I spent my second year in Sierra Leone working in an Audio Visual Centre in Freetown. Among other things I was working on a plan to provide workshops to teachers on developing materials to help in teaching. In meetings I talked about making posters and such while my superior urged me to focus on helping teachers learn to use the blackboard. I was young and full of myself, but looking back on it I know she was right. The teachers in the schools I knew (including the one I taught at the year before) did barely use the blackboard (when they had one); mostly they used recitation.
Remembering this I’ve been very very skeptical of the One Laptop per Child initiative. Their focus has been on creating and cheap, sturdy, and functional laptop for children in developing countries. Having spent two years in a country where things tended not to get to who they were suppose to get to, where things often did not happen as they were suppose to (and this was before the war), I wondered why the laptop folks weren’t spending more time on distribution and on HOW the laptops were to be used. For teachers whose idea of teaching was recitation, using any sort of teaching aid, much less a laptop seemed quite a leap.
They have focused on designing and building the laptop and seem to have veered between trying to find governments interested in buying it and conversely are also intending to fund grassroots initiatives. (I haven’t seen NGOs saying much which makes me wonder if this group like certain celebrities think they can do it better by bypassing them and creating their own little organization.)
Due to the current limitations of the Foundation’s funding and to ensure highly effective content and support for the initial phases of this program, the Foundation is not yet accepting applications for the funding of Special Laptop Programs. We hope to activate this program before the end of 2007.
The mission of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) movement is to ensure that all school-aged children in the developing world are able to engage effectively with their own personal laptop, networked to the world, so that they, their families and their communities can openly learn and learn about learning.
The OLPC Association focuses on designing, manufacturing and distributing laptops to children in lesser developed countries, initially concentrating on those governments that have made commitments for the funding and program support required to ensure that all of their children own and can effectively use a laptop.
Initial focus is on the launch of the One Laptop per Child program. In the future, the OLPC Foundation will focus on the grassroots, “bottom-up” aspects of the OLPC mission.
The Foundation is in the process of raising funds that will enable it, in the future, to subsidize the cost of laptops to groups of children who will not be provided laptops by governments because of the special nature of their circumstances.
Examples of these exceptional cases include programs for refugee children, for children in isolated parts of a country who are not included in a government program, and for children living in exceptionally poor countries. Support for such Special Laptop Programs will be dependent upon funding from outside sources that can be used for this purpose.
Today David Pogue in the New York Times has a glowing review of the computer. He also notes a new tweak to the developers’ efforts to get these laptops into developing countries. That is, for two weeks in November we Americans (and others I guess) for $400 can buy one laptop and donate another to a developing nation.
That AV Centre I worked at in Freetown had been set up by USAID years before. Then they left and everything went to seed. When I was there the director had a private business going on (making awards for various private groups) and I finally found work doing illustrations for other NGOs as I couldn’t seem to get even the teacher workshops to happen. I hope that things are better now in the countries that take these laptops. I hope they get used as intended.