What is ETD?

ETD promotes discussion on low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries. Read More

Join ETD

Become a part of the conversation. Contribute your ideas, strategies and expertise to our discussions. Join Now

OLPC: How Not to Run a Laptop Program

Mark Warschauer

For the last six years, I have been investigating laptop programs throughout the U.S., including, most recently, programs using low-cost netbook computers and open source software.

I and others have found these laptop and netbooks programs to be highly successful, resulting in greater access to and use of diverse sources of information, improved quantity and quality of student writing, higher student engagement through working with multiple media, greater opportunities to explore topics in-depth for, and improved integration of technology in instruction.

How to run a successful laptop program

The successful programs I have investigated have all been built on a similar model. A balanced funding approach is used, with sufficient funding budgeted for curriculum development, professional development, wireless routers, purchase of peripherals, and repair and replacement of laptops.

A careful planning process is carried out to develop a solid educational design and win support from important stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and community leaders. A staged implementation process, based on pilot studies, formative and summative evaluation, and gradual deployment helps ensure that positive lessons are learned as the project expands.

Finally, the district or state carefully assesses a range of hardware and software options to choose which ones best meet their educational goals in a cost effective manner.

The OLPC model is radically different.

Computers are to be provided to children, not schools, and in massive large deployments carried out as quickly as possible. Whether schools have funding for curricular or professional development, technical infrastructure, peripherals, support, or maintenance is disregarded in the rush to get computers into children’s hands immediately. Planning, pilot programs, evaluation, and staged implementation are eschewed.

One particular hardware/software combination, based on the XO computer, is seen as the solution in all contexts, rather than recommending that educational leaders consider a range of hardware and software options and select models that meet their educational needs.

The results are entirely predictable, and have started to surface. A handful of inspiring examples, based on terrific efforts by a few innovative teachers or students and backed by armies of volunteers, are touted. But, when examining the broader implementation, we learn that without professional development or curriculum development, and with little of the infrastructure that makes computer use in schools effective, teachers for the most part ignore the computers, which thus go largely unused in schools.

As for home use of the laptops, children are initially very excited, but — again, apart from a few inspiring examples — they mainly use them to play simple games that do little else but displace time spent on homework or other forms of play. Within a year or two, the machines start breaking down and most families lack the means to repair them.

Meanwhile, huge amounts of money have been wasted that, with better planning, could have improved education in a myriad of ways.

As with prior unsuccessful examples of educational technology promoted as a magic bullet, everybody will then blame school systems and their teachers for failing to take advantage of such a revolutionary piece of equipment. Then, in another few years, a new revolutionary piece of equipment will appear and the same cycle will be repeated.

Our lesson learned from OLPC

The most impoverished countries targeted by this initiative shouldn’t be investing in one laptop per child, as their children will benefit more from the hiring and training of teachers, the building of schools, and judicious use of technology appropriate to their contexts.

As for more developed countries that are considering educational laptop programs, they will do best basing their programs on thoughtful educational planning and priorities rather than, as OLPC advocates suggest, simply passing out XOs and getting out of children’s way.

In summary, what OLPC has taught us so far is how not to organize a successful educational laptop program.

Don’t miss a moment of the action!

Subscribe now and get the latest articles from Educational Technology Debate sent directly to your inbox.


78 Responses to “OLPC: How Not to Run a Laptop Program”

  1. "The most impoverished countries targeted by this initiative shouldn’t be investing in one laptop per child, as their children will benefit more from the hiring and training of teachers, the building of schools, and judicious use of technology appropriate to their contexts."

    I am sympathetic to your argument. However, could you elaborate what could be done in this area that has not been tried before, and failed, in the developing world?

    One of the main problems in the developing world seems to be communication. Especially in rural areas, the lack of roads, postal services. and phone/internet connections have a large share in holding back economic growth. Obviously, this also affects any attempt to improve education, eg, how to distribute books and course materials. In the cities, some of that is better (eg, roads), but even there the information divide that set back the poor remains a large problem.

    These general problems are also instrumental in driving away prospective teachers. Few teachers, nurses, or doctors want to work in such poor regions. Not only is the pay bad, they are also completely cut off from the rest of the world (and the isolation often is dangerous too).

    The situation of poor children in the US (or EU) will be markedly different. They will have access to public transport, newspapers, magazines, books, TV, radio, and telephone/texting. Many will have access to computers/Internet by way of family connections and Internet cafes. Teachers can live in better-off suburbs or else are in easy contact with family, friends, and the rest of the world. Even on a particularly bad day, US schools and teachers are a world apart from the schools in Brazilian favelas or rural Rwanda.

    In the developing world, any channel that improves the connections between poor children, teachers, peers, family, and the world will improve their prospects in education and economic future. That even includes narrow-band LAN and Internet connections. So in that respect, 1-1 laptop (or desktop at home) initiatives will improve their prospects. And then we did not even start about text books.

    So, if you consider 1-1 laptops initiatives not cost effective in the developing world, how do you think these countries could improve education in realistic terms?

    • The question for the future is can technology improve inclusion? Much of the technological use in the West has been as much political symbolism as about learning. The UK spent something like 5 billion dollars on schools IT in the last 6 years and there are still significant problems. Ok this is pretty depressing but there are some significant reasons why this doesn't have to be the same in the future. First of all the cost of managing conventional Windows LANs and the associate hardware and software costs have been horrendous. Mobile technologies and the internet have the capacity to change that. As an example, the UK government spent close to 1 billion dollars on curriculum on-line – that is about 100k for every lesson in the national curriculum yet we have no coherent on-line resource. Why? Because resources are fragmented across vendor licenses. Contrast that with Wikipedia. The way licensing is used makes a massive difference. So it would certainly be possible to produce an entirely free on-line curriculum on the web and in time it will get done. One town in the UK is already providing broadband access for free to citizens so access is also conceivably affordable at least in densely populate areas. Finally, cell phone technologies are getting computer capability and in time it will be available at far lower cost than text books. The problem is not knowing how long some of these developments will take. I think getting free on-line education to many more people is not an impossible goal but it is not here yet. Initiatives like OLPC are probably necessary steps in getting there. To me laptops are irrelevant. The most important part of the jigsaw is getting coherent learning pathways onto the web. In time the technology to access them will get to more people and it probably won't be using what we conventionally think of as a laptop computer.

    • I'm not an expert in all the things you address, but a few things come to mind. There are more affordable and sustainable ways of extending communication to rural areas than through giving all children laptops. This could be achieved through greater cell phone penetration, extension of wireless Internet infrastructure, computer or Internet kiosks or centers, etc. Teacher pay can be raised, and simple forms of IT can be used to ensure that teachers actually show up to work (or don't get paid). More and better schools can be built, more teachers can be hired, more books printed, and more follow up on how local teachers and schools are performing can be carried out. School supplies or clothing or meals or transportation can be made available for free to young children, especially girls, who might otherwise have to drop out due to not being able to afford the small (but large to their family) costs of going to school.

      • @Mark:
        You supply a long list of "options" which just might improve education in rural areas. The question for all these is the same as with a 1-1 laptop initiative: How do they improve education?

        More books? How to distribute?
        Cell phones? What makes them better than a laptop?
        Computer or Internet kiosks? Great, should be done. However, how will this help primary school children?
        Teacher pay rises? A whole list of problems with this one, and it has never increased the supply of teacher.

        Btw, these have all been tried in some way or another. I do not know of a case why they actually delivered on their promises (except maybe getting more girls in school). I can understand the general feeling that the problem cannot be solved. But I would rebel against the conclusion that these children should be abandoned.

        • From 1970 until today, the worldwide illiteracy rate has fallen from 36.6% to 16.5%.
          Most of that is due to getting and keeping more kids in school. And this was during a period when Western Europe and Japan (regions where illiteracy was already near zero) decreased substantially as a percentage of the world population and Africa and South Asia (regions where there is substantial illiteracy) increased dramatically as a percentage of the world's population. And, amazingly, all of this happened without the XO laptop!

