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OLPC in South America: An Overview of OLPC in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru

Christoph Derndorfer

With more than 800,000 XO laptops having been distributed on the continent so far, South America represent the largest concentration of active OLPC projects in the world.

  • Uruguay is the first major country to achieve full 1-to-1 saturation after having finished the distribution of approximately 400,000 XO laptops to every primary school pupil and teacher in late 2009.
  • Paraguay currently has 4,000 XOs on the ground and will receive another 5,000 over the coming months
  • Peru is close to finishing the process of distributing 300,000 XO laptops and recently purchased another 300,000.

Looking at these figures it quickly becomes obvious that South America is the place to be when it comes to understanding what the true status quo of OLPC on the ground is today. In July and August I was able to spend more than six weeks traveling through Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru to get a hands-on impression of how things were going in these three countries. Over the next month, I’ll present my findings as the October Educational Technology Debate.

Background on OLPC in South America Review

Two weeks per country isn’t a whole lot of time but thankfully I could rely on an extensive network of people who helped me in many ways to get a broader and deeper understanding of the situations in their respective countries.

I built this network through the experiences of being involved in the global OLPC community in the past four years:

  • I am the editor of OLPC News, the premier independent community of OLPC supporters
  • I’ve given numerous talks about OLPC at community gatherings, open-source conferences, universities, and recently presented the OLPC in South America review at The World Bank
  • I’ve been coordinating the efforts of the Austrian OLPC pilot project since 2008
  • I volunteered for three months with OLE Nepal in Kathmandu in 2009

Being fluent in Spanish and having spent a year living and going to school in Trujillo, Peru also helps when talking to pupils, teachers, principals, regional administrators, national coordinators, students, university professors, independent researchers, community members, and other people involved in the projects.

As the sentence above already indicates a lot of my impressions are based on interviews and talks with a broad variety of people. Additionally I visited schools as well as teacher training sessions in all three countries. One of my core realizations was that although all three countries use OLPC’s XO laptops the respective projects vary significantly when it comes to their goals, the implementing organization, and their current size. As I wrote back in August:

“What has become clear over the past two or three years is that while “one laptop per child” might be the ultimate goal for the majority of the initiatives associated with OLPC, the paths choose and reasons why they’re chosen are often quite different. Hence it’s no longer sufficient to talk about OLPC as opposed to other projects in the information and communication technology for education (ICT4E) space. Yes, the XO might be a common denominator but in almost every other aspect you’ll find different approaches and I for one am excited to see how the various projects pan out over the coming months and years.”

So what I was mainly looking for in my observations is what I’ve come to call the “six criteria for successful implementations of ICT for Education projects in developing countries”. They are based on a literature review as well as hands-on experiences and were compiled by Tanja Kohn, a PhD researcher at University of Innsbruck, and me in early 2010.

What 40,000 XO laptops look like in a Peruvian wharehouse

6 criteria for successful implementations of ICT for Education projects in developing countries

1. Infrastructure: ICT4E projects require a significant infrastructure in order to run effectively. This infrastructure need doesn’t just include technical aspects such as the availability of electricity and Internet access but also logistical aspects such as how to efficiently and reliably distribute hundreds of thousands of laptops in some of the remotest regions of the world.

2. Maintenance: Regardless of how robust an ICT device or software solution is there will always be issues with a certain percentage of them. This is especially true in the context of OLPC where the XO laptops are used in environments which are dusty, hot, and humid and the main users are young children. However variations of these challenges will also be encountered by other ICT4E projects in developing nations. As a result processes and solutions need to be developed to address how to repair broken equipment.

3. Contents and materials: One of the core requirements for ICT4E projects are appropriate contents and materials that enable the technology to be used as a tool for learning. Simply scanning in existing books and making them available digitally doesn’t come close to utilizing the full potential of a digital and connected device such as a laptop or mobile phone. Hence interactive learning contents as well as materials such as digital multimedia libraries need to be developed according to the particular needs of a project.

4. Community inclusion: One component that often seems to be underestimated in ICT4E projects is the importance of community inclusion and the buy-in from key stakeholders such as teachers, parents, principals and administrators. This is key requirement for enabling long-term sustainability of projects and adequate support from all sides.

5. Teacher training: Using a new tool and approach is always hard, particularly when we’re talking about something as complex as learning and education. Hence it’s vital that teachers receive adequate training on how to efficiently and effectively use ICT tools such as laptops within the school context. Training people is both very resource-intensive and complex, yet without it ICT4E projects are very likely to fail.

6. Evaluation: Last but not least evaluation of the impacts an ICT4E project has on learning as well as the broader society is a key criterion. Unfortunately in many cases the main difficulty is a lack of appropriate baseline data that a project’s impact can be evaluated against. Additionally evaluation is often an afterthought that only receives attention once a project has been started which means it’s often too late to gather aforementioned baseline data. Ideally evaluation is part of very early project stages as well as a continually used toolset to refine and improve a project.

I’ll leave it at this for now and look forward to reading your comments, thoughts, and questions on this initial post and the forthcoming OLPC in South America articles. Over the coming weeks, I will provide in-depth looks at the projects in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru, and put them in context to other OLPC deployments worldwide.

We’re also focusing on OLPC in South America this month on OLPC News. Be sure to join in that conversation as well.

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8 Responses to “OLPC in South America: An Overview of OLPC in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru”

  1. Tim, you're certainly right, South America is the hotbed of OLPC initiatives these days! Apart from the three countries I'm presenting here there are also projects in Argentina's La Rioja province (~60,000 XO-1.5s), Nicaragua (around 12,000 XOs in total within three different projects if I remember correctly), Mexico (hard to get real data), Colombia (apparently around 4,000 XOs), and apparently also Guatemala.

  2. Tim Denny

    Christoph – I very much like your 6 criteria… for some years I have advocated what I call CICC in ICT4D/E project… that is C – capacity building, I – infrastructure, C -connectivity, C – content. I find CICC easy to remember and pretty much captures all aspects of success in ICT project deployment. your 6 categories fit nicely in my CICC model. I often put community inclusion and evaluation under capacity building as those are skills that must be trained and encouraged. I do not place connectivity under infrastructure as it is a fairly complex issue on itself. Connectivity does include hardware but it crosses into software and a teaching/learning aspect that for me warrants a unique category. Regardless, I wanted to say i very much appreciate reading your 6 criteria and hope to share them with others.

    • Hi Tim, thanks for the kind words. CICC is certainly much easier to remember than IMCCTE! And your reasoning for giving Connectivity it's own category is indeed very interesting and provides some good food for thought… 🙂

    je suis parfaitement d’accord avec votre démarche, les 6 critères sont assez logique et interpelle chaque acteur comme vous l’avez si bien indiqué.
    pour ce qui est du premier critère Infrastructure:il est important de noter ici que la volonté politique et l’engagement des ceux-ci est très important car il faut une infrastructure minimale pour pouvoir utiliser les XO. A côté de cela il faut noter le dynamisme des responsables au niveau des écoles car dans bon nombre de nos pays chaque structure est à l’image du dirigeant qui est à sa tête, le suivi n’est pas la chose la mieux partagée.heureusement dans l’un des critères il est question de la maintenance. La gestion judicieuse des ressources Humaines, la vision des chefs d’établissements impliqués dans le projet… sont des aspects très important pour une réussite du projet.

  4. Thumbs up for Christoph !

    The 6 criterias are a good start to think and design an ICT project.


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