Why One Plastic Bag Per Child is Better than OLPC


I find the OLPC bashing blog posts a bit of a head banging experience. Like many developments and domestic educational technologies, a large list of variables goes into a program's success and failures. When a program does not work the river of analytical blame flows to keep the funding going.

While developing the Global Learning Framework I interviewed a number of foundations, NGO and Faith based heads about the frustrations of education programs in the field. The repeating theme is that the programs are myopic around the service design:

No one program solves everything, technology is all the answer, methods training, safe facilities, interagency cooperation, ICT access and the list goes on. In the analytical background is a lot of quarterback analysis from the couch resulting in justification of why one program should get more funding than another. No one will admit the outstanding branding campaign OLPC has executed.

The bottom line to all of this is that we must stop acting like we are on junior high recess and work together. It is like watching us feed developing countries all at the same time on separate tables that only have two legs. Then we wonder why the children's food falls on the ground.

Education programs are greater than just technology

Yesterday, I met with Cormac (CEO and Founder at Camara Education) and we sat in a NYC diner and talked about the real issues of getting programs to succeed in Africa with all the management problems associated with doing business in Africa. Cormac's team has remarkably placed over 700 PC classrooms in Africa in multiple countries.

Success requires not only the PC but extensive teacher training, trained administration, a good curriculum, secure facilities and program management. Any weakness and the program are at risk. OLPC cannot be judged on just the technology because all the legs of a great education program must come together at the same time as the laptop.

Perhaps, we need to look at why a McDonalds franchise works. Perhaps commercialism understands how to succeed. It is not just about pickles, mustard and ketchup on a burger. It is about the training driven processes at every level of the McDonalds organization. They are so good at it that it works like a charm in any country.

One Plastic Bag Per Child

Let me give you a case-in-point where a piece of educational technology similar to a laptop work like a charm. In the 10,000 acre Thunder Ranch Mission in Zambia their school of 34 grew to over 400 in a matter of 4 years. It was originally designed for seven villages and 50 farms for the country mover tribes within walking distance of the schools. Local teachers designed the curriculum that was both in Tonga and English.

These schools had deep Christian roots, American work ethics, community pride and clear vision of a better life. The school lacked any workbook resources so workbooks, pencils, eraser and pencil sharpener were all put in state-of-the-art Ziploc bags. This kept everything dry and together so the parents could see what the students were learning and support them. Does it sound familiar? I call it One Plastic Bag Per Child (OPCPC). Does anyone want to fund me with a few hundred million? Perhaps Ziploc.

Again and again we hear that the agencies must collaborate in the field. Our arrogance is the reason these education programs fail, not technology, religion or lack ofteacher training. Building mega graduate level eLearning portals is like handing a child a paper cup and then giving them a drink with a fire hose.

Handing out laptops without great curriculum with highly skilled teachers is handing a man a hammer with no nails or a plan and then asking him to build a house. We need to open our academic minds a bit.

Common kids..learn how to play together. You have got to share the ball... or is it the grant?

We have completed our analysis for the development of Global Community Learning Center for the Cybe Caf├ę and International Library sectors as a free download. This paper discusses the issues mentioned in greater detail.

Richard Close of Chrysalis Campaign originally posted this as a comment on OLPC: How Not to Run a Laptop Program



I read through the Global Learning Framework slides. I am convinced this guy is on LSD. Some of his ideas are interesting, but I fear he's left the rest of the human race behind and can barely communicate with the rest of us.

I'm also amused that someone who espouses sharing so vehemently needs to put a copyright mark on every capitalized phrase. (And apparently is not versed on the differences between copyright and trademark.)

Author rambles:

"Perhaps, we need to look at why a McDonalds franchise works. Perhaps commercialism understands how to succeed. It is not just about pickles, mustard and ketchup on a burger. It is about the training driven processes at every level of the McDonalds organization. They are so good at it that it works like a charm in any country. "

Nope. The reason McDonalsd's is successful is very simple: it has a product (junk food) that people love. The reason OLPC has failed is very simple: it has a product nobody wants.

Interesting point of view. Yes, OLPC is technology-ambitious with the XO and such, but it seems to be getting off to a great start in Rwanda, Argentina, Haiti.. places where there's either enough external donors to make it charitable, or at least where the government realizes the need to pour resources into all the non-technology components of the OLPC mantra.

This guest post is a little bit rambly as the above comments mentioned, but I feel like with better explanations this stuff could be a lot clearer. It's easy to sit at home and be a critic, but hey, the 'searcher' model the author discusses is essential to better development.

Before spending 4 months in Zambia, I would be put-off by the religious zeal with that Thunder Ranch Mission; however, the country is deeply religious already from colonial missionaries (which doesn't equal present-day fanaticism or evangelism). So that's cool.

However, I'm distressed by the rest of this phrase: "These schools had deep Christian roots, American work ethics, community pride and clear vision of a better life."
Does a typical, poor (whatever that means) community lack those things? Do they not work hard enough? No pride in their community? Not know what a better life would be like? Who do we think we are, bringing an attitude like that to these "poor people"?

A pretty common phrase there - "ashonto ashonto", which is Tonga for "bit by bit". People work to improve themselves everywhere. Providing someone with appropriate tools can be powerful indeed.

Although the OLPC concept sounds like a great way to educate children from lesser developed countries, it can also be the leaping off point for bigger problems.

As an Information Security Professional (CISSP) I find the project as another way for identity theft, proliferation of computer viruses, spyware and malware.

Yes, the OS is an open source and built on a Linux Kernel and has not been subject to the enormous number virus attacks that Windows has been hit with but, that is only because the Linux OS marketshare is less than 5%. If there are the 10's of millions of OLPC units distributed around the globe in the hands of people who are not educated on Internet safety and data security, what better way to proliferate attacks on data servers and hosted systems?

Any device that is attaching itself to the WWW IS subject to attack in some way or form. Just information from the articles here at this site show that not only are children using the devices for learning but so are adults. Just look at the number of mobile devices that are currently attaching to the Internet everyday and the number of malicious attacks that have occurred so far. People thought that it could never happen, but mobile phone viruses are now a common threat that IT Security Professionals must be aware of and deal with.

The OLPC program is designed to take advantage of Cloud based computing for document storage and sharing. What a better medium for proliferating attacks not just on OLPC units but on ANY other device that is attached to this environment. The more people are connected and using unified communication methods the more aware users must be to attacks.

Something to think about.

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