          Do we have more to do? A lot more. But it's mistaken to think that nothing that has been done before works in improving education and that therefore we have to go into the poorest countries in the world and divert the entire educational budget to laptop computers.

          • Indeed, a remarkable result.

            But how much of that can be attributed to China, the small tigers, and South America? How much to sub-Saharan Africa? In 1970, China was at a low not experienced since the time of the war-lords. And that is 1/6 of the human population. India has a similar story to tell. Together they account for almost 30% of the world population.

            That is, how much of this decline is the result of the tremendous economic growth in some populous countries.

            My fear is that those countries that did not benefit from the economic growth in the last three decades will not benefit in the coming years. Development in Africa, and to a lesser extend, South America has been a failure. Africa's economies shrank during times when the rest of the world boomed.

            It is these hard problems that need to be solved. And these children that need better education.

  2. You've investigated successful programs? Even highly successful programs? Could you, perhaps, identify one or two of these programs?

    Without your resources I haven't found any successful programs, at least by the metric of improving educational outcomes, so I'm interested in successful – highly successful – programs. In fact all the programs I've had access to have been dismal failures both financially and educationally so you can understand that highly successful programs, and how they achieved their success, would be of interest to me.

    • In the U.S., I would consider the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the Fullerton School District laptop program, and the SWATTEC program in Saugus, California all to be successful programs. The test score gains have been modest in these programs, but the programs are all very popular with teachers, students, administrators, and parents, and the improved learning outcomes achieved by students are not easily measured by tests. They include improved quantity and quality of authentic writing, better skills at finding and interpreting information, better skills at communicating via multiple media, higher student engagement, etc.

      Admittedly these programs are expensive, but I think they can be made much less so through use of low-cost netbooks and smartbooks and open source software.

      • Oscar Becerra

        According tyo your metrics the Peruvian OLPC program should be considered highly successful. "The test score gains have been modest in these programs, but the programs are all very popular with teachers, students, administrators, and parents, and the improved learning outcomes achieved by students are not easily measured by tests. They include improved quantity and quality of authentic …". Peru also tried 100% pay rise to teachers between 2001 – 2006 with 0 increase in educational results

      • I second Oscar that the evidence for those programs being successful is objectively not much more than hearsay. Impressions on impressionable people wishing to be impressed is not really valid.

        Sam e goes for Peru, BTW…

  3. I'm sorry, but this look like a typical case that the reviewers would call "the conclusions are not supported by the data"! Simply because there are not any data!
    It is certainly not what I was expecting as a "distillation" of scientific papers.

    I can believe that the OLPC model will/is fail/ing, but is there any data to support my (and apparently your) beliefs?
    Are they solely based on extrapolations from studies in different settings and distinct variables?
    If yes. which of the variables would apply in the actual OLPC deployment setting? Which particular deployment setting?
    Are there any relevant studies in developing world countries?
    Which OLPC deployment you have in mind when you say that the laptops are just handed to the kids and then the kids are left to educate themselves?
    etc, etc…

    Could you please provide even rudimentary substantiation to your statements and (apparent) conclusions?

    • @Mavrothal,

      First of all, I distinguish between "OLPC" and "olpc". I do not claim that all attempts to provide one laptop per child, with either the XO or other computers, are failing or are destined to fail. I do believe, that what might be considered the pure OLPC approach, of giving computers to children (not schools), without careful planning or staged implementation or pilot programs (but only as fast as possible), and based only on the automatic choice of one hardware/software solution (rather than on a discussion based on local needs), is destined to fail, and is failing where it has been implemented. I have carried out a small case study that supports that claim, as well as reviewed data from a larger study that also supports that claim. In both cases, they data is still being analyzed and under peer review, so I regret that I cannot share it on a blog. However, these kind of reports are starting to come out and will continue to do so.

      That being said, with proper planning and implementation, perhaps the results will be very different. I certainly hope so. I am looking forward to seeing some of the results from evaluation studies done in large programs with better planning.

      • I suppose an apology's warranted if for no other reason then sarcasm's an expression of frustration which isn't particularly constructive even if it feels good.

        In the case of the questions about the use of computers in education even that microscopic rationale's doesn't justify the effort since the vast sums that've been wasted on computer use in education are merely a symptom of a greater problem which is both beyond the scope of this forum.

        I will note, as a means of bringing some sense of proportion to the discussion, that computers have been used in education since the early 1960's – check out the wikipedia article on the Plato computer system – and the best Professor Warschauer can come up with are three examples which the professor admits haven't produced much in the way of the sort of benefits which are always implied for the use of computers in education but never delivered, i.e. education. The popularity of the various programs is immaterial since the use to which computers were to be put was not to generate enthusiasm but to generate meaningful, measurable results.

  4. Ian Thomson

    I think most people will agree that the best way to improve the quality of education is to improve the quality of teachers. In the developing world, this is very difficult.
    In Oceania where we are working on deploying OLPC in very small pacific islands and atolls, there is no budget for professional development of teachers. In fact, 90% of the budget goes on salaries. It is economically not possible to train a teacher on an outer island that sees one boat a month call in to deliver food and fuel.
    Even all the aid agencies don't try to fund teacher training. They do the "easy" stuff like building schools and toilets and even curriculum development.
    The hope is that by providing internet access with satellite and a cheap computer (OLPC), the teacher can get help and training and if nothing else, can access much better educational resources to stimulate the children's desire to learn.
    We have found most teachers really want to be good teachers, but the system does not/can not support them. I find it less than helpful comparing IT deployments in resource rich environments (UK and USA for example) with resource poor developing countries. And I don't think it is at all helpful to say we should be building more schools instead of deploying ICTs. Of course, we need to provide better access to education, but this is not a twitter conversation. There are complex issues and implying that we can only do one thing is very unhelpful.
    Finally, I find it incredibly embarrassing having "experts" from developed countries telling desperate teachers in rural and remote areas of the developing world, what they are "allowed' to have.
    What keeps me going is the strong need/demand for better things that we can supply with little effort.

    • Having worked for three years on a development project in Egypt, and met during that time with teachers in some of the more remote and rural parts of the country, I can tell you that I never once heard a need or demand expressed for laptops for all of their students. Perhaps you have better documentation of that need or demand than I have, as well as evidence that we (whoever we is) could supply laptops to all the children in the world with little effort.

      I will say that I distinguish between countries like Haiti and Rwanda–where I believe a massive OLPC initiative to be very ill-advised, compared to what could be achieved in those countries if the same funds were spent otherwise–and a country like Uruguay. The latter is a middle income country with a GDP per capita of well over $10,000, a high literacy rate, and an effective educational system. If they want to have a national school laptop program, they have much better means of doing so. I suspect, though, that their chances of success will depend in part on how far they deviate from the pure OLPC model, and instead devote sufficient resources to all the other curricular, pedagogical, social, and technical factors that shape a laptop implementation. I wish them the best and I look forward to learning of their results.

      • From my limited knowledge of Plan Ceibal, Uruguay's laptop project, the mere start is already a 179º deviation from the pure OLPC model:
        – there's a major concern to bring in all stakeholders: government, teachers and school administrators, students, parents… included the local community at large
        – there's an effort to build a consensus within these stakeholders
        – content has an important place in the strategy and budget
        – training has an important place in the strategy and budget

        Well, in my opinion, the laptop could have been a XO or whatever else. It merely had an instrumental role.

        So I agree here with Mark Warshauer that Uruguay's project is _very_ different from other laptop experiences like Rwanda or Ethiopia.

        • Ismael, allow me to respectfully disagree. In Uruguay the stakeholders were never brought in, there was – and isn't yet – any practical, active tool so there can be give and take with the classroom teacher or parents. Their opinion is not encouraged.

