OLPC Alone Will Not Transform Education in Africa


The East African Community (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda) recently signed a memo of understanding with OLPC to "leverage the advantages of the laptops in transforming primary school education."

I want to reiterate Tim Unwin's reservations and build on my earlier comments in OLPC News to say that providing each child with a laptop will not by itself improve, let alone transform, primary education in East Africa.

olpc nigeria
Rural school OLPC XO usage

First of all, having visited schools in rural East African villages where most of the region's children are, I can say that there are numerous practical challenges to providing a computer to each student when there are up to 80 students in a primary classroom sharing four or five students to a desk, with a teacher that is over worked and under prepared, in schools that do not have electricity or internet access.

But that are more fundamental challenges, if this project is to transform African education.

If students are to become the problem solvers, knowledge creators, and life-long learners that are needed to advance development in East Africa, then the introduction of computers needs to correspond to the revision of the curriculum, pedagogical practices, and assessments in the educational systems of these countries. Without these changes, students will be using computers to memorize facts and perform the simple procedures that are the current focus of education in this region.

Or worse, perhaps, the computers will be left in the closet as teachers do the "real work" of preparing students for standard examinations.

If, on the other hand, computers can be leveraged to introduce curriculum and assessment reforms that emphasize problem solving and knowledge creation and teacher professional development that emphasizes a different set of pedagogical practices, then East African education will be transformed and education will contribute to social and economic development in the region.

But this kind of change is not part of the OLPC model and there is nothing in the memo of understanding that would lead us to believe this is part of the plan.


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