There have been complaints from time to time that the OLPC XO program is an imposition of First World values and economics on Third World countries, or even a scam to profit from hardware sales. (That’s hard to do when you sell a $188 device for $189, but what do facts have to do with conspiracy theories?)
Naysayers have also been known to claim that the program doesn’t work, can’t work. Preliminary research says otherwise, and the countries involved apparently don’t think so either. Although Uruguay was the first to give an XO to every schoolchild, Peru, with a much larger population, has many more XOs in use. Now, as part of the plan to give every Peruvian schoolchild an XO, comes this announcement.
Alan Garcia, the President of Peru, just announced that the country will be handing out their one millionth XO laptop by the end of this year and will soon be building manufacturing facilities to build the laptops locally. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program created the XO laptop as an inexpensive tool for children around the world to learn with. The OLPC program in Peru has a goal to have laptops in 100% of the country’s public primary schools by the end of 2011.
We hope to see other countries establish manufacturing facilities of the scale and magnitude of Peru’s. Local manufacturing of XO laptops will enable Peru both to transform education and to make important investments in its economy,” said Rodrigo Arboleda, CEO of OLPC.
It was also announced that additionally, 20,000 schools will get LEGO WeDo kits — easy to use kits that teach kids about robotics — in addition to the 92,000 that are already distributed. Some of the Peruvian schools receiving laptops this year will be among the first to get their hands on the XO-1.75, a new laptop developed by OLPC that lowers its power consumption with a new energy chip — making it one of the most energy efficient laptop around. These low-energy computers are essential in some parts of Peru, where electricity isn’t available to communities.
Peru is a middle-income country, not a basket case like Haiti or Zimbabwe, not a war zone like Sudan or Libya, not the North Korean Black Hole of the Internet (where there is no public Internet). So this is not the ultimate test of the XO education project’s ability to deal with dire poverty and rampant government corruption, or worse. But it is a good test nonetheless. Research on the educational and economic results in Uruguay and Peru will tell us much.
I expect it to tell other countries to go ahead, that there are large benefits not only in education and economics but in the social development of the country, too. After all, we are allowing children to learn social networking, starting with Chat, IRC, and the networks they can access with Browse. We are allowing students to collaborate within Sugar activities, learning how to share and to work together toward a common goal, contributing different skills and knowledge to their joint efforts. This will allow all sorts of interest and affinity groups to form and become active in society, including joint political action, and will get children used to the way business and government are supposed to work.
It is also to be expected that research will tell us of a multitude of ways to improve the XO, Sugar, and the Open Education Resources that OLPC and Sugar Labs plan to offer in the future. The naysayers will be back, of course, claiming that the defects found invalidate the entire project. No, if we didn’t find areas for further improvement, that would invalidate the project.