One Laptop Per Rwandan Child


The government of Rwanda has now announced it will be participating in the One Laptop Per Child roll out sometime in the next five years with yesterday's press release:

[T]he government of Rwanda has committed to provide one laptop per child to all primary school children within five years. This commitment was confirmed as H.E. President Paul Kagame met with Prof. Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairperson of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) at Urugwiro Village on Tuesday.

OLPC will provide test laptops plus support to fully test the concept at no cost in Rwanda, as well as coordinate knowledge exchange with other participating nations.

Greg Wyler of Terracom
Of all the OLPC countries, Rwanda seems the most technologically advanced and pedagogically prepared for One Laptop Per Rwandan Child. President Paul Kagame has embraced ICT as the key to his country's future and Rwanda has amazing entrepreneurs like Greg Wyler of Terracom who is providing affordable Internet access for all Rwandans.

When I met Greg last year, I was amazed by his energy, vision, and dedication to President Kagame's Vision 2020. As Romain Murenzi, Rwanda's Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Scientific Research says:

"We have almost no natural resources and no seaports in Rwanda, which leaves us only with the knowledge-based society.[...] We intend to quadruple the average income by [2020], and communication networks can help us achieve that goal,"
And from my experience with the Kigali Institute of Science and technology and local Rwandan entrepreneurs, they are taking the government at its word, building the most advanced and aggressive information and communication-based economy south of the Sahara and north of South Africa.

OLPC + Children Worldwide

In other words, a perfect environment for millions of Children's Machine XO's. Granted, there is a serious question of cost. Rwanda is not rich, it cannot afford to buy a OLPC for ever child, even at $100 dollars per laptop, but I for once am cheering on a recipient country.

Which brings us to a pertinent question: Just who is in or out of the OLPC roll out? We have confirmation that Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Uruguay, and maybe Pakistan are in, but Thailand, India and China are out.

Reading CNN we hear that the Palestinian territory is in and reading Yahoo News we find that Egypt and Massachusetts are out. Yet there isn't any independent confirmation about Pakistan, Egypt, Massachusetts, or the Palestinian territory.

Oh, and before you look, who knows what reality the OLPC country map exists in.

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Wayan, Rwanda _does_ represent a new and exciting frontier for OLPC roll-out. As you say, the country's private-sector IT activity is pretty vibrant, TerraCom is splendid, and KIST adds IT capacity. But the most important distinguishing factor IMHO is that Rwanda is a _really_ poor country,158th out of 177 countries in UNDP's 2006 HDI report. (Not that HDI is a perfect standard.) If OLPC makes a difference in Rwanda, that difference will be huge.

Two related factors make the situation interesting: since around 1993 Rwanda's had a world-class shortfall in electrical power supply nationwide (it's still going on, yes?), which means that Children's Machine XO will be widely tested (like, almost everywhere in the country) in no- and low-power environments. Second, TerraCom's ongoing push of its fiber-optic network across the country makes Rwanda perhaps the poorest country to date to plan and implement nationwide broadband.

But it's really key to remember that Rwanda's stark rural poverty has the potential to deflect indirect efforts at poverty's relief. If the XO has any monetary value, it will be sold for food.

(That will almost certainly happen in tourist areas such as Ruhengeri, although the parks system tends to keep visitors from interacting with locals...)

China and India may be out, but if oplc is a big success in the countries that are trying it, then there will be a lot of pressure on them to join in too. Of course, if oplc is a flop, then China and India will stay out.

Eduardo, China and India are also seeing development of "indigenous" devices by govt-supported and independent entitites. OLPC may succeed in some countries but still be out-competed in others, esp in countries like C & I that have huge markets and strong tech sectors (and in India's case, history-based aversions to MIT Media Lab.

Of course, as you say, if OLPC is a flop, then....

OLPC won't flop. In fact, one could argue that it has already succeeded. The XO is the real thing, I've tested it myself. OLPC has already effectively demonstrated that laptops can replace pen, paper, and books as the medium for instruction. It is not a matter of if OLPC will succeed but when. Granted, it could be another organization or private company that succeeds w/ this same technology. Either way, OLPC started the process.

Ed, good point. But remember 3/4 of the population still lives out in the countryside and is pretty poor (though much better off financially than they used to be).

And if course, if olpc pushes the commercial companies to come up with something to match it, that could be good too. My big fear here is that they will go with Windows on what they would be selling. As far as the government-supported projects, I am not aware of anything remotely as good as oplc. But again, who knows, maybe olpc will push them to come up with something even better.