OLPC Uruguay Doing it Right: Plan CEIBAL's Numbers, Miracles, and Measurement

   
   
   
   
   

Miguel Brechner of Plan CEIBAL didn't dive deep into XO cost calculations during his TEDxBuenosAires talk, but these seem like awfully low numbers:

How much did it cost us? We invested around one hundred million dollars. So that we do not delve too much into figures, each computer cost us around $188. Sixty dollars was the rest of the cost: servers, networks, antennas, tech support, parts, logistics, delivery... everything else. This was all accomplished with public funds, both domestic and foreign.

If we calculate four years of effective life per machine, it will cost us about $75 per year, of which $48 is the computer and $27 the rest of the servicing a project of this magnitude requires. To give you an idea: in the deployment phase that's less than 5% of the educational budget, and less than one two-thousandth of the gross domestic product.

I am curious to see how they are controlling the costs - perhaps Internet access is affordable due to a competitive marketplace (wish we had one of those in the United States) or existing subsidies for educational access.

Do these costs include Ministry-level overhead and teacher training, or have those been rolled into existing budgets? I wonder not so much as a criticism of their cost calculations - clearly CEIBAL is a shining star in both OLPC distributions and educational technology projects - but rather as a best-practices interest.

100 million invested into 380,000 laptops comes out to 263/laptop, less $188 for the raw cost leaves $75 (a rounding or inflationary error larger than the claimed $60) towards the rollout of servers, and a laundry list of what appears to be mostly logistical, support, and setup costs, but could also include teacher training.

CEIBAL calculates a four year lifespan of the computer, amortizing the hardware cost across the years as $48/year (which sums to $192 instead of $188), and claiming $27 annually per computer in administration and other expenses.

Boring TCO quibbles aside, the most fascinating piece I got from this talk was how they were framing their successes (Yes, Measurement and Evaluation is my exciting topic here):

"A lot of the data we gathered points to one thing: it was worth it. It was worth it because kids are more motivated when they go to school. It was worth it because they are more motivated to do homework. It was worth it because they are not repeating grades where we have been able to measure. It was worth it because we gave thousands of children identification documents since we did not give a laptop unless they had some sort of national ID, or at least the parents' ID. So in that sense the children were properly identified.

It was worth it because it increased self esteem in a lot of children. A lot of children learned about photography, about film, about music... At last, it was worth it because we have transformed a privilege, which was to own a computer in the year 2006, to a right."

Notice that nowhere in that list was "test grades have increased" or "literacy has improved by n percentage points." Early on in OLPC's life, 1CC pushed back strongly from any measurement and evaluation work, as they were rightfully dubious of the ability of standardized testing to measure the impact of working with the OLPC. These however are great meta-measures of student engagement, which are (almost) as valuable as any test score.

I remember questioning Negroponte himself on the potential value of these meta indicators back when he spoke in 2006 on the GWU campus (when he was still carrying around a fake prototype OLPC XO for the show-and-tell portion) and having them be thrown in with test scores as indicative of a lack of commitment and belief in the XO's transformative powers.

While some circumstances have an intense need to show test score improvements, the reality is that even in the best of circumstances, laptops rarely improve test scores. You have to balance that reality with the more common-sense feeling that computer literacy and access to ICTs matter.

Still, there is some programmatic need to show some return on the massive investment that laptop programs take. Increased attendance is at least a weak initial proxy to help support the final toll - does a loan-funded laptop investment pay for itself?

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23 Comments

There is ongoing work on assesement and measurement
from the OLPC Fundation
http://wiki.laptop.org/images/2/24/OLPCF_M%26E_Publication.pdf

from myself with the help of OLPC France
http://varlyproject.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/evaluation_olpc_varly.pdf

An english version of this paper is beeing produced.

Author writes:

"Notice that nowhere in that list was 'test grades have increased' or 'literacy has improved by n percentage points'."

Why bother with hard data when there is enough room in the imagination to draw up all kinds of rosy scenarios?

Who cares that the emperor is naked? The koolaid tastes good, and the kids are from a third world country - those people don't know any better. A Timex watch is an expensive gift in Peru...

