The One Laptop Per Child Field Tests

In Appropriate Technology, International Development, Technology on April 16, 2007 at 7:09 am

C|Net just ran an article on the OLPC saga: Engineering change: Plugging Africa’s kids in to $100 laptop.

I recommend clicking on the photos and reading the captions to get the whole story.

I’ve been following this story for a while, I’ve posted on it here a few times, just have a look through my archives. To sum up how I feel about it – I love the ideas and idealism, I have major issues with the execution of it as a development project.

As I said, there are tons of sustainability issues to consider – take a look at the photos in the article I linked to above and you’ll get an idea. They’ve decided to field test the laptop in a poor but not destitute village with a pretty poorly-outfitted school, even by Nigerian standards. They had to install electricity & generator and a satellite dish, which had not obviously been at this school before.

What I’m seeing as the first mistake is that Khaled Hassounah himself is training the kids to use the laptops. HUGE mistake. Sustainability error number one; now it’s just another project being pushed on them by a foreigner, a gift given to them that they did not ask for. They’ll ooh and ahh at the laptops and go along with what he says, and then as soon as things start to break down, the project will fall apart, because it’s not community based and generated.

They should have the schools compete to show who earns the right to use the new technology – that would provide motivation for schools to perform better. It would also increase the communities stake in the project. Also, it should be a Nigerian face that the kids are seeing training them to use the laptops. Hassounah should be intensively training Nigerian teachers, who then train the kids. Hassounah must be consumed with his own idealism – I totally understand him wanting to be the one with the kids, but the true home-run for him would be to watch a Nigerian (or otherwise local) teacher flawlessly train the kids.

I really, really hope the kids get some benefit out of the machines while the generator and satellite dish are working at least.


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