In reading Nick Wadham's article "How classroom laptops may help to boost Rwanda's economy", I noticed that educators in Rwanda are not allowing students to take their XO laptops home for two simple reasons:
Who Pays for Lost XO Laptops?
Even if OLPC promotes the idea that XO laptops are to be the children's property, that's not how most educational administrators think about any resource distributed by schools. They consider laptops like textbooks, property of the school and teachers or parents are responsible for each one. Just listen to Nick's observation:
After watching schoolchildren composing music and playing games with their laptops, I stepped out into a courtyard and saw the school principal, FranÃ§oise Murekeyisoni, in a heated argument with the mother of Valentine Mutoni, who stood looking stricken next to her. Valentine had lost her laptop several days before, but the family had only told her teachers now.
"Now it's Tuesday. Why didn't you tell me about what happened when the laptop got lost on Friday?" Murekeyisoni asked Valentine, and then turned to me. "This is my responsibility. Taking care of these kids means I have to take care of the property at school."
The government knows that computers will get lost or stolen, but officials still have not made clear who will be responsible for replacing them, a big problem where the laptop's value is half a year's wages for most Rwandans. Murekeyisoni herself has tracked down people who bought laptops from kids for a few dollars and bought them back.
XO Laptops Disrupt Family Life
How many times have you seen a child too engrossed in video games to listen to a parent or do homework or housework? I know in my house, an iPad is more exciting than food for Hanalei. So in Rwanda, Nick found that parents who need children to do daily chores ban XO's in the home:
Murekeyisoni, who is nonetheless a fervent proponent of the laptops, told me there was a second reason for keeping the laptops at school: parents didn't want them around the house. Some complained their children were entranced by the computers and did nothing but tinker with them.
"These children are still young and they are excited. They love laptops very much, beyond anything else. The parents find the laptops are becoming an obsession. The kids don't take time to eat, they stay up late and it becomes a distraction from their chores."
Local Culture Matters Most
Both of these reasons can be traced back to local culture. Where teachers and administrators are personally responsible for school items, they'll be very reluctant to have children take computers home. And where children are essential workers in family life, there is little time to "goof off" with an XO.
Good luck to OLPC to change either practice, no matter how shiny and flashy the technology.