What’s the Point of One Laptop per Child?

When we viewed the documentary “Linking Africa,” my first impression of the One Laptop per Child program was that it was an innovative idea. However, once we started discussing the criticisms of the program, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.  

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2227850,00.asp

This article is a critique of the One Laptop per Child program, and it makes some valid points. One of the main criticisms of the program is that these children are starving and lacking the basic necessities, so why should they be learning how to use a computer. The facts sited in the article about world hunger make the importance of a computer seem miniscule; “In the Asian, African, and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called “absolute poverty.” Every year, 15 million children die of hunger.” With facts like these, it is hard to argue that having computers in schools is helpful to children who can’t even afford a lunch.

The article also addresses the issue of literacy; “Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can’t read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer!” Although the author uses a snarky tone, his point is well made. Why should children have computers when they first need to learn how to read?

http://www.economist.com/node/10472304

This article discusses why OLPC seemed like a great idea on paper, but it’s fallen short in execution. “First, the implementation of the technologies is terrible. In their zeal to rewrite the rules of computing for first-time users, OLPC shipped machines with a cumbersome operating system.” When these computers fail, there is no tech support to help. This means that these schools fill up with broken computers and no way to fix them. Another issue was preparing the schools to receive these computers and actually utilize them; “There was a lack of documentation, support and methods to integrate the PCs into school curricula, teacher training, and the like. OLPC seemed to think that just by handing out laptops, everything would sort itself out.” The teachers were not all trained on how to work the computers, so how could they be expected to teach the children?

These are just a few of the many criticisms of OLPC, but what are the upsides? Some argue that Africa and other developing countries cannot afford to be left behind technologically. These computers could be the only hope of raising a technology savvy generation in Africa. It is true that Africa is improving its technology, but in a nation where many don’t have electricity or running water, significant progress will be difficult.  The OPLC project did have one other positive impact; it inspired other companies to also manufacture inexpensive laptops. Although OLPC has not exactly been a success, perhaps it is the stepping-stone for another company to implement a better organized and more successful program. What do you think about the One Laptop per Child program? Is it really capable of changing the world? 

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3 thoughts on “What’s the Point of One Laptop per Child?

  1. I agree with the sentiment that the OLPC is an underfunded and underdeveloped effort towards equipping Africa with the digital tools needed to enter the world stage as a powerful and independent collective of countries, however, like almost anything involving problems of a mass scale…it’s complicated. The argument that OLPC money could better be spent feeding the hungry is a fallacious one, in that it trivializes the problem that is hunger in Africa. Many people few Africa as a “continent” rather than a huge land mass with an eclectic and varied melting pot of ancient and modern cultures constantly intermingling. From my personal experience going to and studying in Africa, I would say I think Africa is every bit as blended culturally as America, if even more so. This also means African nations have had many conflicts in the past dealing with sovereignty, and in my opinion this is the heart of Africa’s food problem.

    In this BBC article:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4662232.stm
    they list four different contributing factors that have led to the widespread hunger crisis all over the continent: underinvestment in rural areas, wars and political conflict, HIV/AIDS, unchecked population growth. These are serious problems, with the first two being as much the fault of the various European, Asian, and American businesses and government groups who have been in Africa since decolonization and only aimed to further exploit. Many of the aid programs set up to feed Africa do not even touch upon these problems. The problem will not be solved by anyone other than the African people themselves, in alliance with the many philanthropists and private investors from across the world, and in my opinion, with the help of digital technologies. This is how OLPC has good intentions, equipping the youth of Africa with skills their older and more traditional family members could never come to understand. The computer is a way for Africans to take their culture and transcribe to the world, which will in turn help us as much as we attempt to help them.

  2. I am very torn on the One Laptop per Child program. I agree that the people of Africa deserve access to technology in order to grow as a society, but I also believe that there are a plethora of other issues that need to be more urgently addressed. These issues are things like access to water and power. There’s a great line in David Fincher’s The Social Network where, as Zuckerberg is checking in on Bosnia, Rashida Jones’ character responds with “They don’t have roads, but they have Facebook.” That’s what I believe is the main issue here. I think it’s the same thing with Tom’s Shoes: people and organizations have these great ideas in mind, but they only seem to be great at face value. The intention is good, yes, but once you start digging deeper into it, they quickly appear to be not the best courses of action.
    The way in which the program was executed was also very questionable. As showcased in the film, the school that was given the laptops was very secluded, and therefore it was very difficult for the teachers, who may not even be adept at teaching the technology, to keep the laptops powered up. I just think that other, vastly more important issues need to addressed before they start trying to teach children how to use the internet.

  3. I think the key to the whole idea is having a good amount of people who actually know how to use the laptops. When I mean laptops, however, I mean those specific laptops. Even if electricity is far more scares than in more developed countries.

    I agree with the point on the upside: Africa cannot afford to be left behind technologically. Before this taking this class I would have said, “No they should just focus on hunger and distributing resources to the people who need it more. The more I learn and become aware on how pervasive, and more importantly, how much of a necessity people are making new technology and media to be then I have to admit Africa really can afford to be left behind technologically.

    More and more people are using the Internet to do thing much more efficiently and conveniently than before. This wouldn’t be a problem but this is causing the more traditional ways of doing many of these same tasks to disappear. When is the last time you received a letter from someone? When is the last time you sent a letter to someone else? If someone in Africa were to send a letter to a developed country to request help or maybe even a broadcast to more boldly request for help it would get it’s small bit of attention, but if they started tweeting and using all sorts of social media sites to request for help it wouldn’t just be a moment of attention that would be given to them in fact they could start a conversation on what specifically they need and why they need it and be able to give real time weight and context to the situation.

    Basic needs should be met before you start getting to wants. It helps you see the real value in everything around and help you appreciate it more. Food and water would be these types of needs. The developed world, however, is shifting the way these basic needs are being met. We get food from the grocery store, we get water from a water company. All of the ways we used to get these basic needs have changed from more traditional forms which many in Africa are still using. Since we in the developed and more developed world are not going back and re-educating are selves in these more traditional ways then Africa and other less developed countries who are unfortunately behind in these areas must educate themselves on the more modern ways things are done to help themselves.

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