XO Laptops for Trinidad and Tobago in 120 Days?!


So the People's Partnership promised laptops for children in Trinidad and Tobago who recently did the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA). It was the first promise made in their manifesto for the first 120 days:

Every child going on to secondary school from the SEA will be provided with a laptop to begin their secondary school education.

But what do we really know about that promise? What sort of laptops will they be? How will they be used in conjunction with the education system to increase the potential of these students to do well?

Is this was Trinidad and Tobago have in mind?

How do we know if the laptop distribution will be a 'success'? How was success defined? Was 'success' defined? It doesn't seem that way. Why is the government going to spend money on something that doesn't have a measurable result? And another question: Why is it that so many people blindly support this move without more information?

Is this OLPC?

Earlier this decade, the concept of giving laptops to children came into being - mainly through Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child initiative. The OLPC. Oddly, it seems that this idea has roots from around the same time - when Negroponte was marketing the laptop to governments.

The idea seemed to take root within that timeframe - and perhaps it is the OLPC that the government plans to hand out to students. Apparently, those who are marketing the idea locally haven't been following the discussion. Here's one link worth reading up on - and you'll note me in the comments.

Read that, become informed (there are pro and con positions) and make up your own mind. I've been involved in the discussion since the onset of the OLPC on a variety of lists and my issues with the project not only remain the same - to some extent they have been proven.

Costs of one laptop per child

Of course, it could be some local supplier who will sell some laptops to the government. On the main computing email list of Trinidad and Tobago, the number of students was suggested to be about 17,000. I don't know if that is the actual number - it could be arbitrary - but it seems realistic and if it isn't, it still works for this demonstration.

Let us say, hypothetically, that the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is willing to spend $200 U.S. per laptop. With 17,000 students, that translates to $3,400,000 U.S. dollars. Or, in TT dollars, roughly $21,556,000.

Now - here's the magic part. If you had $21,556,000 dollars to play with to assist education in Trinidad and Tobago... would you spend it on laptops?

Schools. Infrastructure that supports broadband internet access - not just in urbanized areas but throughout the nation. Subsidize it.

And bear in mind, this is coming from someone who believes in the use of technology. I believe early access to technology will prepare children for the future. I am not, by any stretch, a Luddite. But I'm also someone who, after having seen lots of technology thrown at problems as will be done by the current government, is wary of projects with no measurable result.

The solution is not laptops

Some people on the email list disagreed, and they believe their arguments are good. Obviously I don't - but you'd be surprised on what everyone agreed on: Education in Trinidad and Tobago has issues, and the main issues will not be solved by... you guessed it... laptops.

We won't talk about how many laptops will be stolen, if any. Or who will provide the maintenance for the machines. Or who will train the educators on how to adapt the curriculum to the new technology... or train the new educators on the new technology, period!

My opinion - a band aid solution to a developmental problem and as such is a waste of money and resources that could be used on more pressing things within education. But don't believe me.

Ask them. Ask them what they intend to accomplish with this. Unless, of course, your child gets a free laptop. If they are dumb enough to hand them out and the rest of the nation is dumb enough to let them, you're not wrong to get a laptop for your child. I'd do it.

But how about assuring teachers have laptops? Or know how to use them? Would you like a better infrastructure that includes broadband so that your children really have a shot? It really is up to you.

Personally, I like treating a disease - not the symptoms.

Taran Rampersad often writes about OLPC and originally published this post as Laptops? Really?


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I think a valid point is made here in that, if you have x amount of dollars to spend on improving education, is it always wise to be spending that all on laptops? especially when there are other pressing needs and requirements for infrastructure such as school buildings and supplies. I don't think this needs to be an either 'all' or 'nothing' situation, perhaps a better compromise is to spend some of the education budget on building schools and reserving a portion of it for x amount of laptops - it doesn't have to be one laptop per child, I'm sure they can make arrangements to share the devices on a rotation. When you are strapped for cash, it makes sense to spread your investments across a range of initiatives. I also wonder what is the current situation with the electrical and computing market, I see that new laptops in the developed world are still quite expensive, some would think prohibitively so. While in other developments, India announced it is working on a tablet PC that could be manufactured for US$35 - this could certainly send shockwaves through the computer industry if it was to build up a pace - this is something that should be covered here at OLPC News.

That is an interesting perspective, the focus has always been 'one laptop per child' but in some cases it can be more efficient and maybe even more persuasive for governments to buy laptops for their nation's children, even if it means they have to share the laptops - some access is better than no access.

No laptops for T&T just yet. Here's the news from the Parliament floor:

Government could have saved millions and a single laptop could have cost just TT$600 under the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) global non-profit initiative, Opposition MP Patricia McIntosh said yesterday.

Speaking during her contribution to the budget debate in the Parliament yesterday, McIntosh said she was informed that contrary to Government's promise to deliver laptops by month-end, this will not materialise.

"I have been recently informed, Mr Speaker, that the eagerly awaited laptops will not arrive in the country in the designated time frame, since the Government was not actually able to consummate the deal and there's now a lot of posturing taking place between both sides with Hewlett-Packard (HP) wishing to re-negotiate the contract and the terms of the award," McIntosh said.

She said the time line from when the contract was awarded to the promised delivery date, shows that there were discussions with HP even before the tender went out.

"Has the Government, in its haste to deliver on a campaign promise, failed to ensure that required levels of due diligence necessary in a transparent procurement process.

"Has it therefore entered into questionable arrangements with a supplier who, aware of the desperation of the Government to deliver on a campaign promise, now has the upper hand and is calling the shots?" McIntosh asked.

From MP: No laptops by month-end

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