Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce LCA 2011: Is the OLPC about technology or education?

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The one question that remains unanswered after Sridhar Dhanapalan's presentation on the One Laptop per Child Australia project at the 12th Australian national Linux conference yesterday is this: is the project about technology or education?

Dhanapalan (below), the technical manager of the Australian arm, started out by emphasising that the project was all about education. His presentation was titled "Enabling connection to opportunity: OLPC Australia".

But then 95 percent of his talk was about the technology that is present in the XO1.5, one of which he used in an attempt to display the slides for his presentation.

(Maybe the fact that the organisation has changed its domain name from olpc.org.au to laptop.org.au should have told us long ago that the emphasis is on the technology.)

Unfortunately, the laptop failed to carry him through the process. A version of OpenOffice.org, apparently written specifically for the XO, appeared to be putting too much strain on the system.

In July last year, the New York Times reported: "Economists are trying to measure a home computer's educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found.
Sridhar Dhanapalan
"Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts." (Emphasis mine).

And three years earlier, the same august publication reported that "school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards.

"Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs."

But these kinds of reports do not find a place among the links on the OLPC website. What one does find is only sugary praise for the project.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.