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
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

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More