, having a place in education)"

That is not uncontested. According to Plato, Socrates (and Plato himself), did not see a place for books in education ;-)

Winter

Information is just a resource, that's true. And as history has shown, what's important it's not having resources but knowing how to use them.

That's all I'm asking: that my government tells us exactly how they are going to use the XO-1 in education, not just that the Minister invokes the power of computing as a revolution, praising a computer as marvelous because it has a long battery life, and voila, educational issues are solved (check out his statement at http://www.andina.com.pe/NoticiaDetalle.aspx?id=145961, sorry, Spanish only).

I assume you are aware that there are more things, besides access to informational resources, to be considered when providing computing tools. As I've said many times, I'm not against constructivism, computers in education or the XO-1 itself: I'm against selling snake oil's solutions to complex problems. That was my fear when OLPC first arrived, and unfortunately, that is how is happening in my country right now, with a complete absence of educational policy being covered in green and white and sold as a "revolution".

Walter Bender is happy about OLPC Peru:

"1. Lima: Carla Gomez Monroy's hard work at Arahuay—the town which hosted the first OLPC pilot in Perú—came to fruition with news that the Budget Commission of the Peruvian Congress has unanimously approved of the first allocation of laptops for children.

The announcement was made just as Jim Gettys, Hernán Pachas, and Carla Palomino Guerrero arrived in Arahuay for a visit. Hernán and Carla are working with Oscar Becerra, General Director of Educational Technology, Ministry of Education of Peru, who is in charge of the OLPC program in Peru.

(Jim gave the keynote address at the Vision 2007 Conference in Lima, Peru, having worked with Hernán and Carla earlier in the week.)"

http://lists.laptop.org/pipermail/community-news/2007-October/000081.html

From the budget commission official statement about the budgetary extension for XO-1 acquisitions, we can know the price.

22.560.000 Peruvian soles mean 564 soles per computer. At current exchange rates, each one will go at around USD 188 (fluctuating around 3.00 soles per one USD).

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