What I've increasingly realized over the past few months is that the various OLPC related projects around the world often really only have one thing in common: using XOs in schools. Their goals and the paths chosen to achieve those goals vary significantly in many different ways and I think it's worthwhile exploring the different models and approaches that are being taken in this context.
The goals of the various efforts using XOs might seem like a no-brainer but in fact there's quite a difference between what for example Uruguay's Plan Ceibal and OLE Nepal are trying to achieve. Of course these goals are very much related to what the main problems within the respective education and social systems are (or at least what they're perceived to be).
In Nepal the lack of high-quality primary school education and the resulting low literacy rate - approximately 60% - is considered to be one of the core challenges. In this context it's understandable why OLE Nepal is focused on improving primary school education by developing "high quality open-source Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based educational teaching-learning materials that are accessible and available free of cost to all".
In Uruguay the situation is quite different as almost every child finishes primary school and subsequently basic education and literacy - 98% - is basically taken care of. On the other hand there's no doubt that there's as part of social divides there's a wide digital divide within Uruguay. Plan Ceibal is addressing this by handing out an Internet connected laptop to every child within the public school system, with primary schools being covered already and distribution in secondary schools starting soon.
Looking at the various countries with OLPC projects it's easy to spot that in terms of the organizations working on the respective initiatives there's generally two different breeds: On the one hand you have small NGOs like OLE Nepal, OLPC Afghanistan, and ParaguayEduca who can be described as traditional grassroots efforts started by small groups of people who were inspired by OLPC. On the other hand there are the government led efforts such as Rwanda's OLPC project, Peru's Una Laptop por Niño, and Uruguay's Plan Ceibal which are generally run by the respective Ministry of Education or other public bodies such as the CITS in Uruguay.
In terms of size the range of initiatives is quite huge, ranging from small efforts such as our 25 XOs pilot project in Austria to the 420,000 XOs distributed in Uruguay to date. Not surprisingly the large projects (Birmingham in Alabama, La Rioja in Argentina, Peru, Rwanda, and Uruguay) are all government run whereas the many smaller efforts in 20+ countries are led by various NGOs.
The only possible exception to this is Mexico where billionaire Carlos Slim was said to purchase a large number of XOs. The deployments page on wiki.laptop.org lists Mexico as having received 50,000 XOs however I wasn't able to find any current information about the project so it's hard to say what the status quo there is.
What I find interesting is that to date none of the NGO-led initiatives has increased its project above 10,000 XOs. ParaguayEduca's upcoming phase two will see their project increase to 9000 machines and in Nicaragua Fundación Zamora Terán is also said to increase their project to 11,000 machines over the coming months. However in general the current sweet spot for well-established projects seems to be between 2000 and 5000 XOs (e.g. Afghanistan, Nepal, and Nicaragua).
In-school vs. after-school
This point is one that I hadn't really considered until I attended the olpc realness summit back in May. There I learned that Waveplace's projects so far have all taken place in after-school scenarios and after spending more than a week participating in one of them on St. John I can definitely see the upsides of it. One important aspect here is that from an organizational point of view it's definitely easier to get a project started in the afternoon than during regular school-hours.
It's quite obvious that governments aren't necessarily interested in purchasing XOs for after-school programs. However I think particularly for individuals and small groups who are just getting started this is a good way to get some in-classroom experience in preparation for possible larger projects later on.
Last but not least there are of course also differences when it comes to the educational approaches that the various organizations are taking. OLE Nepal and OLPC Afghanistan for example are very content and curriculum driven whereas ParaguayEduca and Waveplace heavily rely on tools like eToys, Scratch, and/or TurtleArt. From what I've seen Uruguay is somewhat of a mixture as Plan Ceibal does content related work as well as emphasizing the importance of eToys and TurtleArt.
It will definitely be interesting to see how these different educational approaches work out in the mid- to long-term. Of course what "work out" means will very much depend on a project's goal(s) but I hope that at some point someone somewhere will do research to look into the impacts the various projects have had on children's learning.
In the end
What has become clear over the past two or three years is that while "one laptop per child" might be the ultimate goal for the majority of the initiatives associated with OLPC the paths choose and reasons why they're chosen are often quite different. Hence it's no longer sufficient to talk about OLPC as opposed to other projects in the information and communication technology for education (ICT4E) space. Yes, the XO might be a common denominator but in almost every other aspect you'll find different approaches and I for one am excited to see how the various projects pan out over the coming months and years.