Rwanda to Parents: Pay Half XO Costs Per Child

   
   
   
   
   

When Juliano Bittencourt of OLPC Rwanda said the government of Rwanda was buying 100,000 XO laptops, my first question was how they were going to finance the purchase - it would be $20,000,000 in equipment at the minimum, and over $100 million in Total Cost of Ownership over the next five years. That's in a country where the total education budget for 2008 was $109 million, and 70% of the total federal budget comes from international aid.

But it looks like the Rwandan government has come up with a novel idea: share the costs of XO ownership with parents. The New Times reports that State Minister of Education Theoneste Mutsindashyaka is asking parents to buy XO's for their children:

XO in rwanda
RITA splitting Xo costs with parents
"We really want to encourage parents to buy these low cost laptops for their children because they are vital implements in their children's education, if they need to equip their children with the digital skills necessary in this era," said Mutsindashyaka. The laptops are acquired at a subsidised cost of $100 a piece and the aim is to have all primary-going pupils acquire one.

From that short quote I think we have a whole new XO financing scheme - co-buying with parents. And I like the thought. I have always maintained that parents are an under-appreciated financial resource for XO purchases, and getting even a $100 commitment from them (payable in installments, I would expect), gives them skin in the game.

Yes, you could say they have the most skin in the game already - it's their children in this grand experiment. But often it takes a physical action, and actual money allocation, to drive home the reality of participation and its related scarifices. $100 from every family for every child in primary school will focus parents, children, and the education sector like no other scheme yet devised.

If this is in fact the OLPC Rwanda payment plan, then I am in awe and in support. Its not going to be easy, Rwanda has a $900 per capita income, but it will be radical change for the better.

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2 Comments

Interesting. I have been saying for years that olpc will really take off when the laptops get so cheap that parents buy them on their own, bypassing the government. It looks like the Rwanda government is doing something half-way the standard scheme and my idea.

Wayan, I think that co-financing is swell. (Note my post elsewhere [http://egaible.livejournal.com/13348.html] about co-financing for teachers' purchases of laptops in South Africa.)

But my all-too-brief experience in Rwanda leads me to think that _any_ requirement for financing by parents will lead to huge inequalities between the kids who get XOs and the kids who get nothing.

On one visit, I met John, a brilliant then-6 year-old who had real-world problem-solving skills, English skills, and who was generally alert, adventurous and kind. After John and I hung out for a few days off and on, sharing the occasional Fanta, he asked me to skip the Fanta and buy him some meat. He'd had none since Christmas (it was March IIRC), and he was very hungry. (I knocked myself on the head and complied.)

On another visit, I saw John again, he said that he'd dropped out of school because he needed to work and his mom, who was widowed, couldn't afford the school fees. With the cooperation of another friend, a middle-class Rwandese woman, I agreed with John's mother to "co-finance" John's school attendance: I would provide funding (I think it was US $35 / term); John would write me a letter every term, confirming that he'd registered, and a second letter around the completion of the term.

I realized at the time that this wasn't an assured deal, that there were many potential problems with the arrangement. But, frankly, John was a cool kid and this was the best deal I could think of on the spot.

I made one payment up-front, and we exchanged payment and letters for a second term (thru our mutual friend). The third-term payment didn't get a response; I later learned that John's mother had used that payment to buy food for all 3 of her kids.

There's no surprise in any of this, I'm sure you'll agree. But unless Paul Kagame and his staff have a robustly monitored scheme in mind that is _very_ sensitive to the needs and priorities of the poor, I don't see how the budget amounts that we're talking about with TCO of XOs are going to be significantly affected by co-payments.

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