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One Laptop Per Child Has It's First Test. Result? It Has A Long Way To Go.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on December 03, 2007

BBC News has a story on the very first introduction of One Laptop Per Child laptops into a poor village and it’s not pretty. OLPC put 300 laptops, along with a satellite internet link, a power generator and solar panels into the Galadima Primar School in Abuja, Nigeria in March for a five-month test.

The good news is that the kids loved them. They quickly started taking pictures with the onboard camera and exchanging video files. A teacher, Miss Manzo, is quoted in the BBC story as saying “It is one of the happiest things that has happened to the school. Before, we felt we were not very important but now we have the laptop we feel that we have moved ahead.” She goes on to say that the children use

the laptops at home "and even help their parents."

What do the children use the laptop for? Mostly taking pictures and sharing them with friends. eachers use the preloaded encyclopaedia for their classes. A lesson on the mammalian eye based on preloaded content, along with math lessons that used the laptop calculator, was observed by the BBC journalists. The headmistress of the school, Mrs. Juliana Okowkno, says "I pray that the government will try and help every child in Nigeria get access to this."

Now for the bad news. Some 40 of the machines have been broken or stolen. The students play games often on their computers rather than follow the class. There are few, if any, technicians available to fix hardware and software problems. The solar panels on the roof of the school are useful because they were not aligned properly. Some of the students accessed pornography through their laptops.

Perhaps most important, the internet connection connection (including a dish) is expensive. The 1.2 m dish and a one watt radio cost $2,500. A 128kbps connection costs $350 a month or $4,200 a year. The OLPCs themselves now cost $188 per.

During the five month trial, the village received the internet connection for free. Now it is on its own--and can't pay, so the connection is cut. It is asking for the government to subsidize the payment.

What are we to make of this information? Clearly, children love the machine. Most of them had never seen a computer before and the great design of the laptop was compelling. They are learning about technology even as they play. But why do they like it? By far, the most used function of the one laptop designed specifically for the world's poorest children is taking pictures. The webcam--taking pictures and sharing them with friends--is the most discussed computer function. That's cool and great, but is it the highest priority for "education?"

Then there is the cost. I personally hadn't added up all the money that goes into the $100" laptop. What, in fact, is the true bottom line cost of the OLPC? Will governments that accept the OLPC subsidize the operating cost--electricity, repairs, etc.?

Finally, there is the actual teaching. The laptops in Nigeria came with pre-loaded learning programs. The BBC story doesn't say who wrote these lessons and where they came from. The teachers appear to like them and perhaps that is enough. But is it? Were the lessons written by teachers in Nigeria? Would you accept lesson plans from another country for your kids?

Does it matter? OLPC's educational philosophy is to give kids in poor countries tools more than content and they can learn through sharing. Sounds good to me yet do we do that with our own kids in our own schools? Don't we have teach to test, curriculum, lesson plans, facts that we think everyone should know? Don't we teach values as well as information, patriotism as well as as math (think of the shape of American history we teach and how others might have other perspectives)?

Here is the education philosophy off the OLPC site:

"Children actively engage in knowledge construction

The laptop gives learners opportunities they have not had before. Tools such as a Web browser, rich media player, and e-book reader bring into reach domains of knowledge that are otherwise difficult-or impossible-for children to access.

The laptop helps children build upon their active interest in the world around them to engage with powerful ideas. Tools for writing, composing, simulating, expressing, constructing, designing, modeling, imagining, creating, critiquing, debugging, and collaborating enable children to become positive, contributing members of their communities.

The laptop takes learners beyond instruction. They are actively engaged in a process of learning through doing. Children also learn by teaching, actively assisting other learners. read more

The laptop not only delivers the world to children, but also brings the best practices of children and their teachers to the world. Each school represents a learning hub; a node in a globally shared resource."

What do you think? I know lots of people are going to buy an OLPC this Christmas for their own kids because it is now available in the US (buy one, get another that can be sent to the poor overseas). What does this mean?

