Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Questioning "One Laptop Per Child" as a development policy

The One Laptop Per Child project was initiated by Nicholas Negroponte from the prestigious MediaLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  It was to be carried out by a non-profit organization with the project announced at the World Economic Forum (Davos) in 2005.

The objective was to produce a $100 computer that could be given to every student, providing ubiquitous technology on low-income countries.  It was designed to be simple, durable and operate with power sources that could include wind-up charging.  An antenna on the computer would allow for connection to wifi where it exists or to links among computers in a local area.  The software was open source, including the operating system and the applications.
Open source software became an area of conflict with Microsoft, which competed to get its software into the project with a special deal of $3 packages of its software.  The design eventually allowed for either open source or Microsoft.

The low cost of the computer did not include ongoing operating costs such a maintenance and technical support, and assumed a level of durability that has not panned out.
The project has not succeeded in having the widespread take-up that the promoters anticipated.  Some of that is because the technology itself didn't live up to the expectations. 

Perhaps of more significance, though, according to Neil Selwyn, author of Education in a Digital World, has to do with political and social values and policies.  The issues he raises are key issues to consider in all attempts to implement Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in an education context.
Selwyn draws on other researchers to identify the importance of looking beyond the technical:

We suggest that this and other ICT4D [ICT for development] projects be critiqued not only in      terms of their technological feasibility, economic rationales or models of education, but, more fundamentally, in terms of the ideologies  they intend their users to enact.  (Anannany and Winters, 2007)

Selwyn identifies five aspects of ideology and values that relate to the OLPC project, all aspects to consider in examining any policies on applications of technology to education:
1)         An assumption that access to technology will lead to education, health and life-related      improvements for those with access. 

Negroponte claims that "poverty can only be eliminated through education."  Selwyn characterizes the assumption about the centrality of technology as an aggressive  modernization agenda--technology will revolutionize the world for the better.
2)         Support for constructivist learning theory.

This form of constructivism is learner-centred, in the belief that learning takes place by the individual creating objects and systems--as in the title of a book by Piaget--To understand is to invent.  This is an individualist approach that devalues the social and institutional frames of learning.
There is an overlap here with one form of "progressive" pedagogy in contrast to the social constructivism based on the ideas of Vygotsky.

3)         Learning and change happen through networked individualism.
The learner is expected to organize their own educational experiences using the technology.   It is this networking that will make changes, not social institutions and policies.  An anti-school sentiment goes with this view.  Individual children are seen as the principal sites of change.  Technology is "inherently expressive and self transforming."

Negroponte acknowledged that the $100 laptop is a 'Trojan Horse" to get the technology in the hands of young people.  The students, presumably, will then change the education system.
4)         Access in itself is a social project.

The technology itself becomes a fetish rather than focus on the education first and the technology in relationship to it.  Selwyn quotes a programmer slogan as an example:  "Not every child in the world had a laptop.  This is a bug.  We're fixing that."
Giving computers to students is seen as educationally better than giving them books, hiring more teachers or building more schools.

5)         Promotion of the technology is culturally insensitive.
Getting computers in schools is not understood as fitting into the work of the school as opposed to becoming the work of the school.  The "evangelist" technology promoters come into the school with the message that this is the way it must be done.

Selwyn quotes former SUTEP (PERU) General Secretary Luis Munoz Alvarado saying  that the OLPC "laptops are not part of a comprehensive educational, pedagogical project, and their usefulness is debatable."
One Laptop Per Child in Latin America--a research agenda

Many countries in Latin America have adopted the OLPC to one degree or another.  The first country to give a laptop to every elementary student under the program was Uruguay.
In addition to Peru and Uruguay, others are Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, as well as Costa Rica.

Research in these countries might look at the level of implementation, the strategies involved and the educational results as seen by teachers and their unions, as well as academics and education ministry officials.  The five areas of values and ideologies identified by Selwyn could be a framework for comparative examination of the specifics of this program as well as other elements of technology in education.

Selwyn, N.  (2013).  "'One Laptop per Child'--A Critical Analysis."  127-146.  In Selwyn, N. (2013).  Education in a Digital World:  Global Perspectives on Technology and Education.  (Routlege:  London).




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