David de Ugarte on OLPC Implementation Financing

   
   
   
   
   

Now that One Laptop Per Child has announced 50 OLPC XO's in Argentina now, 500 in December and I asked why Argentinean debt is financing an OLPC implementation miracle, those closer to the South American recipients are also asking tough questions about the real cost of OLPC's.


David de Ugarte

Last week, David de Ugarte of La Sociedad de las Indias Electrónicas is also questioned the full financial impact of an OLPC purchase on Argentina.

David agrees that in general, OLPC does not seem financially possible by governments today. However, David does believe it could be implemented with a mix of financing from the Inter-American Development Bank, the Government, NGO donations, and private companies, if they could see demonstrated success in pilot implementation.

In principal, I agree with him. Once everyone knows the total cost of Children's Machine XO ownership and the results such costs can deliver, then countries, communities, citizens can make rational choices about investing in the One Laptop Per Child program.

Now that would mean the OLPC reveal all the costs of the OLPC OX implementation. More importantly, it means that Nicholas Negroponte and Seymour Papert would need to really trust that Children's Machine XO's would effect education and would be brave enough to commit to rigorously tested and controlled implementation - pilot projects that Negroponte has called "ridiculous".

Or as David says (via a poor Goolge translation I've edited for clarity):

Let us say it clear: [It] is not acceptable that the OLPC can only be bought in million units, because accessible today in the regions are projects like the one of Salamanca in Chile, and the perspective is to multiply this type of experiences, not to face gigantic financings for mastodónticos projects.
Gigantic financing is right! Just wait until you see the global goal of OLPC: $30 Billion dollars per year.

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5 Comments

Thanks Wayan!

You gonna probably like this post also:
http://www.deugarte.com/mas-alla-del-ordenador-mit-hardware-serio-a-bajo-coste-para-proyectos-de-alfabetizacion

Abstract: there are some cheaper alternatives, we should study them and re-scale our perspectives.

I think there's a defining line between 'Cost of Laptops' and 'Cost of Deployment'.

I'd feel better if the OLPC just provided laptops and left deployment and implementation up to the Government they sold the laptops to. The 'costs' then become more concrete as far as money flowing out of the country to pay the OLPC/Laptop manufacturer.

As far as a 'Poor Country' is concerned, they lack technology cheap enough to deploy to the school age children. The OLPC should just provide that technology and keep out of the 'follow-on' market.

The Government in question can then spread the costs of running a technological education across their current education budget since many usage costs come within the scope of normal school budgets.

While I've always defended the honor of the OLPC project's economic vision, I've never understood why they don't feel they can do a pilot project. "No, you can't buy 1,000 laptops at $300 apiece to test it out. It's all or nothing, people!"

As far as I can tell, this is the biggest single worldwide educational project in history. Wouldn't it benefit everyone (the tech guys, the bean counters, most importantly the kids) to take the long view?

Quick note for your Spanish translation: "(...)not to face gigantic financings for mastodónticos projects."

"mastodónticos" -> informally, "humongous", "colossal".

The resistance to pilot projects is the root of my personal gripe with the OLPC project; the huge cost is just the most obvious reason for why one might want to do such a pilot project. OLPC has even shown their willingness and interest in working with coalitions of nations (see the IADB and laptop.org release on the Central American nations working as a group). Really, why can't they encourage a more global network of nations to band together for the first order or two, giving each nation a few thousand (give or a take a power of 10) laptops for their internal pilot projects.

Heck, why leave it to nations? If you get a few big projects, a lot of small, sub-national groups could get in on the action with lots of 10, 100, 1000 laptops each.

I suspect the answer to this is manpower in the initial set-up of school servers, mesh extenders, satellite dishes, training, shipping/distribution, and so on - these all benefit from economies of scale, and transaction costs increase with the number of different organizations involved. But of course, these costs are all just pennies a month, right, so it shouldn't really matter...

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