          Thus no effort for consensus. They were told, ahem, "sensibilizados" that this was for their own good.

          AFAIK There is no relevant budget for content. Educación Primaria has announced calls for hire of 3 people for content during 2008-2009. If they have hired more outside of official calls, I don't know.

          Training for most has been one workday, that is, maybe 4 hours. Brechner himself has proudly pointed out how little they invest for training when he was in Washington.

          All in all, you can see yourself that since Ceibal was never a curriculum-connected project (it is a rather successful connectivity project, that's what the C stands for), the XOs are seldom used in class.

          OTOH, I wish, oh do I wish, you were right.

          • I live in Uruguay with two school children at home. As they go to public school, both have their XO.
            one of the main tasks of their home staying mother is to keep them from television and their XO´s, playing computer games or chating with their mates and actually studying instead.
            If she were an out of home working mother, the kids would be completely spoiled by, not only, of course by XO´s.
            We live in a medium class neibourhood, but classes are overcrowded, more than 30 kids in each.
            The decission to come into OLPC was taken solely, in a quite monarchich way by the president Vázquez, without consultation with education participants be them teachers or local education authorities.
            Every body seems to be pleased, except more conscious fathers and teachers who are begining to take notice to the fact that money, tens of millions of dollars could have been spent in much more useful ways.
            Our local school depends heavily on father´s free work and money for such things as school painting, cleaning, heating (currently winter temps. are sometimes below 0 C) and provision for basic teaching material.
            Public schools in really poor places fare far worse, parents not having time, disposition or money to help local schools.
            OLPC is just a waste of public scarce resources and mainly a public relations political operation. And, probably, a source of grafts money as well.
            W Yohai Montevideo.

  5. I and others have been unsystematically collecting reports of one-to-one computing deployments, successes, and failures. See



    We would be grateful for anything you can add.

    You are right that planning and resources are needed for best results, not just computers. OLPC has tried to make that clear to countries,and also to make it clear that OLPC has all it can do to provide the computers, so somebody else has to take up these other responsibilities. In fact several countries have created impressive programs to do just that. Proyecto CEIBAL in Uruguay is the most advanced. Bryan Berry's team at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal is getting some very good results under extremely difficult conditions. The government of Ghana has brought in University of Education, Winneba as a partner in its planning.

    But there have been remarkable successes even without planning and resources. See, for example, http://radian.org/notebook/astounded-in-arahuay, which describes three remarkable sets of social changes even apart from the benefits of accessing the Internet for agricultural information in subsistence potato-farming communities, and of using the resources of the Internet to supplement the meager textbooks provided by the government.

    I conclude that we do not yet know enough about what makes a laptop deployment successful and what leads to failure. The remedy is not to complain that OLPC is not doing the job of governments, but to organize and fund the rest of what is needed, including good research.

    Finally, I would like to observe that your view of results depends on your expectations as much as on the program itself. It is not the primary purpose of the OLPC program to improve scores on standardized tests (although that certainly does happen) but to teach children how to learn and think for themselves, and to evaluate the information that comes to them, whether from friends and neighbors, from their governments and political organizations, or from the Internet. Connecting children together, while not an explicit OLPC goal beyond the level of the classroom, will in my view turn out to be as important as the in-class educational improvements provided

    Nobody has yet addressed in full the requirements for electricity and Internet infrastructure throughout every country, and for microfinance to create new jobs and start new businesses. We have barely started on replacing printed textbooks, although funding sources for that enterprise have started to appear. So, as the bumper sticker says,

    Please don't honk. I'm pedaling as fast as I can.

  6. Clayton R. Wright

    Over the years I have read many comments for and against the OLPC initiative. Sometimes I wonder if those who comment have ever worked in a developing country and seen the look of wonder, excitement, and pride of accomplishment when a learner obtains access to a computer and is able to accomplish simple tasks at first, then more complicated ones. I wonder if they think about how this event in childhood might inspire the learners to reach beyond currently accepted personal and community limitations.

    I think that it is absolutely marvellous that someone thought big as it spurs the imaginations of others. It definitely spurred others to come up with similar projects (there are more than 50 inexpensive computer initiatives), to develop the netbook, to provide inexpensive software licensing agreements, and to think about educational technology implementation and the role of the instructor in the learning-instructional mix.

    From the beginning, it was obvious to everyone that the success of the OLPC project would depend on training teachers how to incorporate technology in the classroom, altering learning and instructional methods, revising the curriculum, providing adequate maintenance and repair services, and obtaining access to reliable and inexpensive power and Internet connections. It was not expected that the OLPC project would provide everything. Other groups, including national governments, were suppose to play their role – some did, others did not. The OLPC project success also relied heavily on volunteers – people who have bills to pay and lives to live. Volunteers make it difficult to provide continuity and for the organization to build upon past experiences.

    I believe that in time, the OLPC project will be seen as a significant event in the history of introducing technology to developing nations. Rather than emphasize its shortcomings, I would rather focus on what worked/works and build upon the successes. I do agree that giving one computer and a project to every teacher would be helpful, but I am also aware that this procedure will just perpetuate the teacher-centredness of the educational system. I do believe in collaboration and that learners have the capability to help others learn. I look forward to the time when the functions of a computer are incorporated into an inexpensive mobile device so that it becomes as ubiquitous as mobile phones are wherever I travel and work – from Bangladesh to Zimbabwe.

    • Clayton raises some important points, i.e., that OLPC provides the computers, and it is thus presumably up to others to provide the rest of the package. For that reason, for a long time I withheld any criticism of OLPC, because I did not think it right to criticize it for decisions (regarding teacher training, support, etc.) that are the responsibility of ministries of education–first off, in deciding whether one laptop per child is affordable in their contexts and then, if so, for implementing it correctly.

      If that is what OLPC were, I would have no problem with it. The problem is that it comes with an ideology, a value system, and an approach, which can be characterized as "give children XOs and get out of the way." That approach deserves criticism, because it leads to wasted resources and negative results. As for the work to develop the XO and its software, and the work by volunteers around the world to support children's use of techology, I applaud that.

      And yes, though I can't speak for others, I personally have worked for three years on a development project supporting educational technology for young children, and it precisely because of the tremendous social and educational needs that children around the world have that I think we have to be as thoughtful and effective as possible in how we help provide for their future.

      • That was also my point for withholding criticism on the OLPC.

        But as it is pointed, the OLPC has never been sold as a technological project, but as an educational one, with Papert's theories, constructionism, coding as a means for education, etc. embedded with it.

        Nothing against these theories, but their tacit embedding on the project seems to have been just that, tacit, not explicit, with all the support (training, social consensus, budget, planning, etc.) that it should come with just lacking but also leaving no room for this support to be added to the project.

      • Oscar Becerra

        What you say is simply not true. I have been working with OLPC for almost 4 years and am responsible for the olpc impolementation in Peru. Never had OLPC people even implied we should give children laptops and get out of their way. This might be an extrapolation of thgeir finding thet "even if you just give children laptops and get out of their way, some wonderful things happen in terms of learning" but we have found that if you support them and their teachers more wonderful things happen as long as teachers are good, not only "trained".

  7. The problem with open source and free software is that when projects have to solely depend on volunteers and donations, it seldom work or sustainable on large scale basis.
    Lack of contents would therefore make most projects fail.

    XOs for each child is really impractical for most countries and should not be pursued and too drastic step. The next step is to equip the teachers with technology i.e a laptop (netbook) and a projector.
    That is the most logical next step to transform nationwide a blackboard centered classroom to a mixed blackboard and projector based classrooms.

    Only after mastering this transition should any attempt be made to enable students to have access to PCs or laptops.

    One PC per child would be in the final stages when computers are dirt cheap and the nature of the classrooms have changed where maybe students do not even have to go to schools.