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Reader Comments


December 4, 2007 04:00 AM

Apparently reviews from the BBC are mixed because its not all shiny-happy. Do we really still expect technology to solve problems? It has a tremendous history of making old problems more complex. Like paying attention in class!

And how can people actually be surprised that kids immediately started using laptops to share photos? I mean what do most “developed world” computer users use theirs for? No, really, be honest.


December 4, 2007 01:36 PM


You bring up great points about OLPC Nigeria. Over at OLPC News we've received first hand reports from Nigeria that have also been mixed:

Kids do like the laptops, but the maintenance and support costs are daunting. Wait, make that shocking since before the solar panel, the school had a generator, but could not afford the gas to run it.

And that's been my greatest concern about the OLPC implementation plan. $200 for the laptops is the least expensive component of the one laptop idea.


December 4, 2007 04:59 PM

There is no question that laptops and the web can make children smarter and learn incredibly lot of things. If computers were useless, we wouldn't all be using them right now.

The fact is the pilot in Nigeria probably wasn't supported much by the government, basically it was 300 beta laptops dropped to a school and them nearly having to figure out how to use them for themselves. Sure OLPC had people helping them on location, installing the satellite dish and solar panels and stuff like that, but it's nothing like if the government had set into effect a nationnal initiative to provide cheap and effective internet connectivity, teacher guidance, digital curriculum, solar power and more.

Fact is OLPC children can get:

- Internet connection for $0.10 per month per child.

- Solar powered laptop from a solar panel the size of an A4 piece of paper that costs $12 can power this laptop. A human powered $10 Yo-yo can charge the laptop more than 10 times faster than it uses power. Generators can be connected to bicycle pedals, cows can generate power. OLPC is all about fixing this energy problem and they have solutions.

- Some of the laptops in Nigeria were stolen, that is because they are not using the Bitfrost anti-theft system that is on the production units. Bitfrost is hardware based security system that turns a laptop into a brick if it connects to the Internet after being stolen. And also if you are the only school in a town to have the pilot laptops, then people around you are jealous and come to steal it. But the whole point of OLPC is that every child should have one, whole cities at the time and not just one school at the time. Once every child has it, then there will be no jealousy and no need to steal it.

- The XO is designed so it is the most durable laptop ever made, the most simple laptop ever made, it's so simple so any child can even change the screen, change the backlight, fix the keyboard and stuff like that. This has never been the case with any other laptops before.


December 4, 2007 11:30 PM

It's far from perfect. As a design exercise it's less than a success - as you pointed out earlier. But it's a step on a very long and crucial path. And it's better to begin the journey than sit in camp bitching about not getting anywhere. Yes, I'd rather have a machete. Maybe by the time we reach the first clearning one will be waiting for us.

So, yeah, I've ordered. I'm giving one. I'm not sure yet what will become of the second. I want to play with it, learn it, appreciate it, then decide whether it becomes a collectible, a conversation piece, a gift to my daughter, a gift to a needy child here in this village, or just another funky time stamp in the age of computers to add to my collection.


Michael Byrne

December 5, 2007 01:11 AM

Laptap ??

Did the author even use a spell check ? The typo is right in the title and no one notice. Amazing!!


December 5, 2007 08:01 AM

OLPC/XO is the another step in a journey of discovery of the power our digital age.

Yes it will start slow but the opportunity for learning, communications, and discovery, will have enormous impact on all child, their parents and their teachers. They will learn to use this incredible tool.

What we need to see now is a consortium of educational institutions and private corporations develop the learning potential that the XO offers the children of the world.


December 5, 2007 03:17 PM

Bad news sells, ask wayne!

OLPC is the brightest chance to change the world since Bob Geldoff said "Just give us the fing' money", but this time it will do something!

Defense spending across the world, including cash-strapped developing countries, has spiraled, touching over US $1000 billion in 2003 - a level last seen during the Cold War, says a new report.

Can you imagine a stock pile of OLPC laptops you could build with 1000 billion. and the world you could create.


December 17, 2007 11:22 AM

While I applaud the goals of the OLPC it still fails, sadly, because no one really thought about it in its actual environment.

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