Tag Archives: OLPC

Know Your Audience: Success in ICT4D

I think one of the most important lessons in ICT4D is to look more at the people than the technology. Someone can invent the most brilliant piece of technology that could save the world, but if it is not implemented in a place that has the technological capability to fully apply the invention, or where there is not a need for that technology then the project will not see success. Knowing the culture, people, and current technological status of a community can drastically affect the success of an ICT4D project. Some examples of this are OLPC and different cell phone projects where people haven’t been able to charge their phone.

The second example is one of the best to show how the technological infrastructure needs to be in place before an ICT4D project can truly make a difference. All of the people in the mobile phone study stated that they used their phone a lot and that it made a large difference, but their biggest problem was that they didn’t have a reliable way to charge their phone. Without the capability to charge their phone in their house or a place to charge the battery the phone, and ultimately the ICT4D project, is unsuccessful. One Laptop Per Child is another example. Some of the ideals behind this project were spot on: creating a more durable laptop that is easy to use. However, with such a large blanketed approach it was nearly impossible to address the country/area specific concerns that arose, and forced them all to fall on the government of those nations who may not have known the different aspects that needed to be addressed or may not have been capable of solving them. Of course that was not the only problem with OLPC, but the ‘one size fits all’ approach that is part of the framework with the program did contribute to specific failures in different countries.

ICT4D Course Lessons

I think the most important lesson I took from this class is that understanding the local context is critical for the success of ICT4D initiatives. “One size fits all” initiatives will not help anyone, and they will probably fail. However, it happens too often that well-meaning individuals or organizations don’t consider local contexts and challenges. We saw this in the case of One Laptop Per Child.

There are a few different things to keep in mind when considering the local context. One is local language. Many people living in remote areas do not speak the “national language,” which is typically the colonial language. In many countries, there are few people beyond educated urban dwellers that speak the language of the government. Therefore, it is essential that initiatives use local languages. Related to this is local content. Initiatives should focus on giving people information that they need. An example of this would be an initiative aimed at fishermen that gives information on tides, currents, and any impending bad weather. Finally, it is important to remember local capacity. Many rural areas don’t have sufficient resources to support computer-based initiatives, or the electricity to keep phones charged. It is important, then, to work with pre-existing technology and resources. Keeping these things in mind will reduce the probability of failure.

OLPC: Still alive?

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been much confusion and debate as to whether One Laptop Per Child is still a functioning project. OLPC News announced on March 11, “OLPC is dead.” This was not so surprising considering the harsh criticism the project has received since it began. However, the statement may not be true.

Rodrigo Arboleda, the CEO of the One Laptop Per Child Association in Miami, provided a rebuttal arguing that OLPC is alive now more than ever. He explained that the project is about to distribute 50,00 XO-4 Touch Tablets to students in Uruguay. In an interview with Xconomy, Arboleda explained that OLPC’s original vision was to focus on education rather than the distribution of laptops and the project will be heading back towards that original mission.


Arboleda plans to focus on more educational “learning-by-doing” tools that can be used with the devices already distributed. Although I believe this is a good approach for the future, I can’t help criticize the idea of considering learning through a computer as “learning-by-doing”. Sitting at a computer and playing games is not “doing” anymore than sitting in a classroom or using workbooks.

OLPC is obviously not dead yet. The project is taking on a new approach that will hopefully gain it some of its credibility back.

Argentina’s Version of OLPC

In 2010 the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced that she was going to implement a program so that every high school student in Argentina would be given a small laptop. César Dergarabedian in this article further explains the plans for this program and also compares this program to the OLPC program that had previously been implemented in Uruguay.  After seeing the results of the OLPC program in Uruguay, the president of Argentina decide to implement a similar program, but with a few changes. One of the major changes was that rather than using the OLPC laptops to give to all of the students, a similar, small durable computer was manufactured in Argentina. On the computers would also come all of the necessary programs that a student may need while using the laptop in the classroom. Along with the program, Fernández de Kirchner said that the internet capabilities of high school buildings would be increased. The program was very ambitious, hoping to have 3 million students in over 4,800 public schools receive these computers within the following 3 years.

Although the program may have been ambitious, there are many distinctions between this program and the OLPC program that make a considerable difference, and make it more plausible for the success of the program in a country. Primarily, the fact that Argentina was manufacturing the computers itself made it so that the program was not only increasing the computer use in the country, but also the money that was being spent on the laptops (nearly 1,052 million dollars) was being put back into the Argentine economy. The other part of the program that put it on track to be more successful is that since the government decided to implement this program in public schools they were also able to help provide the schools with the infrastructure needed so that the students can utilize this technology.

