Selected publications (.pdf)

"Education Change, Leadership and the Knowledge Society" 
Global e-Schools Initiative (GeSCI)  

Survey of ICT in education in the Caribbean
Volume 1: Regional trends & analysis
Volume 2: Country reports

Using technology to train teachers:
Appropriate uses of ICT for
teacher professional developmen
infoDev (Mary Burns, co-author)

Project evaluation:
Uganda rural school-based telecenters

World Bank Institute
(Sara Nadel, co-author)

The Educational Object Economy:
Alternatives in authoring &
aggregation of educational software 

Interactive Learning Environments
(Purchase or subscription req'd) 

Development of multimedia resources 
UNESCO (Cesar Nunes, co-author)

Real Access/Real Impact
Teresa Peters &
(hosted for reference; RIP TMP) 


Learning, technology & development


Entries in OLPC (7)


OLPC Rwanda is falling short of goals, but who's looking?

Via the amazingly energetic Wayan Vota at OLPC News we learn that Mineduc (the Ministry of Education) of Rwanda) is able to provide only 8,000 of its target delivery of 250,000 OLPC laptops (Childrens XO machines) per year. The reason? 

"It looks like the programme is not having enough financing that can lead to its realisation like the EDPRS had projected," [Mineduc OLPC coordinator] Niyonkuru said.

(EDPRS is the Economic Development Poverty Reduction Strategy.) 

In 2006, Jon Camfield (probably equal in energy to Wayan, altho I don't know for sure) pegged Total Cost of Ownership of an XO laptop in a school environment as US ~$1,000 over five years. (I think, but am not sure, that this does not include replacement of the machine at the end of its five-year service life.) However Mr Camfield's initial estimate is very heavy on 5-year Internet connectivity ($541) with much lower costs for amortized training ($128). He also includes a one-time set-up fee of $108 per laptop, which seems completely reasonable.

These projections might be generic (cost of Internet connectivity in East Africa will presumably fall over the next 5 years), but they are at least responsibly made. The question, then, is:

Why are the smart, committed, and experienced Rwandese failing to accurately budget for and finance this high-profile laptop deployment? 

There are of course a thousand suspects, although failure as we know obscures patrimony.

One strong possibility is "ministry overreach." The OLPC initiative is split between the President's office, the newly created Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST) and the Ministry of Education.

The government of Rwanda has established itself precisely as a visionary among African governments in relation to the uses of technology for development. However in several instances--ranging from the Terracom fiasco to early projects involving laptops in primary schools and computer labs in secondary schools--implementation has not come close to matching plans.

It's very likely that the more powerful MOST has provided the MOE with a laundry list of "unfunded requirements" in relation to OLPC deployment. (You'll observe that the quote regarding financing is from a person in the Mineduc staff, not at MOST.)

But it's important to observe in all of this that the $20 million spent on laptops and however much is budgeted for deployment results from strong donor support for education in Rwanda. (DFID provides the bulk of support for education in Rwanda, but other sponsors include AfDB and WB.)  $20 million in hardware procurement over 5 years ain't chump change in a total annual education budget of about US $100 million. So why aren't donor agencies more visibly excited about this? 

Could it be because Rwanda is more or less on track to reach its Millennium Development Goal targets, including its targets in education? Does that buy MOST and Mineduc the opportunity to make a $20 million boo-boo?

Perhaps this is a job for AidWatch? (Wm Easterly never mentions OLPC. Of course he rarely discusses education in relation to development.) 


On the other hand, Sugar...

 I could have it all wrong, per this update from Ethiopia's OLPC experiment (courtesy of OLPCNews)...


Sugar: Would an OS by any other name taste as sweet...?

As you might know, the open-source Sugar operating system has been spun out of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) program and is now managed by a new non-profit, Sugarlabs. It's also been lightly re-branded as the Sugar Learning Platform, highlighting its inventive, learning-centered tools designed to help kids work effectively and work together. But can these affordances be effective in developing-country grade schools?

Sugar offers a unique combination of tools and features:

  • Collaborative writing tools 
  • Easy sharing of bookmarks and URLs
  • USB portability between school, home and wherever
  • Reasonable integration of writing tools and drawing tools
  • Automatic recording and (theoretically) cataloguing of all work
  • Graphical network topography displaying (who's who and where)

And now that it's de-coupled from the XO (Children's Machine XO, that is), and ported to Windows, Mac OS and many flavors of Linux, Sugar is as platform independent as you could wish.  eeepc, iBook, Classmate, Inspiron--Sugar works with all of them.

Sugar-the-idea is extremely cool: an OS designed for active, collaborative and (essentially) design-based learning. Kids grab Sugar and start to find things, make things, and share things. I can easily imagine Sugar becoming the OS of choice for primary and possibly middle-school 1:1 laptop programs in Maine, Washington, Edinburgh and Melbourne--any place, really, where teachers and primary-grade kids are already exploring the Internet as a learning resource, and collaboration as a learning method.

It's not so clear that Sugar will fulfill the original OLPC aspirations for primary-school change in developing countries.