    • FOSS projects do not have to depend on volunteers any more than any other projects. The technology employed can be completely independent of the project funding. Lack of content is an issue but there are projects to provide free content, both in the not for profit and profit sectors. You are right in that an access device is not much use without curriculum content that is both accessible and provides progression routes. You assumption that the teacher stand at the front of the class (whether with a projector or a blackboard) as the keymeans of supporting learning is contrary to most research about best practice. Ok, it will provide some of what is needed but the internet above all else provides the opportunity to teach young people how to learn and how to be more self-sufficient in what they learn. I don't see why these benefits should be denied those in the developing world even if we can't achieve perfection right away.

      Forget one PC per child. By the time that is a reality the world will be well and truly transitioned to technologies dervied from Smartphones and these will be dirt cheap compared to paying teachers. While I have some reservations about mass roll outs in environments not ready there is certainly a case for governments to trial and research such projects. They should also be pooling resources to develop a free on-line school curriculum because this would be an insignificant cost in the whole scheme of things and provide a learning driven focus for development rather than a technology driven one.

  8. We agree strongly with Alan. Although we provide netbook, projector, wireless, and flash drive hardware at cost for pilot projects where necessary, all of our R&D focus is on enabling both online and offline access to appropriate free content. We work to develop and improve online and offline tools for finding, collecting, and sharing content in order to support mentoring of and by teachers at any geographic scale from local villages to nearest cities to international mentoring. We particularly welcome collaborations with kindred-spirit complementary approaches.

  9. Thanks for this discussion.
    As someone who co-designed an interactive curriculum for young Nigerians in 2007 with the ministry of education and many Nigerian experts, when we still hoped that 1 million olpcs would come to the country, I was really dissapointed by the naieve implementation (lack of) strategy of olpc.
    To date one school in Nigeria has olpcs, maybe 2. The intel classmate has been better thought thru, they provide for example teacher training, some technical support and network installation.

    I agree that we should applaud the mind shift OLPC has helped bring about with regard to developing low cost robust devices for emerging economies and thinking about the rural child, but I would like to see OLPC admit its shortcomings and not continue to claim itself as THE answer.

    Introducing technologies, in my experience has to be done holistically, from tech aspects, to people capacity to infrastructure to content development. It doesn't – i believe – have to be requested by the user / teacher / student as they may not know about existing tech possibilities, however once the end user interacts with the tech it is vital to listen and learn from their experiences and continually update solutions. Hard Work 🙂

    thanks, Emer

  10. Without your resources I haven't found any successful programs, at least by the metric of improving educational outcomes, so I'm interested in successful – highly successful – programs. In fact all the programs I've had access to have been dismal failures both financially and educationally so you can understand that highly successful programs, and how they achieved their success, would be of interest to me.

    • I'm not sure you'll find a laptop program that can be deemed a "successful program" by the metric of improving educational outcomes. From previous debates, we've come to the conclusion that we should stop wasting children with ICT4E assessments and just get on with deployments already. That said, we should strive to do deployments right – where teachers and community receive just as much attention as children themselves.

  11. For those interested I wrote a piece last year for Miller McCune Magazine that surveys the high quality research relevant to OLPC deployments and the many many alternative ways to spend the funds allocated to olpc programs to produce meaningful improvements in the quality of education children in developing countries receive.

    • Apparently the link was clipped out of the prior comment, trying again:

    • Right, you're the deworming guy. Nice juxtaposition by the way – an educational tool vs. basic health. I think we'll all agree that first you need healthy children. No child can learn if they are too hungry, sick, or distracted (by war, poverty, etc) to learn.

      ICT in education is not intended as a substitute for the basics – its meant to increase learning outcomes once children are ready to learn. In this context, OLPC, books, even a single pencil or piece of chalk beats out $1 million in deworming efforts, as they open childrens' minds to the possibilities that educational advancement can bring them. Deworming just deworms them. Which is great – I've had worms myself, and know the value of deworming – but isn't OLPC's aim.

      • Actually, I thought that Timothy's deworming article was right on target. He drew on evidence to show that deworming has not only health benefits, but educational benefits, by allowing many more children to attend school. In that way, for a very low cost, you are getting a "two-fer" — increased health AND educational benefits.

        The bottom line is that, for many countries that are the supposed target for OLPC (such as in sub-Saharan Africa), anything close to the amount being spent for individual computers could make a huge impact on people's life expectancy and education, if used in a more appropriate fashion.

        • There are important differences between the benefits of deworming for educational circumstances and the *potential* benefits for learning. It's true that the health programs have shown a relationship to increased attendance and decreased attrition rates, just as have school feeding programs and conditional cash transfer programs like Bolsa Famila in Brazil (among many others). It is unsafe to extrapolate and assume that increased attendance rates and reduced attrition rates imply increased learning.

          OLPC's aim is different, as Wayan states, because it addresses a qualitative change in the learning platform itself, for better or worse. Health and other incentive programs only tangentially relate to improved learning, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Where I work in central Mozambique, the teachers are still forced by policy to teach in Portuguese to primary school children who have no experience with the language as it's not spoken in their homes. Much of the curriculum content is lost due to the language barrier and learning environment factors, leading eventually to student distress and attrition.

          Pilot projects in bilingual ed and incentives programs for teachers are showing promising results, as observers have noted that simply putting the children in the classroom regularly will only create the conditions for improved education, not the qualitative change itself.

          I do not think it will be an either / or choice for any educational system: both the environmental conditions for learning and the quality of the pedagogy itself must be improved. For me, the benefit of OLPC to this process has been that the project has opened this debate on the improvements to the learning platform for extremely harsh learning environs. I agree that there is a lot to be changed regarding the OLPC model itself (not the lower-case olpc).

          The OLPC project has made one thing very clear at a scale previously unseen: "harsh" learning environments do not have to wait until their health and nutrition standards are "up to par" by foreign standards before attempting to improve learning quality. Improvements to the deployment model are desperately needed. Where I work, the conditional challenges are so great and so vast that in fact if all effort were spent addressing them, educational development would likely remain in stasis while more generations of children rot in poorly facilitated classrooms.

          Both educational environment and learning quality must be addressed as distinct but connected issues.

      • "The deworming guy"?

        It's an interesting article in that it covers so much territory far afield of the OLPC.

        There's attention paid to infrastructural issues like the health of children but then there's some attention paid to one of the problems endemic to third world public education – teacher attendance which touches on the political nature of public education and the problems that result.

        Sadly, the most important part of the article comes at the end with the mention of Dr. Tooley and his work.

        It's an understandable choice given the visceral reaction Dr. Tooley's work must provoke among those dependent on the concept and reality of public education. While seemingly relatively innocuous Dr. Tooley's work strikes at a number of unquestionable assumptions upon which education as an institution of government is based. But the article was about the OLPC and what a failure it's been so sticking Dr. Tooley's work on the rear end is at least defensible.

        Of course this discussion topic is "OLPC: How Not to Run a Laptop Program" but that unnecessarily constrains the discussion since the OLPC wasn't the first failure of computers in education and is unlikely to be the last. Viewed in a historical context the OLPC program, ignoring the technological tour de force of its design and manufacture, is hardly differentiated from any other computer-in-education project.

        There's the somewhat vague, but glowingly described, goals which inevitably are presented without some metric to determine success. That is, unless, someone's rude enough to question the inevitability of success but that sort of incivility seems vanishingly uncommon and ICT projects are rarely saddled with the need to provide a metric of efficacy.

        It could be though that the history of ICT has made the need for an efficacy metric redundant since no one's ever seen a successful ICT project. It seems pointless, and a bit cruel, to insist on a means of measuring success as it relates to education when everyone involved knows, and if you get them drunk enough will admit, that success consists of getting the projected funded and not of kids learning.

  12. I haven't ever been directly involved with the OLPC program, although I have followed it for a number of years, and I think the conclusion of this article is rather harsh. OLPC taught us a number of good lessons. Prior to the OLPC effort, netbooks did not exist, and it was hard to find a capable laptop under $700 or so. Today, we have a number of capable netbooks for $200 – $300.