By no means was this program flawless, but it does give a different approach to look at when discussing the OLPC program. It also can be a case study to be compared to the OLPC program, and used for other countries looking to implement a similar program as a model.

OLPC in Kasiisi: Successful, or just more successful?

In 2009 when I was in Kibale, Uganda, I saw the first 100 laptops being distributed to the Kasiisi School as part of the Kasiisi Project. After our class discussion, I wanted to learn more about how OLPC worked out in Kasiisi. This video gives a brief overview of OLPC in the context of the Kasiisi Project:

There were a few key differences between the way OLPC was implemented in Peru and the way it was implemented in Kasiisi that I was excited about. To start, the very first thing the video says is that it is about giving a kid a laptop and teaching them how to use it. Originally, OLPC seemed to think that for the most part, if you give a kid a laptop they should be able to teach themselves how to use it. As many of the children receiving these laptops have never had any sort of experience with this kind of technology, this is a pretty unreasonable assumption. I’m glad that Kasiisi valued teaching the kids how to use the laptops, ignoring the assumptions of OLPC. Second, they included teacher training as a part of implementing OLPC in the Kasiisi Schools. This gets teachers involved in the process of implementation, another major issue with OLPC. If teachers are involved, the computers can actually be used in the classrooms for educational purposes. If teachers don’t even know how to use the computers, there is no way to incorporate them into the classroom and it is unlikely that they can serve any significant educational purpose. Finally, the students were so excited about using the laptops that the program actually improved school attendance because students had to go to school to use them.

At the same time, the video points out a few of the issues that were also seen in other places that OLPC has been implemented. These first 100 laptops would follow the P5 class, but the incoming class would probably not be able to receive laptops. The first laptops were part of a very generous donation, but clearly this donation could only benefit a select group of students. Another issue that I witnessed that wasn’t mentioned in the video was the worry that if the children brought home the laptops, they would be stolen or sold. Also, at the time that this project was implemented, the school did not have main electricity. The computers had to be powered through a generator, which was incredibly slow and meant that their use was very limited. While Kasiisi had more success than Peru, it is clear that some major issues still need to be addressed before the project can be successful.

Can One Laptop Per Child Save The World’s Poor?: A Summary

      In Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames article “Can One Laptop Per Child Save the World’s Poor?”, they critique the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) educational reform initiative. The program, launched in 2005 by MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, aims at the proliferation of hundreds of millions of low-cost laptop to children worldwide. In 2005, the goal was to deliver 100-150 million laptops worldwide by 2008. In 2010, only 1.5 million has been dispersed, 80% of which were to middle and high income countries. The authors delve into an exploration for why the program panned out the way it did.

       A principal flaw, they argue, is the deterministic assumption that only the technology is needed and that students will teach themselves and spread what they have learned to their family members, with or without a teacher. Because of the urgency in getting the laptops to the kids, the initiative shuns pilot programs, stage implementation, monitoring, and formative evaluation.  In middle and and high income nations, the authors believe that children would certainly benefit from laptop computers, but that infrastructure development, teacher training, and curriculum development are also required to maximize reward. Meanwhile, the poorer nations are often to poor to purchase these laptops, at 188$ per laptop in bulk and an estimated 75$ per year per student for use. Because of the price, it also hard to receive funding from donors without any cost benefit analysis or guaranteed results.

     Another flaw is the design itself, a newly designed laptop called XO and corresponding software called Sugar. However, the customized design makes maintenance and repair extremely difficult and expensive, with studies suggesting that majority of the laptops are rendered unusable after only 2 years. It also has a small memory and short battery life.

    The project implementation has other flaws. Many schools lack electricity and internet access and if they do have, it is quite limited. In addition, evaluations have found that parents are reluctant to let kids take home the laptops, fearing any repercussions if something goes wrong. They did find success in the program in Uruguay, where they have the infrastructural capabilities for technical support and free repair, however. This suggests that the project could be successful in developing nations with additional infrastructural support and subsidized costs.

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.

Important Lessons in ICT4D

As someone who is not very technology-savvy, this semester’s ICT4D course was eye-opening for me. I have learned that technology is being used in development projects in diverse sectors, from text messages sent to pregnant women as health reminders to post-crisis crowd mapping. Over the course of the semester, there have been two takeaway lessons for ICT4D that have really stuck with me.

