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.