One Laptop Per Child: Who truly benefits?

Is this how it is supposed to be used?
Is this how it is supposed to be used?

This Reuter’s article about Yoko Ono, widow of famed Beetle John Lennon, giving permission for the One Laptop Per Child Program (OLPC) to use the digitally mastered voice of her late husband in their advertising package made me wonder so I decided to look a bit more into it. I had some initial questions and curiosities so I went investigating, what I found was not surprising.

In a nut shell, a MIT professor came up with these supposedly inexpensive laptops that are given to children in impoverished nations to open up the world to them. They are wireless with all sorts of educational software, Internet access and etc. The OLPC program states, “Our mission is “to provide educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.” A nice idea, warm fuzzies and all but as with many of these programs, the logistics of it on a global scale seemed somewhat daunting. We all know about the problems we have with our own computers; viruses, software upgrades, browsers and etc. How are kids in third world environments going to be able to rectify these problems? Not to mention my interesting question about just what software is on these systems and whose epistemology is being represented.

This again brings up a question that I ask myself about just about anything and everything – Why not pilot this program here in the States first, giving American students in poor districts a free laptop? We all agree that the American education system is plagued by budget problems and lack of programs and etc. Why not pilot this program on a national level first, improving the educational system of the nation that founded this program, get the kinks out of it and then, gradually go global a nation at a time? Because it doesn’t work, more on this below.

 Just at a glance, it would seem by their forums that there are more problems with this product than they can keep up with. In addition, it does not run on Windows but on Linux and does not allow for the use of other typical software like Java or even Flash.  Can I add that they are made in China?

I just don’t get how some people think.  The World first and America will just take care of itself? I took a long look at the forums that are part of OLPC site and saw just a mirage of issues that users were having with everything from the OS to the software to the battery dying and losing data, and these were just the users who spoke English to communicate through the website. What must be happening in Asia, Africa and South America? This program is not running flawlessly, it has lots of hiccups and lots of issues that need to be corrected on an individual laptop basis. Yet the program is just dropping numbers. 10,000 laptops off to Ghana, 100,000th given in Uruguay, aren’t they great?

But my question is, how many of these laptops that were given say back in 2005 when the program began or even in 2006 are still in use? Another interesting question is that if you want to buy one for a child in a developing nation the cost is $199 yet, if you want to buy one for one of your own children here in the US, the cost is $399 – why? Because in order to buy one for yourself you have to also buy one for a child in a developing nation, they call it the Give One Get One Program. American schools can buy them, but not receive them free through the program like international schools (even in Communist countries) can. Do you see what I am getting at?

As an aside, a somewhat affluent school district in Upstate NY tried their own version of a laptop program, spending about $1500 per student at the high school level for this program. The then school board president stated in a NY Times piece in May of 2007 that, “After seven years there was literally no evidence it had an impact on student achievement – none.”  Other districts across the country have reported the same lackluster results.  I guess the folks at MIT don’t read the NY Times.


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