The first important lesson for technology use in development is that technology should be used as a means, rather than as an end for development projects. I believe that new ICTs should be used to help achieve development goals such as higher literacy rates, lower maternal mortality, lower rates of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, etc. Often times in development, there is the temptation to implement a brand-new, fancy technology in a developing country and consider it a success. One Laptop Per Child is a good example of this type of project. It’s intentions were obviously well-meant, but it basically just dropped technology in places where people did not know how to use it and it was not sustainable. Brining shiny new gadgets to a developing area might look good on advertisements or to donors, but it rarely meets the needs of the community. Using technology as a means to achieve basic health, education, or disaster relief goals, however, can be very effective. This is why it is important to also implement “back-office” ICTs, which may not be as flashy as other technologies, but they can make a real difference in efficiency and sustainability.

Another significant lesson that I have learned from this semester’s ICT4D course is that it is always important to consider the needs of the community that will benefit from the development project. This lesson is true of all sectors of development, but I think that it is especially salient in ICT4D. For example, the Farm Radio program in Africa that we learned about was very successful because it used a simple technology that reached many people, and it also involved the beneficiaries (the farmers) in every stage of the planning and implementation process. This way, the people who would benefit from the program had a say in its development and became active participants. I believe that this type of strategy greatly increases the effectiveness and sustainability of a project. In ICT4D, it is important to make sure that the local people know how to use the technology and repair it if there is an issue. That way, the technology does not cease to be used after the development agency leaves the area, as we saw with some computer labs in African schools. Overall, I think that taking the community’s needs and wishes into account, as well as ensuring that technology is a means rather than an end to a development project, give ICT4D initiatives a great chance of success and the potential to make a real difference in the developing world.

OLPC Turns to …. Tablets?


One Laptop per Child (OLPC) recently discovered that there was another market for ICTs and education – tablets! This new tablet aims to help children learn information and skills that will help them reach their aspirators and dreams. In addition to being able to find these tablets in pilot programs such as in Uruguay and Cambodia, you can find them at your local Target, Walmart, and online at Amazon for $150! My first concern with these tablets is why are they being sold at places in the US? I originally thought that it was similar to the give a tablet get a tablet idea (or in this case buy a tablet give a tablet), but this isn’t the case. As OLPC says on their FAQ page, “Proceeds from the XO Tablet purchases will be used to further develop the XO learning software and enhance it to address the needs of a larger population of children.” This shows it is definitely not directly impacting children in the developing world. Also, Walmart and Target must be making some sort of profit off of selling these tablets in their stores, which makes me wonder how much of this money is actually being used to work towards OLPC’s goal. Another concern that I have is the “dreams and aspirations” component. While in the United States (where this concept started) it may be easy to come up with universal dreams and aspirations, I can’t imagine this being so easy for other countries. The tablet opens up with “I want to be…” and examples such as astronaut, musician, artist, and mathematician. These just aren’t the same dreams that children in the developing world have. For example, in an article about children in Ethiopia getting tablets, a girl says that when she grows up she wants to be a truck driver. While OLPC says they are going to change the goals and aspirations based on country, I wonder how they are going to incorporate a dream like truck driver into their platform.

One Laptop Per Child: A Birmingham Case Study

After discussing the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative in class, I found it difficult to imagine a context in which this project would be successful. The program aims to provide every child in developing countries with a laptop for their personal use, but it fails to address infrastructure challenges and incorporation into class curriculums. The class consensus was that the lack of contextualization and cultural sensitivity would be the downfall of OLPC.

My curiosity led me to a case study done in Birmingham, Alabama using the OLPC model. Rather than focus on a developing nation the program chose an underserved population in the United States. The project was mired by controversy from the start as the mayor, Larry Langford, pressed it upon school systems without their input. The case study found a number of factors that contributed to its failure, many of which we had identified in class based on our knowledge of ICT-centric development projects.

Responses to a student survey found that 80.3% of Birmingham students either never used the XO laptops at school or only used them a little. The teachers were disengaged based on lack of training, the time the program added to their workload, and the fact that there were no teacher mentors. As in many developing countries, the schools had problems with their existing technological infrastructure, mainly the absence of reliable Internet access. Due to the program’s stress on child ownership of the laptops, the school was not responsible for maintenance and many problems went unfixed. The quote that stood out to me the most in this case study was from a teacher in the Birmingham school district regarding the inefficiency of the XO laptops:

“They are slow. They are sluggish. They can’t connect to the printers. I don’t teach writing with them because I have no way to access students’ written work other than walking around the classroom and looking at it. We even tried to set up student email accounts in my class, but the system blocked everything.”

The results of the OLPC initiative in Birmingham were disappointing to say the least. Part of this may be contributed to the controversy surrounding the project and a lack of general acceptance by the community. But many of the problems were not location specific, including difficulties with the XO laptop interface. If this program was not successful in an underserved city in the United States, it is hard to imagine the outcome being any better in a developing country.