In OECD countries primary school can be pedagogically posh: Kids can learn in a variety of ways, one teacher teaches nearly everything and knows the 20 to 30 kids in class pretty well, the subjects can be all mashed up interdisciplinarily, and, in the US, historically there have been few tests that really determine a student's educational future.*

In poor countries, even in well-off enclaves, primary learning is more constrained: Parents might struggle to pay school fees, buy uniforms, let the kid skip work; teachers confront (sometimes literally) classes of 50 or 60 kids (or more), and at the end of each term the kids face tests that determine whether they advance to the next grade and, ultimately, whether they matriculate to the next level. 

OLPC + Sugar was originally conceived as a resource that would transform primary learning in poor countries. But the nut is just too big to push up the hill: No tool in and of itself is going to pry apart the educational, bureaucratic and community cultures that come together to determine what happens in schools. Teacher training, learning resources and changes to assessment--not to mention increases in teacher professionalism (e.g., $)--all have more bearing on what happens. And, more importantly, none of these more necessary factors are sufficient in and of themselves to catalyze change. 

So, what are we going to see? It's possible, and perhaps probable, that we'll see Sugar adoptions taking place all over the world in schools that serve elites--whether in private schools in Bangalore or public schools in Portland--while the impact of Sugar on its originally intended demographic remains slight. 

If Sugar has become a "learning platform" to change teaching and learning in poor countries, SugarLabs needs to  partner-up with strong, committed advocates for comprehensive systemic change in developing-country school systems.

* I'm not suggesting that kids in your town aren't having crappy experiences of fourth grade. Poverty and educational success in the US are tightly linked,as they are in most places. I'm also not suggesting that primary education in the US isn't becoming more test driven: NCLB has introduced regular but not instructionally informative testing; lower-stakes tests such as the MAP suite [Measures of Academic Progress] have been developed to help schools conduct formative assessments and build student skills [and prepare for NCLB].


The origin of 1:1 computing!

 The state of Maine was the first in the United States to leap into one-to-one computing. The Maine Learning Technology Initiative describes the impetus behind the decision to provide every student and every teacher with a laptop:

Immediately, everyone recognized that education represented the most crucial area for this major change and Gov. King recalled a conversation he had had with Seymour Papert a year or two previous where the idea of how to transform education was discussed. During their conversation, Papert convinced King that a major transformation would happen only when student and teachers worked with technology on a 1 to 1 basis and that any other ratio would not produce the transformation everyone sought.

I'm curious about many things, but foremost are my questions as to what "the transformation everyone sought" is. It's possible, even probable, that we've spent so much time describing truly empowered learners that everyone, or at least everyone who has an opinion within a certain closed context, does understand and seek the the same transformation of the traditional. 

But if that's so, it's also likely that the understanding and seeking have been at least partially emptied of specifics. 

While the stakes for Maine--it's a small state in the largest national economy on earth--are significant but not epochal. If 1:1 computing fails there, well, at least _something_ positive will probably happen, even if it's only an increase in the number of computer technicians. 

But 1:1 computing has rapidly--really rapidly, considering that Maine launched its program only in 2002--been adopted by developing countries. Driven partly by one of Papert's proteges, Nicolas Negroponte, 1:1 computing has made appearances in the education systems of Uruguay, Rwanda, Brazil, Ethiopia and elsewhere. The stakes in these countries, and the consequences of anything other than success, are much, much higher. 

(At one point in 2004 I was hanging out with a bunch of kids in a village in Rwanda. I asked them if they wanted some soda, you know, Fanta or something. Most schools I've been to in Africa, soda lubricates interviews. These kids, though, would have none of it. "Could we have some meat,  please?" School fees and uniforms and lost wages were all barriers to the participation in school of these kids. And yet education, literally mastering English if nothing else, held so much for them in terms of opportunity.)

Does "everyone" (who counts) in those countries understand and seek the same transformation? And if so, is it the same transformation as that sought by "everyone" (who counts) in Maine?



OLPC support for small-scale projects goes ad hoc

As I mentioned earlier, the One Laptop Per Child Foundation is cutting off it's short-lived support for 100- to 1,000-computer projects in schools (otherwise known as pilots). It appears that the reason for this change is either OLPC people are way too busy to fulfill small orders or those small orders never lead to anything bigger (h/t to Wayan at OLPC News): 

"This is a program we would love to support if we had time to do everything — it has produced some lovely stories, and on rare occasions starts a process that leads to larger, lasting commitments."--SJ

Educators and others interested in small-scale purchases of OLPC's Children's Machine XO are advised to: 

  • Buy one or two on eBay
  • Submit a proposal to the
  • Contributors Program, was started to support developers
  • Post a request to the XO Exchange Registry,
  • which re-cycles machines from the Contributors Program

Or as SJ says further on in the post, load the open-source Sugar operating system on a bunch of other low-cost machines. (Like, an Intel Classmate?)

The name of the cancelled program supporting small-scale projects? "Change the World." Or, I guess, don't bother.