    Prior to OLPC, business wisdom would have suggested that educators should educate and leave product design to business. OLPC had the courage to dream, and to innovate, and in doing so inspired a whole category of low-cost computers. If distributing tens of millions of low-cost computers to children was the aim of OLPC, then the program has already been successful in that it inspired major manufacturers to create netbooks. I bought my daughter has a netbook and loves it. And while she most certainly plays games on the thing, she also uses it as a learning resource. An added bonus is that where a full-size laptop would be awfully large in her lap, it's the perfect physical size for a 10 year-old girl.

    The OLPC approach is akin to throwing seeds out of a moving truck. Certainly fewer of those seeds will grow than would grow if we carefully tended them. And yet many solutions can be improved by spending more money. Is the "waste" of the OLPC program greater or less than the "waste" associated with paying someone (or several someones) several thousand dollars a month each to roll out a more structured program. Is it more effective to seed 500 x $200 laptops for $100,000, or is it more effective to seed 250 x $200 laptops and pay someone $50,000 (with benefits) to roll those out as part of a more formal learning program? Or is the optimal approach yet more hands on – perhaps two people working very closely with 25-50 laptops?

    My dad was a school principal for many years, and sometimes he'd look at "failed" programs and say, "it's hard to stop a good learner." And yet, the one thing we can guarantee is that even the very best learners will struggle if they lack the tools to succeed. If only 1% of the OLPC laptops are used intensively, but all of those 1% fall into the hands of children who would not otherwise have a computer, and then learn on their own, and dream, and create tons of knowledge for themselves, the program would be beneficial, even if the other 99% had zero impact. It's interesting that a number of European countries consider internet access to be a basic human right, and yet we argue about whether all children should have computers. I'm not sure that the OLPC approach creates equal outcomes, but it does create somewhat equal opportunities for individuals who, without a computer, might otherwise have much less opportunity.

    • Thank you for your extremely thoughtful comments. I will start restrict myself for now by responding to your first point–that OLPC is almost singularly responsible for the development of netbooks. If so, that is of course a huge accomplishment, and greatly important for education. However, I am skeptical. Let's examine some trends outside the laptop/desktop category. First, the price of desktop computers fell precipitously in the years before the netbook era. Laptop prices were beginning to fall, and it was no surprise that that happened. Secondly, there has been a trend toward developing cheap small "good enough" products, such as the Flip video camera. Third, open source operating systems and software have been expanding, especially those for mobile devices. Fourth, there has been a greater trend toward wireless mobile devices of all sorts for flexible Internet access. It seems that, given all this, netbooks would have emerged with or without OLPC. I don't have any firm evidence on this point one way or the other. I would love to see an in-depth of this issue by somebody with expertise and insider contacts in the computer industry.

      As for your other points, they are extremely interesting as well. No time to respond now but perhaps later.

      • Whether one could definitively show a causal link between OLPC and the creation of the netbook category is unclear, although the Wikipedia article for netbooks discusses the introduction of the somewhat OLPC-like Asus Eee PC and notes, "The OLPC project, known for its innovation in producing a durable, cost- and power-efficient netbook for developing countries, is regarded as one of the major factors that led top computer hardware manufacturers to begin creating low-cost netbooks for the consumer market." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netbook)

        This same article references the specs of the Asus Eee PC in its discussion of the origin of the term netbook, "The generic use of the term "netbook", however, began in 2007 when Asus unveiled the ASUS Eee PC. Originally designed for emerging markets, the 23 x 17 cm (8.9" × 6.5") device weighed about 0.9 kg (2 pounds) and featured a 7" display, a keyboard approximately 85% the size of a normal keyboard, a solid-state drive and a custom version of Linux with a simplified user interface geared towards netbook use."

        • My initial reaction to the Asus Eee PC was that it took the good things about the OLPC laptop (small size, low cost, rapid boot times), took away features most people wouldn't want (a hand crank), and raised the target price to $200. The lower cost was made possible through changes to the computing model, and the Linux operating system was a big enabler of this lower price. Even though laptop prices had been falling up to that time, a drop in price for a useable computer from $600 to $200 was a big change.

          I believe that the defining characteristics of a netbook are small size, simplicity, and a modest cost. The success of the Eee PC running on Linux prompted a response from Microsoft to offer Windows XP at a low cost for netbooks. Manufacturers were also pushed to make their Windows netbooks behave in a Linux-like manner- take away all the pre-loaded junk, and focus on functionality such as email and web access, rapid boot times, and rock-solid suspend/resume.

          While the netbook category would probably have come out anyway, a good case can be made that the category came out a couple years earlier due to the influence of the OLPC and that we remain a generation ahead in netbook design as a result.

          • Of course, this is a all a digression from the central topics of the article. We might ask:

            Was OLPC a good idea? I believe that it was in the sense that I believe that it generated positive outcomes.

            Does OLPC remain a good idea? OLPC is an innovative child-centric technology project. I’m not sure if their best fit for us as a society is to explore ideas that others commercialize, or whether they can actually roll out their vision on a massive scale, but at least on a small scale, I would like to see the experiment continued.

            Should we continue to try things like OLPC in the future? Every other day in my job, I am faced with the notion that professionals cannot and should not attempt to innovate, that we should leave this to experts and consultants. OLPC has taken on a task that we would normally delegate to hardware manufacturers and had some successes.

            So – was OLPC a good laptop program for children? I don’t know. I like the idea of every child having a laptop. I also like the idea of each child being more intensively taught to use laptops. If I had to choose between more teachers or more laptops, it’s a hard call. Computers have become so commonplace and easy to use that it’s hard for me to not regard computers as part of the learning infrastructure.

            • I guess my main reaction to the article is that it focuses on the shortcomings of the OLPC program, rather than looking at its successes. My dad wrote a federal grant in the early 1980’s (back when PC’s were not common in classrooms), that resulted in his school being the first school in the county to have a room full of computers (Commodore PET’s – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_pet) Although the grant funded a position to work with the computers, the technology was so new in education, that it was a bit like throwing computers at the problem, and this program and a subsequent grant that he wrote for Apple computers had both successes and failures. A success in his school was in the use typing programs to teach typing, and in the use of math blaster type video games. Another success was a demonstration (contrary to popular wisdom at the time) that even kindergarteners could use computers. However, other expectations resulted in disappointment. Expectations that the introduction of computers would lead to a rapid rise in computer literacy and/or that teachers would program their computers led to disappointment – computers intended for this purpose tended to become doorstops (with some inspiring successes, such as the MECC program – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mecc). Likewise, I think the OLPC program has had some successes, albeit mixed, and we might ask what we could possibly do differently about the OLPC program. Perhaps the answer isn’t strictly one laptop per child, but rather a solution in which all children are given the opportunity to have a laptop if they put forth a modest defined effort. The nature and amount of this effort isn’t necessarily all that important. As a high school student, I saw people using Apple II’s, and wanted one, but did not immediately have the money required to buy one. In order to acquire one, I raised half the funds, mostly doing odd jobs around the farm at $1 per hour, at which point my grandparents paid the remainder. And while I wouldn’t suggest such a steep barrier to acquisition for others, there is no doubt in my mind that I valued the computer more because I paid for it, and that I pushed myself harder to learn more about computers as a direct result of the effort that I made to acquire one in the first place.

              Apologies in advance for such a long response.

          • Hmm. I'd be careful of the causality you are implying with the statement, "My initial reaction to the Asus Eee PC was that it took the good things about the OLPC laptop (small size, low cost, rapid boot times), took away features most people wouldn't want (a hand crank), and raised the target price to $200."

            You mentioned this in your last paragraph, but still – the causality involved is dubious at best and I wished that this were clear.

