An Implementation Miracle


While we wait with baited bated breath for the official OLPC Implementation Plan, we had an interesting glimpse of Nicholas Negroponte's vision of the plan at the Reunión Hemisférica de la Red de Educación, a policy dialogue between the Inter-American Development Bank and its borrowers.

There, the Ministers discussed "The implications of 1-to-1 computing models in Latin America and the Caribbean - One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)" with leading technology in education experts and the OLPC leadership.

One of those experts was Andrew Zucker, co-Director of the Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium, who shared his view of many laptops in education implementation plans.

Essentially he maintains that while there is much hype and hope, there isn't any empirical proof that one to one laptop programs in education actually bring up test scores or create economic competitiveness. That educators would do well to start with a pilot program and test their laptops in education approach against defined metrics before rolling it out to a larger group.

That most one to one computer programs for education use a formula something like this OLPC News re-creation and re-interpretation of Andrew Zucker's original slide,:

How might Nicholas Negroponte react to this charge that he is selling a miracle, not real dynamic change, and his One Laptop Per Child program should do a test pilot? Dr. Negroponte was offended, but not in the way you might think.

First he warned the Central and South American countries not to listen to North American educators, that the North American educators did not have the same problems as the developing world and were clueless to the poorer country needs.

Then he got personal with Dr. Zucker's presentation:

"I will overlook Andrew Zucker's somewhat insulting remark[...]that computers added to children equal magic. [...]

But the rest of your presentation was actually very inappropriate for this group [by focusing on the need for objective metrics.] Because in fact they do need some magic. They do need some miracles.

And they do need to do things which isn't futzing around and moving deck chairs. And they can spend the next five years planning. But that's not what they should do.

They have to take action. They have to take big action. To do a pilot project is ridiculous!"

Now what might the Ministers think of such a complete disregard of empirics in favor of emotions? Judgments by the heart instead of the mind? While the ensuing debate was emotional and intense, the Argentina State Education Website says it the best via a Google translation:
Given to the differences of opinions and interpretations, and before certain ideological cuestionamiento that Negroponte did of the previous presentations, the panorama was opened for a deep and interesting discussion motivated specially by the interventions of the ministers, vice-ministers and representatives of the different countries that attended the meeting.
No matter the polite interpretation, the results of the meeting are clear in the resulting IADB and OLPC agreement. There, Negroponte lost his battle to eliminate a focus on objective testing metrics, as the agreement synopsis clearly states a requirement of:
(c) design and support for evaluation activities, in order to insure rigorous follow up and lessons learned from initiatives in this field;
Now is that moving deck chairs and endless planning? Or is it careful consideration of the national priorities of less developed countries with small national budgets, and even smaller educational budgets, to ensure they are maximizing education with their meager resources?

Countries that, like everyone else, are impressed by the laptop but wary of the massive $30 Billion annual price tag.

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Not that we should jump to conclusions, but: The article doesn't make Prof Negroponte look too, uh, (pick one: rational, realistic, honest).

Arguing that a decades-old educational "crisis" means that LAC countries should abandon prudence (testing) won't fly. Especially because in their rapidly growing economies there's no incentive to panic.

Plus: The lack of consistent data showing broad gains in learning outcomes from ed-tech initiatives gives Mins. of Education strong arguments for asking for proof. As does the fact that the Mins. of Education need to work with a _bunch_ of partners in their own governments and outside to swing the dough needed to play OLPC. They need proof or at least evidence, not rhetoric.

And many of the LAC countries (Brazil, Mexico, Chile) have rich and sometimes disastrous experience with system-wide ed-tech projects. They're probably more aware of the potential pitfalls than is Prof. N.

The high price tag for OLPC participation makes it impossible for the countries that ARE in the throes of educational crises, say in Sub-Saharan Africa or parts of SE Asia, to take the plunge. Probably just as well...


That's why I wrote the post. Negroponte's comments were shocking, both to me and the assembled Ministers. But his comments are not new. If you listen to the Forrester presentation, he seems to discount the need for teachers in general. That children only need to learn learning to be successful participants in society.

One hopes you don't wait with "baited breath," as in worm-eating, but "bated breath," as in paused, just like "unabated" is without pause.

Wayan, I've worked with a lot of "de-schoolers" as they're called in the UK, and in the US -- and I have some respect for their arguments. And Negroponte's mentor / colleague Seymour Papert pushed the envelope of tool-driven unstructured learning in ways that were amazing.... So I can, with a lot of caveats, at least see OLPC's non-pedagogy as arguable. But to try to scare prospective buyers out of testing, that's getting close to extortion.

I want to BUY a few of these laptops.

