What happens when you throw 30 teams of jet-lagged college students into a two week training course on OLPC deployment with the President of Rwanda, Nicholas Negroponte, and the promise of $10,000 + 100 XO laptops? An OLPCoprs Africa experience that puts MTV's "Real World" to shame in its roller coaster of highs and lows.
First, let's have Hassan tell us about the training location:
Kigali is such a beautiful place. The entire landmass is dotted with plenty greens, trees and a myriad of wonderful people. One remarkable thing about the city was its 'cleanliness'. The environment was clean in every sense of the word.
Oh yeah, Rwanda is damn impressive. Nothing like a dollar denominated donor economy to keep business booming in Kigali no matter the Great Recession. But not everyone was chipper about the early morning training starts, as Katie notes:
"Jet lag" and "5am" should never be in the same thoughts.
But the thoughts of the OLPCorps volunteers are very interesting as they learn more about One Laptop Per Child's XO deployment methodologies. Here is Stephanie explaining the challenges of using constructionist methodologies in traditional educational systems:
The word "curriculum" has become a derogatory, don't-use form of swearing here at orientation. OLPC has created a computer that emphasizes constructionist education and their manner of inculcating the computers into global classrooms is, of course, constructionist. The teachers know the local curriculum better than any volunteer or OLPCorps member ever will in two months. Therefore, the goal is to enable teachers to introduce the XO into their own curriculum through making them comfortable with the computer and its activities.
In theory, this is a great approach. However, it requires teachers to be flexible and willing to change the way they think about organizing class time. It becomes mandatory for teachers to use a form of education that they themselves have never used nor witnessed. For teachers who have been in the classroom for decades, this task is difficult, to say the least.
The task is made more difficult when OLPCorps volunteers hear what Nicholas Negroponte has to say about the objectives of their 10-week African experience. Unlike the original OLPC mission, he has a much more commercial hope for the program, as understood by Katie:
According to Negroponte, OLPCorps was designed with the main objective of, not improving educational opportunities for kids as I originally thought (or was led to believe), but instead igniting a grassroots movement in our respective African countries that inspires community members to call on their governments to join the OLPC bandwagon.
In other words, Corps teams deploy 100 laptops to 100 children in a community with much more than 100 children. The community is exposed to the greatness of the XO laptop, those who don't have laptops want them, and so the community puts pressure on the government to reform the education system, and spend 75% (this figure was an example given by one of the government officials at the conference) of the education budget on a bulk purchase of XO laptops for the country.
Lest you think that Katie was alone in her change of opinion, we also have "Ashyia" realizing that OLPC doesn't follow a bottom-up approach, which begets a fundamental question about the whole OLPC program:
OLPC is not a response to an identified problem, that was developed with the help of the community that it will be used in. It was an idea that some professors came up with to push a new idea in educational policy, and then decided to use the laptops to solve it [...]
When we were working in the Rwandan schools on Friday and Monday, it felt like we were forcing this technology on the teachers, that we were creating a great burden and task for them, which is something that I have never felt before on a development trip. And yes, the kids love them, an of course they are a great tool for them, but is this really development?
Personally, while I have issues with its design and there are better ways to leverage the volunteers' efforts, OLPCorps is development. Even OLPC is development. And Eli makes a great point on OLPC's development impact:
Would $200 worth of books would have a greater impact? I don't think we will ever know the best method of changing educational policy or exposing young children to the vast world around them, but I feel that more investment in the future is good and if it is easier to motivate educational policy-makers about a cool technology rather than some other idea then I strongly encourage that investment.
And I heartily encourage OLPCorps volunteer teams to invest in their amazing opportunity to experience the messiness of international development first-hand. An opportunity that deep down, I am damn jealous of.
If you too want to experience OLPCorps vicariously, I've created a feed reader of all the OLPCorps blogs that's also displayed in the right sidebar here on OLPC News.
Join me in following OLPCorps, and join Nadeem to:
[I]magine what will happen to literacy stats when children have ultimate access to reading resources and opportunities via ebooks and online exploration.
A dream that is made possible by all the OLPCorps Africa participants.