If you follow the doings of OLPC, you know that there are XO/Sugar deployments in dozens of countries, that there are numerous local OLPC groups, and that Nicholas Negroponte has had discussions with the Presidents/Prime Ministers and Ministers of Education in almost all of the countries of the world. Unfortunately, there have been a number of countries which said they would order hundreds of thousands to millions of XOs, where it turned out that a handshake from a head of state or minister did not turn out to be equivalent to an authorized and signed purchase order. Libya was prominent among them.
Among the reasons for such failures were pure political posturing, elections where the other party won, a coup, a bungled bidding process, and other such ills as political and bureaucratic flesh is heir to. But now, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, the pendulum may be swinging the other way, and it is worth our while to organize ahead of the moment when opportunity opens up. It is too soon to talk about Libya and other countries where political violence continues, but we could discuss Tunisia, and we find the process already started for us in Egypt.
When Nicholas talked with the Ministry of Education in Egypt under Mubarak, he got no commitment. What he came away with was the question, “Do XOs run Windows?” This led to a sorry chapter in which, to begin with, Nicholas badgered Microsoft to put Windows on XOs with substantial technical help from OLPC to make an XO able to handle BIOS calls. There was a trial of 5,000 dual-boot Linux/Windows XOs, and then the idea sank without trace. No country actually wanted to order any. In Egypt, Windows seems to have been a checklist question having nothing to do with actual requirements.
That was then. Now Mubarak is gone (currently in a military hospital, with the intention of moving him to a prison hospital), Windows on the XO is gone, and we get to start fresh. Maybe. Nobody knows what the next elected government will decide should be its education policy. We do know that essentially nothing can happen until after the September elections, after the new government takes office, and after the various political factions and interest groups begin to sort out their new relationships and their positions on the issues, especially economic and social development.
I think that an OLPC deployment to all Egyptian schoolchildren would be a great idea. I can’t even tell you how great an idea I think it is. But as far as I know, hardly anybody in Egypt is even aware of the possibility. So a few people have stepped forward to see whether we can use social media to change that, and get XOs on the agenda for the new government, with an OLPC Egypt cause at Cause.com. Of course I joined as soon as I found out about it, and I hope you will, too.
We are looking for donations, of course, to buy the first batch of laptops for Egypt, but more than that we are looking for people. We need volunteers in the various OLPC and Sugar programs. I know it’s hard to believe, but absolutely anybody can help, even preschoolers. We would we particularly happy to have school classes volunteer their help. We don’t just need programmers. We need help with rewriting textbooks in interactive, digital, and above all free formats, and we need help in testing and improving those Open Education Resources.
We particularly need people to spread the word, especially in Egypt, but also among the general public worldwide, and to aid agencies such as USAID and UNDP. UNESCO has recently started a discussion on Open Education Resources for every child in the world, and most interestingly UNRWA has deployed XOs in refugee camps in Gaza and Lebanon.
It happens that the Gaza deployment last year was on my birthday, the best birthday present I have ever received. My birthday is coming up again, April 29, and Cause.com recommends that I ask everybody I know to join this cause and donate to it as a birthday present to me. So here you are.
Note: The Beta version of the Causes.com software cannot find this cause in order to let me make a wish for it through their site. I have submitted a bug. But you can still join.