If negroponte made the comment or implied that teachers are not important then there is going to be a series of problems with this project. I worked on an international development project with an EdTech intervention. It was reasonably successful because we were able to train teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms making the classrooms more exciting, engaging and getting kids to pay attention which in a round about hard to prove way improved achievement. Teachers, and the school community are really the key to success of this project without their investment to use technology this just becomes another naive idea. Without support from the school community the OLPC will just become fancy paper weights or museum pieces to be displayed when International Development people visit.

I agree, it's a waste of money and time. There are far more worthy educational schemes that would be far better. Would that they had spent the money developing the pc on developing a decent set of educational programs that can be used online for kids to teach themselves in their home language. A combination of wikipedia, google, gutenberg and olpc may be useful. I still think cheap second-hand desktops will do the trick.

Negroponte may not want a pilot, but - when they get to South Africa - we'll measure and rate the result.

== Ed Gaible
Mins. of Education need to work with a _bunch_ of partners in their own governments and outside to swing the dough needed to play OLPC. They need proof or at least evidence, not rhetoric.

Mexico is starting learned from their last failure on schooling system, after the huge mistake of Enciclomedia, New President Felipe Calderon is cutting down the budget for the third time in the projects life. At least Ministry of education is trying to figure why they failed when investing in mere technology and not in education models.

They made no plan whatsoever to assure that the new technology would indeed benefit the education quality. Hopefully this time ministry of education will want to see some rationality before investing in this kind of enterprise.

== wayan
That children only need to learn learning to be successful participants in society.

The main reason for the Enciclomedia failure, was precisely that it changed nothing of the way children learned. The model was the same, a teacher with a board and a speech. Children memorising information provided by a sole source of closed knowledge.

== gavin
There are far more worthy educational schemes that would be far better. Would that they had spent the money developing the pc on developing a decent set of educational programs that can be used online for kids to teach themselves in their home language.

Here is precisely where i think we (olpc followers) might need a rethinking. Children indeed don't need Information technologies to develop required skills. Neither a sole new element to the same old process of learning will deliver them from the current vices of the education models.

OLPC shouldn't be intended to be thought of as a solution to education, nor a one-in-all education model. Governments will still need to re-think the way the children learn and teachers teach. never the less olpc leverages the implementation of such models and the shift of paradigms.

Lets hope governments don't make the same mistake as Mexican Ministry of Education did... Technology wont solve education problems. We need to invest in education schemes, not information technologies. such technologies must be considered only as a support and enabler not as end solution.


sorry for my bad English,
I'm trying to improve it.

Negroponte seems to be sticking with this wrongheaded approach to evaluation and evidence-based public policy. Consider his reaction to Macdeonia's request for pilot research in a recent WSJ article:

The international development community has been fighting an uphill but worthwhile battle to instill a culture of assessment and evidence-based public policy in developing nations. It was refreshing to hear Macedonia, which by the way has done an exemplary job of building its internet access and infrastructure, request pilot test comparisons of different computer options was refreshing and encouraging. To hear Negroponte refuse and dismiss the request was disheartening, at best.

Hey maybe you haven't noticed it but computers have changed the jobs of most of the people in the developed world. Do you people still think that education about the world is possible without a computer? I do disagree with anyone that thinks optimum education will take place without a teacher and I hope that no-one is suggesting it. But the XO or something like it is much more important than uniforms, desks or a classroom. We've been shipping food to under developed countries all of my life and I do not see that much improvement. Maybe by promoting these children into the computer age they can learn to feed themselves. John A.

man, OLPC is a great laptop regardless of what intel says. the best part being all the thought put implemented. sturdy material, good looking, good battery life, an operating system thats focuses on the task at hand than say windows glorifying itself. i'd rather go with olpc, and intel should have produced an EEE pc. the losers instead try to scuttle a vision of a man who's trying to get some education kickstarted in poor countries. people say its food that the africans want. the USA spends so much on iraq - a war that was totally unncessary. if they had diverted all that money to africa, they could have pretty well owned that continent, and fixed ALL the problems there.

Hmm, I don't see any disclosure here about Intel paying you:

I sense rough days in the comment fields ahead for your failure to disclose. Credibility is instantly reduced to zero.

Gary & Mark

Um, you're about a year late with your worries and conspiracy theories. Please educate yourself so you don't look the fool:

This site is is a "joke".... Are you insane. OLPC screws up the D1G1G1 donors orders, lies about it, denies it, etc, etc. The joke is the OLPC organization.

Even if this site was linked to from the Intel website and had the header "We are trying to bury OLPC" on the front page, I would still read it for information about the shipping fiasco because there is NOTHING from OLPC.

NOTHING, did you get that NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING did you hear that, NOTHING from OLPC. No disclosure, no XO's to D1G1G1 donors, not NOTHING.