            The eeePC didn't *take* any of these things. Arguably, it was a natural market evolution. The OLPC is nothing like a Model T Ford in any regard, and as such it cannot claim anything truly took from it. The eeePC made it in an open market, the OLPC didn't share that. Apples and oranges.

            • Unless two things are truly identical, they're always "apples and oranges". And there's just no way that the Asus and OLPC machines would ever be truly identical – the computing world changes too rapidly, and people always want to modify designs. As such, this part of the discussion (whether the OLPC inspired netbooks) comes down to interpretation. While I wouldn't suggest that Wikipedia is the final word, the information out there speaks for itself, both in favor of this argument and against it. But, at the end of the day, whether OLPC inspired netbooks is irrelevant to the broader discussion here, since it's not a repeatable success – even if they did inspire netbooks once, it's not something that OLPC can do again; it's already been done. I like that OLPC had the courage to dream, and to promote a new paradigm. I like the debate that OLPC has sparked.

              Along these lines, I'm more interested in responses to the other thoughts suggested above.

      • Mark,

        I have watched OLPC's evolution since 2002 and I would say that there was no one even remotely close to the ideas OLPC represented. As someone who has watched this space as a global IS executive/ CIO/ and a consulting company head, I am not aware of any industry trend suggesting anything like the later-day netbooks were going to emerge anytime sooner. Just months before the launch of OLPC the big players in the notebook space were skeptical about anything like OLPC.

        That said, that cannot be reason for OLPC bashing. I wish your headline was at least neutral. You may have something against OLPC per se. But whatever you have said may appeal to the uninitiated. However, those with any opportunity to having witnessed its roll out will have hard time relating to your observations.

        • OLPC 'bashing'? No, no, it's a valid criticism. You and I have been having this discussion since the OLPC was first announced, if you recall – we had some rather long threads on the Digital Divide email list as I recall.

          Your contention was – and still seems to be – that the OLPC is a technological marvel in education. And it could be. But as you say, you are a global IS executive/CIO/Company head, and as such your perspective seems truncated beyond that.

          My contention has been and continues to be – as a Digital Divide activist, as a Software Developer of 20 years, as a published writer, as a poet, as a renewable energy consultant, as an ICT consultant, as a former educator and as a farmer… (and some more things, too) rather simple. And that simplicity I will pose to you in the form of a multiple choice question.

          Here's the question: If you have a limited budget in a developing nation and have poor infrastructure, poor technological education of educators and a curricula that are not adapted to technology and someone approached you to purchase a widget for $20 million US dollars that *might* have a positive impact on an upcoming generation, would you:

          (a) Spend the $20 million US dollars on the widget or
          (b) Spend the $20 million US dollars on education of educators, adaptation of the curriculum and advancement of infrastructure?

          You seem to want people to go with (a). I'd rather they go with (b), and here's the reason: Option (a) treats an immediate symptom, sort of like a damp cloth on a forehead of someone with malaria. Option (b) is designed to cure the disease itself.

          Am I bashing the OLPC? No. I'm criticizing it in a broader context as the author of the article did. Now go read those last 3 paragraphs again and answer those… instead of accusing people of 'bashing'. 🙂

  13. Mark,

    I really appreciated your post here.

    As you know, I am just finishing up my doctoral research, which focuses on a deployment of 140 XO Laptops and their Sugar software in a 5th grade cohort in a suburban school district in the United States.
    The findings suggest that the use of these laptops and software strongly support these students becoming more independent as learners. But the findings also suggest that this independence becomes part of a larger classroom ecology, of which the teachers are also a key part.

  14. I have yet to read something sensible that demonstrates that the money spent on OLPCs is not better spent on infrastructure and education otherwise within developing countries. Someone, please, dazzle me.

    And feel free to dazzle me with how technology has significantly had a positive effect on student ability in the developed nations, aside from technoliteracy.

    Seriously. I'd love to read actual studies.

    • Hi Taran

      This is in response to your general challenge about "how technology has significantly had a positive effect on student ability in the developed nations, aside from technoliteracy." – which I confess I misread as developing and not developed nations.

      And this response is not precisely about positive effect on 'student ability' either – but rather about positive effect on 'learning'.

      I do believe ICT is providing wonderful new opportunities for learning – but not always in the ways that people expect. So I share a true story of how ICT was used for practical learning which helped when cholera threatened. http://learnbydoinguk.blogspot.com/2009/01/tom-ri

      I hope it's not too far off topic but I find your ideas and challenges interesting, and regarding OLPC and most other "elearning" debates I am keen to widen the thinking beyond formal education systems to include non-formal learning. I think the cholera story is relevant to OLPC because OLPC is based on the idea of enabling people to find things out for themselves.

      • Thank you, Pamela. For some reason the email links do not open the relevant comments and on a quick skim I failed to see '1 reply'. Sidenote: What a peculiar behavior for email links.

        I commented later on this. But I also do appreciate the link; I read it through the links in my email. Scientifically speaking, though, it's very difficult to demonstrate ICT has had a positive effect on education because (1) there seems to be more emotion than science in debate and (2) there are so many other problems (variables) within education that it's difficult to measure success in any meaningful way.

        The one thing I keep coming back to in all of this are metrics. How can one tell good students from bad? How can one can tell good teachers from bad? And aren't 'good' and 'bad' a matter thought of in terms of the majority as opposed to affinity? In some cases, a bad teacher could be good – as an example.

        Metrics. We're in the clouds with this discussion because the underlying methodology for measuring success is so open to debate.

        (And in the case of the OLPC, the 'is a better choice for the government to spend money on' is really a question pushed onto governments who arguably made decisions in the past that might make *this* decision look attractive. But it doesn't mean it is the right decision.)

  15. Chijioke J. Evoh

    Taran's comment is in order. I think that everyone should be concerned with the sustainability and effectiveness of OLPC in developing countries where many education infrastructures are lacking. However, one must add that every single educational technology, including laptops for school kids can be amazing educational innovation, when applied together with other educational facilities and factors. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that learning is a complex process that entails simultaneous integration of different factors. Therefore, there is no single factor, be it laptops or effective/experienced teachers that can transform education in isolation. It has never happened in the past and there is no technological innovation that will make it happen today. Thus, the effectiveness of any technological innovation in education, including the OLPC, lies not only with the application of the technology in question, but also in conjunction with other factors that affect educational development in the community.

  16. Simply to expand on my previous comment:

    Have there been case studies of students learning the same subject matter with the same curriculum without technology (control group) and with technology (experimental group)? Despite the obvious potential for disparity in students, instructors and so forth, there should be something demonstrable for all of this discussion on technology use within education to be worthwhile. Metrics. Metrics tell us a lot more than 'I think it is good'. And really isn't that what a lot of this discussion is?

    Education wise, I'm hard pressed to say that technology is or isn't an issue. As someone who had a good calculus teacher in secondary school and who was forbidden to use a calculator while in calculus class, I am hard pressed to make a case for the need for technology in a classroom. Would it have been 'cooler'? Yes. Would I have done as well? I don't know. And if I don't know, I lay odds that none of you know either.

    Yes, technology has a place in the classroom. But let us be serious. There are a lot of problems within educational systems worldwide. A certain developed nation lowered passing grades so that students would appear to do better in class.

    So – technology innovation, yes. Completely. I'm all for it; I'm far from a Luddite. But I don't think the OLPC spent as much on dealing with the serious educational issues within a real-world framework as they did on picking the easy issues (developing a laptop for children which is arguably already outdated) and marketing the snot out of it. But after the marketing, after solving the tech issues, the governments pay a bill with no realistic method of measuring success.

    So yes. Please show me a scientifically based study that demonstrates that *any* technology, not just the OLPC, has a positive effect on student ability. And if those studies don't demonstrate a positive effect, we have an idea of what to work on – and I lay odds it isn't the low hanging fruit of technology.

