Thoughts on One Laptop Per Child in East Africa Community


In reading "Is OLPC East Africa for 20-30 Million Children For Real?" my thoughts have not changed much since my OLPC article about "Moshi Rural Teacher Capacity Building Workshop". That the 5 East African nations realize that education of their youth is the way to improve the future for their nations is commendable.

OLPC's position since its start in 2005 has always been that it is an "educational project, not a laptop project." OLPC has successfully created the need for computer power for youngsters along with hardware, software and technology for a robust, affordable laptop for developing nations.

tanzania school
Tanzanian school children

However, I can imagine that these EAC leaders are also thinking of other ways to improve education besides OLPC. Education has and probably still brings to mind the 3Rs (reading, writing & arithmetic) along with qualifying exams to pass on to the next higher education level. OLPC laptops can assist and supplement teachers and enable children to explore new ideas.

I have read "Is OLPC East Africa for 20-30 Million Children For Real?" with great interest and the 8 contrary points made by Mr Unwin seem valid. These and other points need to be studied in detail to arrive at the best overall solutions. I doubt if all the people in 5 nations want the same things. For example, do primary students, secondary students and teachers/administrators want/need the same laptop and software? I have always been leery of buying items without competition. Should this laptop requirement have worldwide competition?

Before boatloads of OLPCs start to arrive in East Africa the logistics chain needs to be established for teacher and student training, set up, maintenance, servers, WiFi, electricity and sustainability. OLPC should be coordinating with other NGOs like GVEP International for solar power for the high percentages of schools in areas not on an electric grid. Thirty million laptops is a large number of computers that need to be assembled some place (Taiwan?). Why not assemble the laptops in the 5 EAC nations to provide jobs and to assist in preparing follow-on support? CherryPal claims to be able to assemble netbooks with a mishmash of parts. Cheap netbooks seem to be able to run Windows XP.

In a classroom with the teacher facing a large number of students with open laptops for the students to look at (instead of the teacher), how is the teacher going to be able to keep students' attention and teach the required lessons? Even some US universities have banned open laptops during class. ICT with less laptops and more projectors (with exceptional learning content) would be better for education in my opinion.

Sustainability must be carefully planned or the OLPC novelty will soon fade away. I could imagine that if school headmasters have a say in how OLPC financing will occur, they would probably prefer to give teachers more training, materials and money than to have One Laptop Per (EVERY) Child. Sharing laptops has benefits.

Perhaps OLPC should declare victory now and select a name change to go along with an educational mission approach. After working with dedicated OLPC staff and contributors for 6 months, I am reluctant to admit that as I let my 2 year old grand daughter play children's games on my iPhone she is fascinated, but I am not sure about educational improvements. Do you have any suggestions for a new name?

Tim Russell has applied for XO's from to the Contributors Program


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