OLPC Initiative in bringing the digital divide!

A lot of debate has been going around the One Laptop per Child Initiative, whether it is the best solution to the developing countries problems or not! I recently completed my Internet Governance Capacity Building programme with the DiploFoundation and this was one of the questions that popped out during the exam period.

Here is how my narration on how I feel about this project.

Question: One project aiming to bridge the digital divide which has recently received media attention is “One Laptop per Child” – a 100$ robust laptop for children of developing countries – founded by Nicholas Negroponte. The opponents of this idea argue that that it would be wiser giving 100$ in cash to each child as the computer does not mean much when the food and vaccines are missing. Do you think that providing children in developing countries with a laptop computer can make a significant difference? What are the strong and weak points of this approach?

Response!

So what is in a 100$ laptop computer? This could be one of the many questions that run in everyone’s mind when the “One Laptop per Child” project is mentioned. The answer to the question as to whether this approach would make a significant difference is a No. The reason being that it only intends to address the education system yet there are many other factors such at play when we talk of addressing development needs in developing countries.

Before we even go to ascertain the viability of this approach, let’s try to look at the opportunities this initiative has to offer in relation to the weaknesses of this approach!

This project will apart from acting as an exploratory tool for students, boost the education system in countries where it is being implemented. Professor Les Labuschagne, head of Department University of Johannesburg Business Information Technology supports this argument by arguing that “Given the proliferation of cell phones throughout Africa, these laptops – which are different than what most people would consider laptops – could be used for learning purposes.”[1] Thus one can not ignore the benefits of computer based learning!

This initiative will also increase children’s interaction with other children within their schools and outside their school sphere.

However, as asserted by Robert B. Kozma, Ph.D., an international consultant, I support this argument that the “OLPC education philosophy does not address the education system at all. The entire OLPC enterprise is based on the premise that if given the proper resources – in this case “appropriately designed” hardware and software – children will learn how to learn on their own. There is no consideration of how this intervention fits or does not fit with the current curriculum, assessment, or pedagogical practices.” [2]

Also still in close concurrence with Labuschange, Education alone can not depend on technology. To me providing a child with a 100$ laptop computer, you would rather collect the 100$ to contribute to addressing these factors than investing it in a mere laptop whose maintenance costs will be a burden to the same governments implementing this project, not the children!

This initiative does not in anyway create solutions to the digital divide as its proprietors suggest. This then brings me to another question which everyone is asking, is the digital divide real? If it is, how can the “OLPC” project help in bridging this divide?

According to the World Telecommunications/ICT Development report 2006 [3], the digital divide is indeed massive. Take for instance Germany has 66.15, Russia 27.47; Palestine 9.70; and Uganda 0.27 main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants respectively.
In terms of Internet users per 100 inhabitants, still the reverse is the same! For instance, Uganda has 0.75, Palestine 4.34, Russia 11.10 and Germany 42.67; – and these are the figures the OLPC project are most likely to change. I simply doubt that!

We can not fail to speculate whether issues inform of reliable Internet service providers, telecommunications infrastructure and electricity infrastructure are being taken into closer consideration with this approach. Many developing countries have got poor and unreliable infrastructure, which needs to be addressed first before thinking of having such projects. This is true when you reflect on that fact that many initiatives similar to the OLPC, like telecentres have failed simply because infrastructure issues were not given a critical analysis.

In conclusion therefore, the OLPC project will not provide a significant difference in the lives of many children in developing countries, simply because it is underestimating the actual needs of these children and the needs of their governments.

References;

1.The One Laptop per Child project aims to spur development in Africa http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article.php?a_id=108363

2.One Laptop per Child and Education Reform; http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/one_laptop_per_child_education.html

3. International Telecommunications Union, World Telecommunication/ICT development report 2006; Measuring ICT for Social and Economic Development


A lot of debate has been going around the One Laptop per Child Initiative, whether it is the best solution to the developing countries problems or not! I recently completed my Internet Governance Capacity Building programme with the DiploFoundation and this was one of the questions that popped out during the exam period.

