This article, published on the SciDev Net website, looks at the findings of recent research conducted on the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) scheme, which has sent over a million US$100 laptops to children in the developing world. David Hollow of the United Kingdom-based ICT4D Collective at Royal Holloway, University of London. His team evaluated the OLPC initiative in Ethiopia. According to their findings, unless the laptops are introduced with care, they become little more than distracting toys in the classroom. The Ethiopian experience also revealed that students wanted more content on the laptops and teachers were not adequately trained on how to make use of them.
Researchers told Africa Gathering, an information and communication technology (ICT) and social networking conference organised by the London International Development Centre in April 2009, that students tended to play with the machines, largely for taking pictures with the built-in digital camera. Teachers also became frustrated because the students were better at using the laptops and played on them during lessons instead of listening.
The ICT4D team worked with Swiss educational software provider BlankPage to develop Akili, a textbook reader that was used to download books and increase the educational content on the laptops. "We felt that Akili was something of a bridge because it enabled the children to explore and engage with their own learning but, at the same time, they were still based within the national curriculum and the teacher's authority was not undermined."
In the article, Hollow suggests that in Ethiopia many children only attend school for a year or two. Therefore, the priority is to give them good basic literacy and numeracy skills, mewaning that introducing laptops in secondary schools would be more appropriate.
However, Matt Keller, OLPC's director of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, rejected the criticisms. He says that when children take the laptops home, they extend the school day. He disputes Hollow's recommendation to focus on secondary schools, arguing that "What technology can do is pique a child's curiosity and engage them at an interest level that's far greater than what a bricks and mortar school can do."
Hollow told the meeting that, for ICT4D projects to work, it is essential to take a long-term view and assess the impact of the project afterwards. This should involve talking to beneficiaries to discover their perceived needs.
SciDev website on June 22 2009.