What's the single most difficult task in starting an XO pilot?


Apparently, I'm seen as an expert on One Laptop Per Child, lord knows I've written enough on it, and so I get a few emails a week asking my advice. Yet, I always reply that the best advice isn't from me, but from you - the esteemed OLPC News readership.

So let's put you to the test! Here's a reader question that's worthy of your thoughts:

What's the single most difficult task in starting an OLPC pilot project?
I am planning to start a pilot project with XO laptops from OLPC in my native West African country, but lack of electricity is going to be the biggest challenge. I would like to get your advice on this.

My advice was to say the lack of electricity would be a minor issue overall - they could always get solar panels. What will be the greatest challenge is to find teachers and school administrators that are excited about utilizing technology to increase childrens' learning.

Many headmasters will be excited to have technology at their schools - for bragging rights. Teachers usually see it as just another thing they have to teach, and will try to reject it especially if there isn't a direct tie-in to the national curriculum.

So rather than worrying about the technology, the reader should worry about finding sincerely motivated teachers and administrators. The technology is the easy part.

But enough about what I think, what do you think is the single hardest task in an OLPC pilot deployment?


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I would not say electricity is a minor issue, it is a MAIN basic issue!. Every single charge of an XO requires 32 WH (I measured this myself in rwanda. OLPC now says its 40 WH per charge,) and that is a lot of square meters of solar panels for an average school using devices every day!

School infrastructure is another: classrooms with ceilings, doors, windows, good flooring and a safe electrical installation are a huge investment!

Software is another main issue, mainly integration of software tools with curricula. There is little information about pilots in this regard.

And last but not least, maintenance and technical support. did you see the average failure rate of devices in Uruguay? Scary! But I read they are now implementing mobile buses with repair labs, a nice solution.

So I wouldn't say there is a single most difficult task for starting a pilot, everything has to be in place for it to work smoothly: hardware, infrastructure, training, teachers, software, curricula integration and maintenance..

The hardest taks is finding a way to justify the expenditure in the absence of hard evidence that their use actually improves a child's education.

Hardest: the self doubt of those (of us) from the West when we wonder if this is a good thing to do. In the case of Kenya (Eastern Province), local strong support overcame our self doubting.

Perhaps you have followed the current 'Frustrations with One Laptop Per Child Initiative'.

I am neither a computer expert nor an educator, but I have worked many years to get nations to agree to work together for mutual benefits. After working with OLPC for 6 months to help my wife (an educator) create a Teacher Capacity Building Workshop in Moshi,Tanzania (my wife had worked bringing students to Moshi for community service projects for 7 years), I have some ideas that may be of interest.

For me the most important aspect of starting an OLPC pilot project is to establish the desired/achievable outcome. I would suggest beginning with a modest project such as interesting teachers and ministries of education in the viability of futher small scale pilot projects at schools to convince them that laptops in schools has long term benefits for teachers and students.

I joined the OLPC Contributors Program in January to obtain a few XOs to demonstrate at the weeklong resident workshop (to be held in Janary 2010) what OLPC XOs could do to help pedogogical changes (the focus of the Workshop). I soon became immersed (overwhelmed) by constructivism and Sugar, lost interest and withdrew my request. A fellow contributor working with me still wants to bring in Kenyan teachers who have had a more major project in Kenya to demonstrate XOs at the workshop.

Good luck!

For me, The OLPC project had issues that bothered my mind as to its sincerity from the beginning.

The XO laptop was a product under development just like any other manufacturer or intending manufacturer's product.

Coming to Nigeria - or anywhere - with a product prototype and asking for the purchase of 1 million units to be done without a transparent bidding process and evaluation showed how much respect they had for us in terms of propriety.

It to me appeared like asking the customer to finance Research and Product development (of + 1million USD) without being shareholders.

I have never doubted the fact that giving such fund for R and D for a similar project coordinated by a Nigerian University would have left us better than whatever the XO could offer.

Of course in a world full of questionable government officials in third world countries, Im not surprised we almost fell for it.

Would you like to narrate what has Nigeria or any other developing country achieved in a million or even ten or a hundred million dollars of R&D spend? It will be a gross waste as R&D..it may have some meaning as expenditure on moving up the learning curve.

By the time you start getting any R&D benefit it will be several generations and you will still be behind the curve.. No matter where you come from, no matter how much money you want to spend, R&D does not happen by money or desire alone.

It takes generations of building a scientific culture and temper that cannot be easily created.

Just like you will not go to create a cell phone or mobile telephony system, you are better off procuring technologies, including OLPC, and try to see how far you can go with them..

Please do not expect any technology to be perfect. I have changed my blackberry 5 times in 5 years and repaired a few times as well.. See little reason why OLPC should be more perfect.. Just that it is more easily repaired than any other equipment I know.

That said, there is clearly a gap between Negroponte's claim and the reality you may face.

How I wish Negroponte will recognize his failings as well.