@Mephisto - I tend to be on that side of the fence, to be honest; but the reality is that laptops don't correlate with measurable improvements in test scores. Read Mark's spot-on _Laptops and Literacy_ book that focuses tightly on this specific problem in US educational laptop programs. ( http://www.olpcnews.com/commentary/academia/laptop_programs_in_america.html ).

Now, we can either say that laptops are worthless in education, or we can look for other ways to check their impact. If you want to argue that laptops are across-the-board without value in education, we can have that debate (Actually, it's ongoing over at http://edutechdebate.org ...) - the emperor may indeed by naked.

If you accept, though, that they have some value, how do you propose measuring it?

Jon writes:

"Now, we can either say that laptops are worthless in education, or we can look for other ways to check their impact"

A better endeavour would be to determine why laptops (or any one-on-one computer project) do not produce measurable results. And why we should have faith that the money is not better spent on other parts of the education process.

I personally do NOT know if laptops are completely useless for education, just the way I don't know how useful the Kindle, I-pad or a 52-inch TV are for education, either. Under normal circumstances, pilot projects would be demanded by prospective adopters, but Prof. Negroponte has been exempt from this very basic requirement because he has the necessary political connections. Anyone else would have failed with the exact same ideas and product.

I have a question that nobody has answered so far: how come wealthy countries with the resources and infrastructure necessay for the laptops are not interested in this initiative? I'd imagine that well-trained educators (not the under-performing teachers Negroponte accuses poor countries of having) would jump at the opportunity to greatly improve education. But nobody is biting. Why?

The US is running multiple 1:1 computing projects; but our education system is not very unified at the federal level, and barely at the state level. OLPC also intentionally avoided the OECD countries at the outset.

OLPC is also being much more flexible with pilot programs than they were initially. I'm sure we all remember Negroponte essentially yelling at countries who wanted pilot programs first to GTFO and go to the back of the line. Things have improved since then; and countries are rolling out implementations through pilots.

"the Birmingham City Schools in Alabama has carried out what can be
called the OLPC model, based on the principles of the US non‐profit One Laptop per
Child Association, originally developed for laptop programs in developing countries.
In line with OLPC principles, learning was viewed as stemming from young
children’s ownership of a radical new children’s machine, rather than through a
systematic pedagogical or curricular reform. The OLPC’s XO laptop was distributed
to all children in grades 1 to 5, after only a 6‐week pilot program in one school, and
little funding was devoted for teacher training, curricular development, Internet
access, technical support or maintenance. As a result, only a minority of teachers
attempt to make use of the laptops at school, and many of the students’ laptops no
longer function. Less than half of students even bring working laptops to school.
Students enjoy using the laptops at home, but, without their integration into an
educational program, there is little evidence of substantive social or educational
benefit achieved from home use. Since the children themselves own the laptops,
fully one‐third of the program’s inventory disappears every year due to children’s
graduation from elementary school or moving out of the district, thus placing more
economic burden on the program. The large amount of money spent on the
program is widely seen as having achieved not much more than a “costly lesson”

The emperor is not naked but "is buying new clothes"
For a review of what does One to One projects in the Usa, go check the graph :
http://varlyproject.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/une-revue-des-evaluations-olpc/

For Peru check impact evaluation at :
http://www.iadb.org/document.cfm?id=35370099

and more to come...

Pierre writes:

"For a review of what does One to One projects in the Usa, go check the graph :
http://varlyproject.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/une-revue-des-evaluations-olpc/"

Glad you posted it!

this is a perfect example of the type of flimsy pseudo-evidence usually presented by the emperor's followers. This "study" was done in Canada, not the USA, without any supporting evidence and has nothing to do with OLPC.

Pierre wrote:

"For Peru check impact evaluation at :
http://www.iadb.org/document.cfm?id=35370099 and more to come..."

Good link, too!

The "empirical evaluation" tells you from page one that "Debido al poco tiempo de desarrollo, no se observó impacto en los aprendizajes"

For those who don't speak spanish, it means - literally - "Due to the project's recent implementation time, no learning impact was observed"

But it won't stop the emperor's dressers from presenting it as some sort of "evidence"...

Nice!

Then man, look at the pdf if you can reach French or wait for the english version on the OLPC evaluation.
In OLPC project, it's about the same effects.

"Then man, look at the pdf if you can reach French or wait for the english version on the OLPC evaluation."

