1 Million XOs Missing in Action, Lack of Measurements to Blame


At the United Nations Social Innovation Summit 2011 in early June Nicholas Negroponte spoke about the status quo of OLPC and what the organization is up to next. His initial comments start at the 0:49:30 mark:

Having seen plenty of his presentations before I didn't really pay much attention until about 3 minutes in when Negroponte says:

There are about 3 million of these laptops in 40 countries today.

Wait, what did he say, 3 million XOs? Did I miss something? The map on OLPC's Web site says "over 2,100,000 children and teachers have xo laptops" and the corresponding wiki page also mentions "2.1 million XOs in the field as of January, 2011".

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation also indicates that 3 million must be quite off. As of today the only countries which have distributed significant quanities of XOs are:

  • Uruguay: Famously the first country - apart from the tiny island-state of Nieu that is - to have made "one laptop per child" a reality in its public primary education system. It's now in the process of distributing XO-1.5 HS laptops in its public secondary schools and the total number of XOs currently in the country is approximately 500,000.
  • Peru: The country celebrated the distribution of the 500,00th XO in April and it was announced that it hopes to reach 1 million XOs by the end of the year. It's hard to estimate what the current number of XOs there is but based on the above information I doubt that it's already the 900,000 units that OLPC's map lists but I'll give them the benefit of doubt here.
  • Rwanda: We had previously expressed doubts about the number of XOs which Rwanda ordered and/or distributed. However after meeting one of the project's coordinator during the eduJAM! summit in Montevideo the number should soon indeed reach 110,000 XOs.
  • Argentina: La Rioja province bought and distributed 60,000 XOs.
  • Mexico: I haven't really had time to investigate what is happening with OLPC in Mexico so I assume that OLPC's 53,700 figure it accurate there.

Now adding those numbers up results in approximately 1.6 million, give or take a few. At this point and looking at the smaller projects listed on the aforementioned map and wiki page even that 2.1 million figure it starting to feel a little high. And that's even though it actually includes the almost 100,000 XOs sold during the "Give 1 Get 1" program in 2007 and 2008 (most of them hardly qualifying as "children and teachers" I would argue).

So where the other almost 1 million XOs that Negroponte talks about are is anybody's guess.

Though listening to some of his later comments starting around the 1:06:00 mark I'm at least starting to understand where this mismatch could be coming from:

If you have lily livered bureaucrats, trying to figure out what's going to go on, of course it needs measurement. Because, the nature of bureaucracy is, if something fails, you get the blame, and if it succeeds, your boss gets the credit. So, of course you want measurement. You want to be certain, and you want to try this and you want to try that. Heads of state with character don't have to do that.

Nor do chairman of foundations who get a lot of (well deserved I might add) credit. They don't need to measure either - not even the number of laptops deployed.


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