OLPC Deployment Troubles in Rwanda and Ghana


One Laptop Per Child seems to be having problems deploying laptops in the schools of Rwanda. From the New Times we learn that OLPC Rwanda is well off its target of deploying the 120,000 XO laptop ordered by the government:

XO in rwanda
How many kids smile with XO's now?
According to the information from OLPC programme in the Ministry of Education, presently, only 8,000 laptops have been distributed to less than fifteen primary schools in the country, and these are both public and private schools.

"It looks like the programme is not having enough financing that can lead to its realisation like the EDPRS had projected," said Richard Niyonkuru, the OLPC coordinator in the Ministry of Education. He said, they have been able to distribute the laptops in nine public and six private schools in Kigali city where parents have been able to buy the laptops for their children.

But at least OLPC Rwanda is getting laptops out to the children. After the recent elections in Ghana, and the resulting change in government, the XO laptops destined for Ghanaian children became pawns in a intro-government smear campaign.

The result my sources tell me, is that XO laptops are collecting dust on the porch of a Ministry of Education building. Not the place you think best to empower learning through ICT.

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Thanks for the update on the "stored" Ghana OLPCs. As you know, our organization, Ghana Together, has been working with donated OLPCs in Axim, Ghana, partnering with the local Ghanaian NGO "Western Heritage Home." Thanks to generous Americans who have donated their G1G1's, they now have 32. Recently, they have hired a young computer instructor/technician who is bravely learning all things OLPC. In the past two weeks, in addition to working with the children in the Children's Home, they have recently started after-school and weekend classes for neighborhood children.

So, in at least one town in Ghana, there is a humble but active OLPC program. It is starting to draw the attention of educators and politicians. Judging from the response from the local children and their parents, and also local educators, the OLPCs are being greeted enthusiastically. We also have designated two machines as "guest" computers, where interested adults can get a quick lesson from some of the older children and can "check out" an OLPC for a short time to try it for themselves.

I realize all this is extremely humble, given the huge need in this still very poor country. But, maybe this kind of grassroots effort will help at least some Ghanaians to a wider acceptance and greater understanding of what OLPCs are really all about and how they can augment their children's education. I recently read a long string of comments submitted by ordinary Ghanaians in response to an article in a newspaper---they revealed a pretty deep lack of understanding of what OLPCs really are, I thought.

Ghana is a democracy, now. They had a recent peaceful change of political power, but not without some turmoil during the transition phase from one administration to another. This was the first time their national government changed from one party to another (NPP to NDC) by an ordinary electoral process, I believe.

As I understand it, the OLPCs, along with some fuss about the use of official cars, residences, etc. kind of got caught up in that rocky transition period. The very wonderful and remarkable thing is that these stresses are being worked out without bloodshed. I have high hopes that soon the 1000 or so "official" OLPCs now in the education department will be deployed, and will become a foundation upon which a wider program can be built.

Ghanaians are passionate about education. They want computer literacy for their children, of that I'm certain. If Ghanaians are reading this, I hope they'll actually take a look at some of the "in service" OLPCs in Axim, and then make their own decisions going forward.

Why are the smart, committed, and experienced Rwandese failing to
accurately budget for and finance this high-profile laptop deployment?

There are of course a thousand suspects, although failure as we know
obscures patrimony.

One strong possibility is "ministry overreach." The OLPC initiative is
split between the President's office, the newly created Ministry of
Science & Technology (MOST) and the Ministry of Education.

The government of Rwanda has established itself precisely as a visionary among African governments in relation to the uses of technology for development. However in several instances--ranging from the Terracom fiasco to early projects involving laptops in primary schools and computer labs in secondary schools--implementation has not come close to matching plans.

It's not unlikely that the more powerful MOST has provided the MOE with
a laundry list of "unfunded requirements" in relation to OLPC
deployment. (You'll observe that the quote regarding financing is from
a person in the Mineduc staff, not at MOST.)

But it's important to observe in all of this that the $20 million spent
on laptops and however much is budgeted for deployment results from
strong donor support for education in Rwanda. (DFID provides the bulk
of dough for education in Rwanda, but other sponsors include AfDB and
WB. DFID hasn't usually sponsored ICT initiatives.) $20 million in
hardware procurement over 5 years ain't chump change in a total annual
education budget of about US $100 million. So why aren't donor agencies
more visibly excited about this?

Could it be because Rwanda is more or less on track to reach its
Millennium Development Goal targets, including its targets in
education? Does that buy MOST and Mineduc the opportunity to make a $20
million boo-boo?

Perhaps this is a job for AidWatch? (Wm Easterly never mentions OLPC.
Of course he rarely discusses education in relation to development.)

crossposted in an expanded form (dread!) to natomagroup.com

More trouble in Rwanda - now payment by parents is an issue, according to The New Times:

Kigali — Both the banks and school administration are not willing to take up risks in a move to facilitate parents purchase computers under the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.
The Ministry of Education is in talks with Rwanda Development Bank (BRD) that had agreed to finance about 2,000 parents.

Richard Niyonkuru the OLPC coordinator in the Ministry of Education, said that many parents do not have collaterals to access the loans and the banks wanted schools to take up the responsibility and follow up the parents to pay up

"This is a challenge because the move would help us (OLPC) increase the ratio of children with access to the laptop but the ministry is in discussion with BRD to facilitate this," Niyonkuru said.

One of the excuses given by the school administrators is that parents have failed to meet their pledges.

Who has been to see the flagship school for OLPC deployment in Rwanda? A simple visit to see what if any learning is going on would certainly make observers wonder if the XO is the right technology in the right place. 90% of primary schools do not have electricity. Teachers don't know how to use the XO for teaching, indeed scarcely know how to use it at all. Children don't (contrary to OLPC claims) spontaneously learn to use it (at least not in significant numbers), so it displaces even the poor learning that goes on in a classic teacher-led classroom. Most primary-school pupils in Rwanda know how to read barely or not at all; in consequence the lack of literacy materials available on the XO is an egregious omission. There is no satellite Internet link, because a key part of the dish antenna was stolen way back. There is no evidence that the OLPC team has regular (or even occasional) contact with the school to troubleshoot technical or pedagogical problems.

Per capita household consumption in Rwanda is almost exactly the same as the purchase price of an XO. Who would recommend that a family blow their entire annual consumption budget to borrow money to buy an unproven educational prop for ONE of their almost 5 children, even if this were an option? On the government side, there are a few enthusiasts, and many others who are very worried about the displacement costs. One XO costs the same as four teachers for a year. The XO has not demonstrated successes in increasing learning outcomes. There are so many things wrong with claiming this is a model for the whole Rwandan primary school system that words fail me.

Please, advocates, provide examples of actual learning (literacy, basic arithmetic and science) using the XO in a classroom situation. And, before you begin telling us that the XO is not about basics, please admit that children who cannot read, use a keyboard or understand basic science, cannot use the XO for the learning of life skills. Be specific, tell us what programs are being used and how and what the end-of-year results are. It is crucial to the credibility of the XO to go beyond deployment and think about learning outcomes. Blaming the recipients is definitely not an adequate explanation for lack of results.