I am Roland, from Switzerland, and I think that the officials of India, China and of other countries turning down OLPC started a discussion on the appropriateness of OLPC XO laptops and other technologies for children's education. What concerns me is that the opinions of subsequent discussions were on both sides rather superficial. Even though I am not an expert on education in developing countries, I would like to take up this discussion again hoping for better informed and more differentiating opinions on the Children's Machine XO.
I think it is necessary to distinguish different groups of countries with different situations of their education systems:
- countries where the majority of kids have no access to schools because there are by far not enough of them.
- countries where some (urban?) regions have almost sufficient number of schools (maybe with bad quality of education due to lack of teachers or lack of school material) and some other (rural?) regions have absolutely insufficient number of schools resulting in almost no education.
- countries with sufficient number of schools almost everywhere but insufficient quality of education due to lack of teachers or school material.
- countries with sufficient quality of general education everywhere but lacking computer education.
Then I set up the following Theory:
"In order to achieve a satisfactory, general and IT education by using OLPC infrastructure kids need not only XO's but also schools (buildings with rooms, servers, electricity etc) and tutoring by trained teachers. "(The role of the teachers may change considerably but they will still be necessary to give direction, motivation and support.) While giving XO's to kids without schools and teachers is still much better than nothing, it will not allow to achieve a sufficient education that way because most kids left alone miss support, direction and dedication.
Field reports tell how smart kids were by putting computers to use without any tutoring. Although these kids astonishingly learned to find things in the internet without knowing English this will not allow them to gain a well rounded basic education on their own. If the above theory is true the following conclusions can be made:
- countries in groups C) and D) can directly increase the quality of their education using the OLPC infrastructure. They have the least additional costs on top of it since they do not need to build more schools. These countries are also the most likely to be able to afford the purchase of OLPC infrastructure.
- countries in group A) first need to build schools and employ teachers before they can make use of OLPC infrastructure. This group could so far not afford to build just those schools and therefore will be even less able to purchase OLPC equipment in addition to schools.
- countries in group B) have still limited education budgets that do not allow to solve all education problems at once. So they have to choose the best option to spend their money on: 3a) they purchase OLPC equipment for the existing schools at the cost of not building more schools in undeveloped (rural) areas. This increases the quality of education in urban areas but not the number of educated kids in rural areas. 3b) they build schools in undeveloped areas at the cost of not having OLPC in either area. This does not increase the quality of education but the number of educated kids.
Now it comes also as no surprise that mainly emerging market countries [group C) and D)] are among the first to sign MOU's with OLPC. And it also explains the high interest of 1st world countries (group D) that could improve mainly their IT education at lowest possible cost compared to the purchase of commercial IT hardware.
In case of India and China their interest to finally develop and build their own school laptops rather than being dependent on foreign technology might be a further reason for their refusal of One Laptop Per Child.