ICT News: Kihara Kimachia
One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is the US-based foundation forging new partnerships in Africa. The OLPC was launched in 2005 with the stated aim of overseeing the development of affordable computers for use in the developing world. Since then, the organization has developed a rugged laptop that runs on Linux and has access to the Internet. The laptop was initially intended to cost $100 but the cheapest model costs $165. The project has since been criticized by education experts.
Critics of the One Laptop Per Child argue that the foundation has a "drive by" policy of giving children laptops in developing countries and walking away. The effect of this is that students have to struggle to understand how the devices work and grapple with support issues on their own. There also hasn't been any teacher training in ICT. The large majority of teachers in Africa, especially in the rural areas, are computer illiterate. They have no capacity to help students make maximum use of the devices. The OLPC project and other similar initiatives in Africa have come under stinging criticism from teacher unions in some countries.
It is also argued that there are more pressing concerns in Africa such as access to basic needs. Critics have argued that the project is exploitative. African governments are made to pay for thousands of machines and make further investments in Internet infrastructure at the expense of food security and improvement of basic health services. At a cost of $200 per laptop, the devices are still too expensive for a continent where the majority of people live on less than a dollar a day.
A study conducted in Peru, one of the first countries to implement the OLPC program, shows that the project has not led to improved academic test scores. Education experts, hence argue that the focus should be on cheaper alternatives such as building computer labs in schools and equipping them with cheaper second-hand computers that actually run more software programs. For example, a computer lab set up at a cost of $10,000 can serve 400-500 children.
Arguments for the Program
The rebuttal by proponents of the program is that there is clear evidence of success in self-guided learning. Hence, it is possible to give a child a laptop and walk away. They point out that the main emphasis of the program is to provide children with the hardware and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning.
It has also been pointed out that in an increasingly connected world, ICT literacy is quickly becoming a basic need. The ability to interact and earn a living in the future will be dependent on one's ability to understand and use ICT. One cannot therefore argue that there are higher priorities. Every child must be groomed to become a full citizen of the emerging world and the key to this is opportunity and resources. Test scores should not be the main criterion used to gauge the success of the laptop program, critics should always bear in mind that children need access to high quality tools to develop expertise and engage their passions.
Despite all the criticisms of the OLPC program, one cannot argue with the fact the program was conceived with good intentions. All that needs to be done is take the experiences learned so far and find a workable way to give Africa's children the keys to full development.