    Give a man a hammer, everything is a nail. The implementation of technology in the OLPC is more reminiscent of a nail to me in the broader context of education and economics in a developing country. But I have no evidence of that, I have an opinion. Does someone have evidence for or against?

    Please and thank you.

    • Check out the US DoE's "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies" –http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-ba… The basic gist: blended learning (face-to-face plus online) leads to better educational outcomes than purely online or face-to-face (with purely online leading to better outcomes than purely face-to-face). The authors question, though, whether the observed effects are due to the technology itself (and its inherent affordances) or to something more indirect like the extra amount of time learners devote to online activities. Regardless, it's good research and it's the closest I've come to finding useful data for making evidence-based ICT4E decisions.

  17. Upgrading OLPC into the OPBPC program

    I find the OLPC bashing blogs 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.

    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 place 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.

    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. You can see this at http://sons-of-thunder.ning.com

    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 Café and International Library sectors as free download at http://globallearningframework.ning.com. This paper discusses the issues mentioned in greater detail.

    Richard Close
    Chrysalis Campaign

  18. Alejandro Lavarello

    Hi Mark.

    I live in Uruguay, the emblematic country for the OLPC project.
    My daughter Emilia go to public school and has one XO. I have used the XO, and I am a
    regular Linux and Windows user.

    I agree with your article. When XO began to deteriorate, the daddys began to "repair"
    with scotch tape. The keyboard replacement costs here about U$S10 , and the screen
    replacement about U$S20. Many can afford this costs; but the poor children not.
    Result: in months, poor childrens do not use more their XO.

    Here we have the "plan Ceibal". This plan, as stated by government agency LATU, is about
    giving conectivity and XO to all school childrens. This is NOT an educational plan.

    Silently, the XO is forgeted in school classes, and teachers return to traditional teaching.

    The childrens use their XO for playing music and platform games, like "SuperVampireNinjaZero". Educational games are slow and Flash-based, and hated by childrens. Software developers do not like to program in Python; they have background in Java, Flash, C, and not feel the necesity of learn a new slow interpreted language. Java is slow and consumes much of the XO "disk" space. Result: only a few government agencies or 2 o 3 great enterprises have developed bored and slow software for XO.

    Childrens that have a PC in his homes do not like to use theirs XO.

    Sugar is another problem. Nobody likes it. Is a pain trying to save all Journal entries using Journal. File handling is a torture. And volunteers always end erasing the entire children's Journal without backup because the XO
    rapidly ceases to work when Journal is full. They indirectly teach that children's files are without value.

    I think that my country have spend too much money in OLPC. I think that regular informatic rooms with a dedicated professor will be a better choice. OLPC "plan" is not part of the scholar curricula. Nobody evaluates if each children have learned abour informatics.

    Can send me your opinion at: alejandro.lavarello (at) gmail (dot) com .
    Sorry by my poor English.

    • Alejandro,

      Thank you for sharing your frustrations. This can clearly help Plan Ceibal take a cue or two.

      That said, let us go back to the times when computers got introduced. How much waster was there in the beginning?

      Let us also go back to how many toys parents end up buying for children? Including those not so well off ones?

      Then consider how much money does education program spend on what is called "education" but seldom prepares the underprivileged for any meaningful education?

      Now compare what is spent on OLPC program.

      I agree with your article. When XO began to deteriorate, the daddys began to "repair"
      with scotch tape.

      Let us ask how many XOs began to deteriorate?
      How many keyboards and screens actually developed problems?

      Agreed, giving XO and connectivity may not an education plan. Is giving books to children an education plan? How many books does OLPC XO come with? Does it have a Wikipedia? Does it have a hundred or two hundred applications that are designed to self-learn? Will all of that resemble anything like an education plan?

      Educational games are slow and Flash-based, and hated by children.. Considering they are supposedly poor, did they have these games before the OLPC program?

      Looks like the world you are referring to is a little different from the world the rest of the world is passionately trying to create. May be because Uruguay is a much better off country and does not like to engage in creating its own world with the help of its own people and prefers to use what is convenient rather than fun and challenging. If Java is slow, why do they learn Java? Or is it that Java is slow only on XOs

      I experimented with a few school children, including those in grade 10 and 11 and they were ready to dump their desktops for XO. So we have different sets of experiences here.

      I go back in time to when I began using a laptop. Everything seemed to require training was clearly more of a torture than I have seen sugar be.

      I think while you have a few good observation everyone can benefit from, may be there is a reason you seem so anti OLPC XO and that reason is other than its capabilities and functionalities for so little.

      The total cost of ownership of any desktop even at home today exceeds $1000 over first year. In contrast, 5 year cost of ownership of an XO does not exceed $300 or not more than about $1 per week.

      • You wrote: "…Agreed, giving XO and connectivity may not an education plan. Is giving books to children an education plan? How many books does OLPC XO come with? Does it have a Wikipedia? Does it have a hundred or two hundred applications that are designed to self-learn? Will all of that resemble anything like an education plan?…"

        So now you're misting the issue? The OLPC is *marketed* specifically toward being some form of silver bullet regarding education. Look at the mission statement (http://laptop.org/en/vision/index.shtml ):

        "Mission Statement: To create educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future."

        It's so warm and fuzzy I want to kick off my shoes, sit around the fire and tell ghost stories while nibbling some s'mores.

        As far as the Wikipedia – the Wikipedia doesn't teach critical thought, though it can enforce it. But the Wikipedia that you're talking about is static – it exists on the OLPC and isn't updated without a proper internet connection. And the Wikipedia is updated… almost every second. So… maybe a government should spend money on infrastructure instead of the OLPCs? I say yes, you seem to say no.

        Like it or not, children's educational achievement is measured by testing according to curricula. And where does the OLPC fit into those curricula? The system is decidedly biased toward books at this time and any technology use has to be adapted into the curricula. The OLPC is a specialty tool/toy. Meanwhile, the developed world has the Internet, etc. Wouldn't it be more cost effective to adapt the curricula to the infrastructure that includes the internet – something of a global standard?

        See, the OLPC was really a good idea. And it really is a nice piece of technology, even as outdated as it is now. So was/is the Simputer. But what people who advocate the OLPC seem to ignore at almost every turn is the broader context of a developing nation as well as the broader context of education.

        You also wrote: "The total cost of ownership of any desktop even at home today exceeds $1000 over first year. In contrast, 5 year cost of ownership of an XO does not exceed $300 or not more than about $1 per week."

        TCO. That's a way of disconnecting a piece of technology, conveniently, from its true total cost. To adapt a curriculum, to train educators… I dare say that the XO's implementation in a real educational environment in a nation that wishes to become developed is going to have a lot of associated costs. Approaching the TCO of a piece of technology without gauging its broader context seems inappropriate. Perhaps this is why Microsoft stopped using TCO to dissuade people from Open Source/Free Software in the early 2000s.

        Please reconsider your opinions in the broader context that so much of the developed world lives in every day.

      • Alejandro Lavarello

        Hi, Satish.
        Where do you live?

        I say you what I see. I am a parent and my daughter uses a XO, and we have seen
        the Plan Ceibal in reality, not in papers, like you.

        From official Plan Ceibal's statistics, 19% of XO are broken 6 months after gived. And
        my little neighbor, Milagros, 8 years old, have broked his XO and nobody of his
        family has money for repair it. Poor childrens are the first to not use XO because Xo breaks. I have see this, nobody told me.

        Poor childrens in my country, and in other countries needs things more basics than
        computers. Here, the money spent in Plan Ceibal was not used to give better
        health and education; the school buildings continues deteriorating.

        Looks like the world you want is different to the world that good will people wants. You want computers; I want first food, health and education for all, and then computers.
        If my country had a lot of money, the four things will be simultaneous; but we need to choose. And my government have choosed bad.