Here is how my narration on how I feel about this project.

Question: One project aiming to bridge the digital divide which has recently received media attention is “One Laptop per Child” – a 100$ robust laptop for children of developing countries – founded by Nicholas Negroponte. The opponents of this idea argue that that it would be wiser giving 100$ in cash to each child as the computer does not mean much when the food and vaccines are missing. Do you think that providing children in developing countries with a laptop computer can make a significant difference? What are the strong and weak points of this approach?

Response!

So what is in a 100$ laptop computer? This could be one of the many questions that run in everyone’s mind when the “One Laptop per Child” project is mentioned. The answer to the question as to whether this approach would make a significant difference is a No. The reason being that it only intends to address the education system yet there are many other factors such at play when we talk of addressing development needs in developing countries.

Before we even go to ascertain the viability of this approach, let’s try to look at the opportunities this initiative has to offer in relation to the weaknesses of this approach!

This project will apart from acting as an exploratory tool for students, boost the education system in countries where it is being implemented. Professor Les Labuschagne, head of Department University of Johannesburg Business Information Technology supports this argument by arguing that “Given the proliferation of cell phones throughout Africa, these laptops – which are different than what most people would consider laptops – could be used for learning purposes.”[1] Thus one can not ignore the benefits of computer based learning!

This initiative will also increase children’s interaction with other children within their schools and outside their school sphere.

However, as asserted by Robert B. Kozma, Ph.D., an international consultant, I support this argument that the “OLPC education philosophy does not address the education system at all. The entire OLPC enterprise is based on the premise that if given the proper resources – in this case “appropriately designed” hardware and software – children will learn how to learn on their own. There is no consideration of how this intervention fits or does not fit with the current curriculum, assessment, or pedagogical practices.” [2]

Also still in close concurrence with Labuschange, Education alone can not depend on technology. To me providing a child with a 100$ laptop computer, you would rather collect the 100$ to contribute to addressing these factors than investing it in a mere laptop whose maintenance costs will be a burden to the same governments implementing this project, not the children!

This initiative does not in anyway create solutions to the digital divide as its proprietors suggest. This then brings me to another question which everyone is asking, is the digital divide real? If it is, how can the “OLPC” project help in bridging this divide?

According to the World Telecommunications/ICT Development report 2006 [3], the digital divide is indeed massive. Take for instance Germany has 66.15, Russia 27.47; Palestine 9.70; and Uganda 0.27 main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants respectively.
In terms of Internet users per 100 inhabitants, still the reverse is the same! For instance, Uganda has 0.75, Palestine 4.34, Russia 11.10 and Germany 42.67; – and these are the figures the OLPC project are most likely to change. I simply doubt that!

We can not fail to speculate whether issues inform of reliable Internet service providers, telecommunications infrastructure and electricity infrastructure are being taken into closer consideration with this approach. Many developing countries have got poor and unreliable infrastructure, which needs to be addressed first before thinking of having such projects. This is true when you reflect on that fact that many initiatives similar to the OLPC, like telecentres have failed simply because infrastructure issues were not given a critical analysis.

In conclusion therefore, the OLPC project will not provide a significant difference in the lives of many children in developing countries, simply because it is underestimating the actual needs of these children and the needs of their governments.

References;

1.The One Laptop per Child project aims to spur development in Africa http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article.php?a_id=108363

2.One Laptop per Child and Education Reform; http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/one_laptop_per_child_education.html

3. International Telecommunications Union, World Telecommunication/ICT development report 2006; Measuring ICT for Social and Economic Development


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2 Responses

  1. Me, my main worry with this OLPC is that it is just going to breed more dependence among the majority of the peoples that will receive the laptops.
    That is a Bad Thing.

    But on that thing of learning … well, with the internet, learning and self-teaching are converging. So the PhD guy’s argument is shot at birth.

  2. very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

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