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.
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?
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?