Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce OLPC failure in Peru its own fault

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The deployment of laptops in Peru by the One Laptop Per Child project failed because the organisation did not bother to find out if conditions were optimal for such a deployment before it went in.

This is the only conclusion one can draw from the latest attempt by the organisation to spin its failure as being caused by external factors.

Nearly three months after a detailed, scientific study made it evident to all and sundry that there was no educational benefit from the OLPC program, the organisation, headed by Nicholas Negroponte, is still apparently trying to lay the blame for this catastrophic failure on everyone but itself.

Peru spent $US225 million on more than 800,000 laptops. Yet a study, done by five researchers in 319 schools over 15 months, found there was no benefit to the children at all.

The latest attempt to cover up this Western experiment in Latin America - and there have been plenty of such experiments over the years - even quoted the Peruvian official who now runs the moribund programme, Sandro Marcone, as saying, " "What if they (the researchers) had tested 21st-century skills?"

This makes it plain that OLPC was willing to hand its programme over to be run by people who are apparently unaware that reading, writing and a basic knowledge of mathematics are still needed more than anything to survive in this world.

Why did the OLPC deploy its laptops in a country which was, according to this article at least, unprepared for the so-called sophisticated programme?

Whose responsibility is it to gauge whether conditions are right for a project - those trying to push the project or the recipient? One would think that given its claims to be doing good for children - despite all evidence being to the contrary - the OLPC would exercise care before it took $US225 million from what is a developing country.

One can understand a corporation preying on poor people in this manner. But when one covers oneself in the veil of being a non-profit, surely a little more is expected?

But the OLPC probably needs the money, given the salaries it pays its executives. Despite being a non-profit organisation, OLPC does not appear to be short of funds. The chief executive of the One Laptop Per Child Association, Roberto Arboleda, received $US313,788 in compensation in 2010, while vice-president of engineering at the OLPC Foundation, Edward McNierney, was paid $US90,584 in compensation in 2010, the last year for which records are available.

In Australia, the organisation has managed to wheedle $11.7 million out of a government which is desperately looking for something to show as a triumph of technology after its own laptop program - the so-called Digital Revolution or Education Revolution - failed to achieve anything of note.

Nobody apparently minds experimenting with the lives of children, the most vulnerable in our society, especially during their early learning years, in order to push unproven claims that technology is the answer to learning.


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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.