News / Africa

Some Development Experts Criticize 'One Laptop Per Child' Initiative in Africa

The One Laptop Per Child website shows students in Kenya using the small green and white computer, March 2011
The One Laptop Per Child website shows students in Kenya using the small green and white computer, March 2011
TEXT SIZE - +
Nico Colombant

While the U.S.-based foundation One Laptop Per Child is building new partnerships in Africa, the initiative also is being criticized by some development experts. They say there are limits to how technology can help reduce poverty.

An advertisement for One Laptop per Child calls it the little green laptop that could. "My name is Zimi. I am seven years old. I come from a place you have never heard of. A country you cannot pronounce. A continent you would rather forget."

The ad shows the young girl from South Africa balancing her laptop on her head, walking with it wherever she goes and using it at school and at home. The ad ends with a link to an online site where for $199 one of these laptops can be donated to the developing world.

Ambitious program proliferates

About 2 million of the small laptops already have been sold. The laptop connects to the Internet through wi-fi hotspots or school networks, like any other computer would. It has less code than other computers, which brings its cost down, but so far not down to the original $100 goal of the project's initiators.

A new version expected later this year will cost $165, with the added ability to run on just two watts of power. It also will have a hand crank that can be used when the battery is running low.

The initiative, founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, is now in its sixth year. Last month, his non-profit organization reached a new partnership with the African Union to deliver laptops to primary school students throughout Africa. A separate deal was reached last month with Rwanda's government to increase distribution of the devices.

Inefficiencies, other priorities cited

Many development experts, however, dislike the ongoing initiative. G. Pascal Zachary, who teaches a class about technology and development in sub-Saharan Africa at Arizona State University, is one of those against it.

"They continue to push technologies at Africans and tell them that they ought to accept these technologies," said Zachary. "They ought to have more personal computers. They ought to have better seeds. They ought to do this and they ought to do that. But very clearly, when Africans decide themselves what they value, they quickly take up a technology and mobile phones is a great example."

Zachary said one area where Africans could use help is to make their electricity systems more robust.

He finds the One Laptop per Child program inefficient and prone to corruption, especially when the organization cuts deals with governments, while, he said, the school system in Africa is extremely decentralized.

"Most Africans that I talk to in African cities want the same laptop you get, not some gizmo that has a special power source and looks like a shoebox. But for some reason the wise people at M.I.T. did not think Africans deserved getting a normal laptop, they wanted to give them a special one that looked like a brick. I think there are a lot of levels in which this kind of pushing at Africans technologies that are inappropriate for them simply to benefit their own need for vanity and for moral reinforcement. Let's hope that we are seeing less and less of this type of thing."

Defending educational goals

At a recent conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, exploring links between technology and eradicating poverty, Negroponte defended himself against similar criticism. He said his project is an educational one, and that with his laptop, children have an intuitive way to learn.

"So solution to poverty is education and the way to get learning is, in my mind, very much connected to technology, particularly in the developing world."

Another panelist at the conference, Kentaro Toyama, from the University of California Berkeley, said his research has shown technological educational initiatives so far have proven to amplify inequalities more than help the poor.

Educational outcomes questioned

"There are studies that show that just putting a computer in a school and having students interact with it does not actually contribute to educational outcomes. Many people say that in developing countries, because teacher absenteeism is such a problem, that at least a computer is better than no teacher at all, but the cumulating research seems to suggest exactly the opposite. Computers can help good schools with good teachers, caring administrators, and so on, but in schools which are really struggling to teach their students, it turns out the computers only suck up resources and take up space."

Other panelists also said they believe cheaper assistance, such as providing deworming for school age children, or school lunches, or helping with teacher salaries, were more efficient than donating a computer to help improve education.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid