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A diehard supporter of the One Laptop Per Child program, Wayan Vota, has declared that the project is now dead.

Vota, who was one of a small group running the oplcnews.com website, wrote:" The great excitement, energy, and enthusiasm that brought us together is gone. OLPC is dead. In its place, is the reality that technology is a force in education, and we all need to be vigilant about when, where, and how it's used."

While OLPC News has no official status, it hawks itself as "the premier independent community for One Laptop Per Child supporters. We are a recognised voice in the OLPC community, even by Nicholas Negroponte himself".

Of Negroponte, the MIT staffer who was responsible for starting the project, Vota wrote: "Nicholas Negroponte long ago moved onto the global literacy X-Prize project."

Vota wrote: "Here is a question for you: 8 years on, would you recommend anyone start a new deployment with XO-1 laptops?

"With the hardware now long past its life expectancy, spare parts hard to find, and zero support from the One Laptop Per Child organization, its (sic) time to face reality. The XO-1 laptop is history.

"Sadly, so is Sugar. Once the flagship of OLPC's creativity in redrawing the human-computer interaction, few are coding for it and new XO variants are mostly Android/Gnome+Fedora dual boots."

Comment has been sought from Rangan Srikhanta, head of the Australian branch of OLPC which received a one-off grant of $11.7 million from the former Labor government in 2012, because of lobbying from independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor who were propping up the government by their support.

This was the same year that the first detailed study of the use of the laptops put paid to the notion that it was in any way helpful in education.

In 2009, when iTWire spoke to Srikhanta, he said that a survey by the Australian Council for Educational Research was evaluating the deployment of the laptops. As it turned out, ACER was doing no such thing; the report it produced was merely a compilation of a number of other reports about deployments.

None of these reports had anything except anecdotal data as to the efficacy of the program when it comes to education.

At the time, a school principal from Doomadgee, Richard Barrie, was cited as claiming that the OLPC had helped children improve their NAPLAN scores. When iTWire asked Barrie about this, he said: "We started to see more regular attendance and improved reading scores."

But he was quick to add: "To be fair, this was attributable to a range of factors: the school's nutrition program, the interventions from our partner university, the growing maturity of our teaching staff, support for the teacher aides and the school's development of a RATEP program to ensure sustainability of all of these changes in the community."

Asked for comment on Vota's post, Srikhanta said OLPC Australia had always operated independently from the One Laptop Per Child organisation.

"We are funded by the Australian Federal Government and our corporate sponsors. While we were inspired and initially took guidance from One Laptop Per Child, we adapted and evolved the program in new ways and developed the One Education program.

"With One Education, a school-led initiative which includes ongoing teacher training and support, we have focused on the human aspect of technology adoption. Empowering teachers and their school communities to own the implementation of the program. This fundamental difference has revolutionised the One Laptop per Child model by ensuring the technology is adopted in places that have chosen to receive the technology and have taken steps to build local capacity (i.e. teachers must complete training before students in their class receive the computers)."

Srikhanta did not mention the Peru study which showed conclusively that the OLPC deployments have not in any way helped in children's education.

"Our One Education initiative has proven a key driver for the successful take up of 20,000 XOs across 230 schools. Early usage data points to the machines being used to deliver at least 50 per cent of the curriculum – clear demonstration that the XO is being used consistently for learning," Srikhanta said.

He did not deal with Vota's statements about the hardware used in the project being long beyond its life expectancy, spares being difficult to come by, and support from OLPC being non-existent.

"One Laptop Per Child's mission was and continues to be a success. We are proud of our association with the brand and look forward to identifying opportunities to partner with the vibrant One Laptop Per Child network," Srikhanta added.

Image courtesy OLPC News


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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.