The PDF is in English, if you haven't noticed :-)

Here is my paper in French on OLPC evaluatioo and outcomes
http://varlyproject.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/evaluation_olpc_varly.pdf

I am making an english vesion right now but as Mephisto, you must speek all the languages of Babel.

Pierre wrote:

"Here is my paper in French on OLPC evaluatioo and outcomes
http://varlyproject.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/evaluation_olpc_varly.pdf"

The 'evidence' is a moving target, isn't it, mon cheri?


"I am making an english vesion right now but as Mephisto, you must speek all the languages of Babel"

Just enough to know when sombody is bs'ing me ;-)

It is clear that there is no irrefutable evidence eg PROOFE, that laptops/ICT have a (big) impact in education in the developed world.

What I would really like to know though is if someone can point to a study that shows that ANYTHING has an impact in the education of the developed world.
I'll take the developing world too.

Just point to a solid scientific PROOF (not indication) that something works across the board in education, anywhere.

Obviously this SOMETHING should be compared with anything else of the same cost. 10 books is better than 5 does not count. 100 books is better than 1 teacher or vice versa, does.

Then the discussion about a proof if ICT/OLPC is the BEST approach will have some merit.

"It is clear that there is no irrefutable evidence eg PROOFE, that laptops/ICT have a (big) impact in education in the developed world.

What I would really like to know though is if someone can point to a study that shows that ANYTHING has an impact in the education of the developed world.
I'll take the developing world too."

Good and fair question with an obvious answer: the traditional method of building a school and populating it with school supplies and teachers has worked for centuries in poor and rich countries alike. Take the countries with the best education systems in the world; they share a basic approach: school building, school supplies plus teachers. Nothing mysterious or magical there.

These laptop programs come with the EXPLICIT promise of ENHANCING education (it used to be that they could replace teachers or even entire schools, but the empty rethoric has since been toned down quite a bit). And that where problem lies.

So, the fundamental question is whether a poor country like Peru can afford to waste money on programs that DO NOT ADD ("ADD" is the keyword) to what they already have. That seems the case with these one-on-one laptop programs. If distributing the XO (or Classmate, EEE or any other laptop, it does not make a difference) does not improve children's literacy or math or test scores, isn't it logical to think that the money could be used for something that will actually make a difference, like building more schools or hiring more teachers - which is what rich countries routinely do?

If the laptops don't make a difference, why not distribute $2.00 watches? or $29.00 Fisher-Price Fun 2 Learn Color Flash Laptops?

http://www.amazon.com/Fisher-Price-Learn-Color-Flash-Laptop/dp/B001JQLJN6/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1286537143&sr=8-5

That's the real problem here.

I can point to a number of cases that shows that in some countries although the number of teachers, number of schools, teacher's salary, students/class, cost/student etc are improving steadily the last 10 years the quality of the students in international standardized tests is decreasing! (obviously because of other socioeconomic factors)

The point is simple. There is no "silver bullet" in education. If it was we would know!
The only thing you can do is try, monitor and reevaluate. You do not know before hand if, even the "true and tried", methods will work in a given setting.

The other major point you must consider is that in many cases the dilemma is not laptop or schools/teachers but laptops or nothing or very little (see: politics)

So before I shoot down ANY effort I would be much more interested to see a) if it is working and b) if people are trying to make it work, eg monitor and reevaluate.
There is no doubt that deployments big or small and OLPC per se, is trying to do this. And that's the take home message.

NN may say that this is the silver bullet (or the bronze one :), but that's his job. And he is doing fairly well. I wouldn't expect even 1 laptop to have been deployed with a different approach, and believe me it wouldn't be any schools in the laptops' place....

And to add to the above, show me the most fundamental, that cost per student AMONG developed nations reflects student quality.
Or maybe teachers/student or hours of schooling or curriculum focus or any other solid measurable parameter.
Please

A few comments:

(1) I really that this $75 per year refers to all program costs. Given what we have heard about the number of employees that Ceibal has, the repair program, the nationwide extension of Internet, and some other things, I expect it is somewhat higher. There are probably certain costs here that are not reflected because they are part of other budgets. (I suppose, though, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a huge difference of it's $75 per year or $100 per year).

(2) Whatever they are spending does not appear to be enough, at least as far as maintenance goes. When you have between 1/4 and 1/3 of the laptops in the program unusable -- over 100,000 out of 400,000 -- that seems to be a big problem.

