One laptop per child

There’s a piece in Nature today on OLPC by Declan Butler who points out (as others have):

“Poor countries have other public spending priorities … and initiatives such as OLPC should start where they can have a real effect — among the market of emerging middle classes and schools that can afford the computers for themselves. The OLPC will otherwise be irrelevant to developing countries; in the poorest strata of society “this toy will just be sold or stolen”.”

With giving come conditions. I wonder, does it matter if it gets sold – if it’s transformed into liquid capital for somebody in the “poorest strata”? Might it not then find its way into the hands of a middle class child, but with the original, poor owner (or their family) having at least derived some benefit? This is a similar principle to New Labour’s no-strings-attached Child Trust Fund – and there was similar debate when they were introduced, as I remember. The theft is another problem. But these laptops (like the Educational Digital Assistants manufactured exclusively for the UK compulsory education sector by Fujitsu Siemens) are very distinctive, and branded as the sole property of school children – to have one and not be a child would be to mark you out as somebody who takes from children – most people would be susceptible to that stigma. Also, the OLPCs are not part of a free market but are distributed by the state – you’d have to go to some lengths to set up a racket with OLPC laptops. The OLPC web site wiki has more on The Theft Problem.

Maybe there are opportunities in theft I haven’t taken account of – cannibalisation? And as the article said, “poor countries have other public spending priorities” than policing the ownership of OLPC. Like food, water, shelter, antiretrovirals, sanitation, school buildings.

“So far no countries have actually paid for their computers, let alone revamped their education efforts to prepare. Libya has come closest, signing a memorandum of understanding to buy 1.2 million laptops. Rwanda and Uruguay have said that they are committed to the project, and several other countries have expressed interest. But some are firmly ruling themselves out. “We cannot visualize a situation for decades when we can go beyond the pilot stage,” Sudeep Banerjee, India’s education secretary, said last year. “We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools.”

None have “revamped” their education systems? In that case, ask any learning technologist how much dust those computers are going to collect (the ones that escape theft of sale, that is).

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