OLPC Oceania/discussion of some of their objections or comments

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We have been trying to get down to specifics of the objections to OLPC, but it seems hard to sort out the real issues from "throw away lines"

In general, raising issues and discussing them is what the OLPC pilots are all about, so we strongly support the process. However, it seems there is a reluctance to even support the pilots in some quarters.

We should carefully consider what we should be discussing. It seems the level of debate is along the lines of "what about power", "what about porn" and what about school toilets" rather than starting at "What sort of education is needed for our children and is this the best way to deliver it" Not that the other issues are not important, but they are secondary.

To me, the big question is

  • "Is OLPC a good tool to help reform the education systems of the Pacific"

That is what the pilots are all about.

So my summary is there are 3 main issues raised by funders

    • The first is about money.

Can we afford to spend this sort of money on a continuous basis. I think it frightens people to see the 1.7M children times US$200 times every 5 years. Another way to look at this is to say it is $200 times the number of children going to school for the first time, every year. As a percentage of total education spend per child over 5 years, I would guess is that $200 actually quite small.

Again, the debate should be around what quality of education will this deliver against what will happen if we do nothing. (Note that many education experts strongly argue that a "do nothing" scenario is not an option, so we have to do something. So is OLPC the best option?)

The other key issues seems to be around

    • sustainability of OLPC itself.

Many development experts see the Open Source/Not for profit model of OLPC as too risky and fear they will back a looser. OLPCs response to this has been to develop a windows based version of OLPC. I think the real issue is whether Microsoft and Intel will succeed in killing OLPC. They came very close earlier this year. I don't know how to answer this, but I do know if funders do not support OLPC, it will die. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.

The third issue seems to be

    • about proof that it works.

Many funders want to see reports and evaluations proving that the whole OLPC approach works. This is a chicken and egg question. And it is why we are doing the pilots. There has not been enough time to have such proof. The first laptops off the production line were in Oct 2007. The first Oceania pilot started shortly after that. However, there are strong early indications that it will work and there are no reports of killer issues.

We would add that Measurement and Evaluation is built into every pilot and we will see the results. We also understand that USP is looking at a proposal to conduct an evaluation as well.