(3) As for some of the discussion by Jon and others on laptops and test scores, Jon is right that I pointed out in my 2006 book that one-to-one programs in the U.S. don't tend to raise test scores. However, it's been about 5.5 years since I finished writing that book in 2005, and there's been some improvement on that since then. A number of recent studies, including a couple of mine, have found modest improvements in test scores in reading, writing, math, or science from laptop programs (based on systematic comparisons to control groups). That doesn't negate the point that a laptop program can still have value in other ways outside of test scores of course.

(4) In Peru, it's not particularly worrisome that test scores have not improved after a comparatively short time of program implementation. What is more worrisome is that laptop usage at school appears to drop substantially after the first two months.

Mark,

"A number of recent studies, including a couple of mine, have found modest improvements in test scores in reading, writing, math, or science from laptop programs"

Very exciting; I'll have to check these out. I'm presuming that http://www.gse.uci.edu/person/warschauer_m/docs/netbooks-aera2010.pdf#netbooks is one of these studies you're referencing?

Yes, that's one of the studies, though that particular paper doesn't have any of the quantitative findings in it. We are working on writing that up. Here's another of our recent papers that has the findings reported from a small study:
http://escholarship.bc.edu/jtla/vol9/5/

Here's a paper written by someone else:
http://escholarship.bc.edu/jtla/vol3/2

Pr., If I am correct "proof" in education has been rejected by AREA.
The best we have are percentage of std. usually on tests scores.
Now, in developing countries, the education problems are not just learning outcomes. There is very little effective schooling time, few textbook (for ex. no textbooks in more than 80% of classrooms In Guinea Bissau, school year usualy starts february and finish in April). Building schools can be expensive in remote areas. Therefore in SOME CONTEXTS, it might worth and cost-effective to run laptop projects.
When we compare some XO deployment unit cost with public spending per primary pupil, we found about the same figures (ex Nepal XO 71$ vs 61$)
As per geography, it might worth providing XO in some Nepal communities rather than to build a school at 4000 meters.
We can expect high outcomes (on attendance, repetition...) and a good cost/results ratio in SOME CONTEXTS.
Now assessment or impact evaluation will not give an exact measurement of the valued added of laptop projects and what the investment return was,but they could be embeded in the initial design of the laptop projects.
That's what OLPC foundation is advocating for these days.
More evaluation but could allow to identify how to best run a laptop project.
I hope I can post an english version of my paper in a few days with deal with these issues and provide contextual data on OLPC the deployments

Pierre writes:

"Now, in developing countries, the education problems are not just learning outcomes. There is very little effective schooling time, few textbook (for ex. no textbooks in more than 80% of classrooms In Guinea Bissau, school year usualy starts february and finish in April). Building schools can be expensive in remote areas. Therefore in SOME CONTEXTS, it might worth and cost-effective to run laptop projects."

If the problem is a shortage of schools and school supplies, then the obvious path is to use whatever money there is to build as much of the needed infrastructure. Building a few schools will at least ALLEVIATE the problem. The alternative is to forsake schools and spend the money on laptops that can't provide kids with the basic education they need. That's a truly bizarre "solution".

*******

"When we compare some XO deployment unit cost with public spending per primary pupil, we found about the same figures (ex Nepal XO 71$ vs 61$)
As per geography, it might worth providing XO in some Nepal communities rather than to build a school at 4000 meters."

The idea of laptops replacing entire schools is so preposterous that even Negroponte himself has abandoned it.

*******

"Now assessment or impact evaluation will not give an exact measurement of the valued added of laptop projects and what the investment return was,but they could be embeded in the initial design of the laptop projects."

What does that mean? It sounds very interesting, but it is one of those nonsensical sentences full of buzzwords that don't actually mean anything.

Sorry for using pseudo-expert jargon, try
http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.9.html
to learn about evaluation of ICT projects concepts and definition.

For a few photos and infos on what a public school looks like in Guinea Bissau , please go
http://varlyproject.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/support-schooling-in-guinea-bissau/

What the photo don't show is that teachers don't master the portugeese (official instruction language) and there is not really teaching methods and materials that could be shipped there.
Building school in concrete would help or just drop by Xos?

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