One Laptop per Child: Quality Primary Education for All?

Eight years ago, MIT graduate Nicholas Negroponte developed a hardware, software, and worldwide organization to target widespread primary education around the world. This initiative, entitled One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is one of the boldest technology and ICT4Edu initiatives the world has ever seen. The laptop, called the XO, and the software it comes with, Sugar, are distributed to countries and school districts in bulk to make sure each student in a school or community has a laptop. Negroponte believes that in our modern society and with the unstable, unreliable school systems of many rural and underdeveloped areas, the best way for a young child to receive a quality education is through the use of a laptop, not only allowing the students to teach themselves the software, but also how to utilize its programs for positive educational outcomes. He has faith in students around the world, more so than he does on teachers’ abilities to provide them with the education they deserve.

This program has definitely received a fair amount of criticism, often described as a one-size-sits-all utopian program that does not effectively address the target issues nor is it worth the cost for the outcomes it may produce. In Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames’ article “Can One Laptop per Child Save the World’s Poor”, they highlight four main issues with OPLC: affordability for targeted countries, flawed expectations and effects of implementation, design issues with the XO, and the reality of student usage. An interesting topic they brought up was Negroponte’s purposeful decision not to test out the product before implementing it. He believes that there is no need for a pilot program, staged implementation, and a designed monitoring and evaluation program. This is somewhat of a development taboo, for all development literature stresses the importance of such ailments in any project or program. I believe that his philosophy of intentionally neglecting these aspects of a project were interesting, yet flawed, for though it takes more time and money to test out a program in a smaller scale environment, it is still important to get an impact assessment before making a project widespread in order to prevent any potential detriments it could inflict on targeted populations.

Just a few days ago, OPLC News released an article entitled “Goodbye One Laptop per Child” announcing that the initiative is essentially history. Though there have been advancements in the XO hardware, few are still coding for Sugar, the software. Offices are declining and OLPC organizational support has been dying out. However, this does not mean that the goals and vision of OLPC are dead, for the energy in using technology to for educational development is a continued effort. In my opinion, many of the flaws of OLPC overrule the positives, and its outcomes were not necessarily what were expected. Thus, this fading out of OLPC has the potential open other opportunities for educational reform worldwide, especially if OLPC enabled countries want to attempt to stay sustainable.

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