        To 100m of our house, a girl 10 years was with her 5 years old brother in her lap. In the
        lap of her brother, they have a XO. With girl's right hand, she manages the XO; with
        girl's left hand, she removes lice from her brothers head. In a context of dirtness and poverty.
        This is the real postal for Plan Ceibal.

        And, I suggest what you check your numbers about total cost of ownership. Here, a
        used Pentium 4 with monitor costs U$S250 with taxes; with your U$S1.000, anyone can afford 4 PCs. A government, in a massive buy, can obtain better prices. You find replacement parts and people capable of repairing standard PCs everywhere. With standard informatics clashrooms, you can use the same PC for 2 students, one in morning, other in afternoon. And you can evaluate each student progress.

        In the other side, the XO, dependent of Qantas monopoly, need a wireless infrastructure, and a dedicated repair infrastructure. And nobody evaluates what each children learn. And here the XO are flashed 3 or 4 times for year, because software malfuncion and progressive slowing. The internal flash memory of XO is rated for 3 years, not 5.

        The self-learning paradigm used by Negroponte et al. for selling us the XO is the least democratic learning system. The most intelligent students learn, and the others.. nobody evaluates what they learn.

        Well, Satish, I think that you have good intentions, and I tell you what I think.
        Have a good day!

        alejandro.lavarello (at) gmail (dot) com

    • Sebastian Z

      Oddly, there seems to be a good number of people from Uruguay that live in Uruguay that write really good English with an american style of writing. Better English that I have found from the small population on Uruguay that can speak and write english in a very understandable way, and somehow they have found this site. There is also an odd ratio of several people writing on this forum. Some people write to the forum more than ten times and take up most of the forum. I hope there is no perpretrators and posers coming to this site.

      • Sebastian, are you implying that only Uruguayans should be commenting on this post? Or that a specific poster is not Uruguayan enough to comment? Or that there would not be English-fluent Uruguayans who have opinions about OLPC?I would strongly disagree with any of those assertions. First, there are many people interested in ICT for education, and of them, many are very highly regarded experts in their respective fields. I am honored they partake in EduTechDebate discussions, regardless of nationality. Next, any self-identifying Uruguayan, fluent in any language, with a well-thought opinion is welcome to join our discussion. That includes you, regardless of your identification with any nationality, language group, or ICT4E disposition.Yet I will not tolerate veiled accusations that EduTechDebate commentary should only be reserved for a certain group. All those that are interested in education, in technology, where the two meet, and wish to add to the discourse, are welcome. Only those that wish to stifle conversation or disparage others will be asked to leave.

  19. evidence seems to point out that actual TCO for XOs that actually do get used for learning in OLPC/style deployments, such as Ceibal, where integrating them to the classroom is not a priority, is probably in the order of several thousand of dollars each, if you account for how many get wasted without giving any benefit besides some nice sounding official figures of "investment" in "education"

  20. Sonya Seth

    The debate is interesting and to some extent, enlightening. What I do not see is substantive evidence that OLPC improves student learning. Shouldn’t that be the goal of our schools? I speak as an elementary teacher from a school that has the OLPC as a resource; we have used this for some years now. The laptop is not a novelty for our students: using it as a learning tool is perhaps the greater issue here. And it must be emphasized that technology at best is a tool that should complement what a qualified and experienced teacher does. Agreed, laptops are the future, in fact, they are very much the here and now, just as much as Smart Boards and I phones. No amount of wishing this away will make that happen, nor should that be. The over-dependence of students on computers, to check spelling or even solve a simple mathematical problem, is what we as educators must guard against.

    • Ian Thomson

      Measuring improvements in learning through OLPC is a very difficult thing to do. You need a longitudinal study and control groups, but even then you cant eliminate variables such as personal commitment of the principal and teachers. Then what do you measure?
      My best answer is to measure how much children love to learn, then no matter what they know today, they can learn what they need tomorrow.
      I do know that most children do not "love" repeating what is in the text book. they love exploring and working things out. OLPC introduces resources that allow that to happen, but if the teacher is still teaching to the text book, the benefit of OLPC is very limited.

  21. Sonya Seth

    I am not a huge fan of ICT but am not wholly opposed to it either. However, I feel I must put a plug in for the sheer joy of holding a book, crisp at first reading and dog eared some years later. Nothing quite beats that experience. And the hands on experience of working with snails, having one walk over your arm, leaving a silvery trail, can never be duplicated by technology. So, I have to say that I am still looking for evidence of improved student learning. Technology is a great resource and should be used as that. And when all is said and done, please consider appropriate disposal. You could earn serious carbon credits here.

  22. I took the decision to purchase 20 XO laptops from OLPC a few years ago for our school project in a rural area in North India. With donations, the total number of machines we have now is 36. The machines are used all the time going from classes to classes. [youtube w8ulKGVhJ8A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8ulKGVhJ8A youtube]
    As you can see we don't follow the idea of OLPC ('Computers are to be provided to children, not schools'). Why we choose that device ? For the quality of the hardware. No other device is strong like the XO-1. Also, we can charge the computers when there is electricity and use them when there is not. There are some flaws and we had to replace a lot of batteries but all the machines are still perfectly usuable. Sadly, we have to do everything ourselves since OLDP is not providing any support.

  23. With the XO, we are not trying to improve the learning of the children, we are making them familiar with computers and technology. In western countries, children see computers everywhere, this is not the case in remote areas in India.
    Technology is not needed for education, teachers and infrastructures are. Finding good teachers is our main struggle. One candidate came one day with a Master degree in English Litterature… he was unable to speak english ! The only way to get good teachers is to go to find them in South India.

    • Sonya Seth

      A good, dedicated, innovative and experienced teacher is what you want. And yes, a Masters in English Literature does not necessarily come with good verbal skills. However, you don't have to travel down South to find a 'good teacher', there are several up North. This should not end up in the North-South divide. As for technology, the greater challenge is to bring it to children in the rural areas and familiarize them with what they might one day have to use. Children in towns and cities 'see computers everywhere', everyday. A good teacher can handle the technology.

  24. Clearly Sonya's argument merits some comments. India does not have 1% of the teachers it needs. How do you get 3 million new teachers. There are no teachers. Period. Teacher is someone who has the talent to teach. If there are any, they are absorbed by the private school system. Some belong to the government schools as well. But there are few who can meet the country's expanding needs. OLPC helps where there are challenges of resources, infrastructure and teachers. Let us get real: In the past 6 decades India has added more illiterates than the population it inherited at independence. OLPC is ONE WAY to clear that backlog in 5 years! As Satish Jha of OLPC would say: A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Let us help the minds India and developing worlds produce have an opportunity to discover themselves. Not like what Sam Carlson wants: by NComputing way- an idea that was relevant when computing was expensive. Let Sam come forward and embrace OLPC. That will good for the children Sam. May be for you as well.

  25. [youtube 4T3GMJuQp24 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T3GMJuQp24 youtube]

    I applaud what OLPC is doing in inspiring millions of people to change the world. By no means was the product line above developed for poor countries, but i think that a centralized approach to computing would be very valuable for all involved, namely with respect to controlling support costs which seems to be the achilles heel of all computer programs.

    With some funding from a OLPC-type funding source or local governments, the finished laptop dispensing system could be extremely cost-effective and of course, the system could be offered free for users. My company would be happy to get involved and customize things if there is interest.

    You can reach me by following the video above to our company site.


  26. I’ve been following your web site for 4 days now and I should let you know I get tons advantages out of your article. and now how I can get information replace from your web site?

  27. It was very interesting to read the comments on this article – far more so than the article itself. Back when OLPC launched, I worked for a tech "guru" who fully supported this effort. I had reservations, even though I had to write posts in support, urging people to participate and/or donate. Being a parent, I have to agree wholeheartedly that teachers themselves are far more important than laptops. I know we've attempted to help with this in the past, and I know we'll continue to do so in the future. I wish I knew the answers and could magically bring proper education to places which don't have it.


Subscribe to ETD

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner