Laptops for kids

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Six constraints on ICT for development

A group called Aidworld works on ways to spread the internet. From field research, they have identified the following constraints as limiting access to communications and information:
  1. Power
  2. Communication Infrastructure
  3. Skills
  4. Reliable and Maintainable Hardware
  5. Appropriate Applications and Content
  6. Affordability
OLPC is directly addressing 4 and 6, and part of 5. A big responsibility for 5 must be with the developing countries, to create localized content. 1 and 2 are infrastructure problems. The basics are there in most parts of the Philippines, but somebody I spoke to at DepEd's Bureau of Secondary Education said that 20% of public high schools have no electricity. And even if communication infrastructure is in most places (cell sites, for sure) that doesn't mean that an Internet connection is available in local schools. When it comes to having servers and connected classrooms, most public schools are near zero. These need to be budgeted into any OLPC plan for the Philippines. Issue 3 on "skills" is an area where I think careful intervention can make a lot of difference. There are actually a fair number of classroom teachers with relevant skills, but it is probably much easier to organize initiatives in private schools. I am starting to think that we should target that in the first few years half of OLPC laptops coming into the Philippines should be delivered to private schools, which will be asked to adopt a public school or two, to show them the way in terms of skills and curriculum. Decision-making in the public school system might get bogged down a lot on basic issues like accessing money and authorizing teacher's time. The list of 6 constraints was provided by hamis AT, originally in a comment at Quim Gil's blog post asking three questions about OLPC.

malleable platform against cultural imperialism

Some of the criticism of OLPC is suspicious about something originating in a country dominating the status quo. Benjamin Mako Hill points out that cell phones are already widespread in the developing world and are not programmable by end-user countries or interested communities.

Certainly cell phones are already widespread in the Philippines. I hope that once OLPC and other low-cost educational computers, local groups in the Philippines will be ready to program them and develop courseware. I don't think it will happen spontaneously, some promotion and orchestration may be of significant value.