Thursday, 10 May 2012 13:14

Lobbying gets OLPC Australia $11.7m in budget

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The One Laptop per Child Australia project has received a boost from the federal budget, with a one-off grant of $11.7 million for its unproven program.

OLPC Australia chief executive Rangan Srikhanta said he was extremely happy with the provision of money which he said would enable the project to deploy more of its XO laptops in remote and regional areas.

The money has come about as a result of lobbying by independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, according to a statement made by Srikhanta.

However, he told iTWire that there was no compulsion to deploy laptops in either of the electorates of these MPs. Deployment would be based on needs and whether the schools in question were willing to fit in with the organisation's requirements, he said.

Most of the money will end up in the US because OLPC Australia buys the laptop for $210 each from OLPC in the US.

OLPC Australia charges $400 per laptop deployed and the schools which are participating have to pay a minimum of 15 per cent of the total, else they will not be allowed to participate.

Srikhanta said he was looking for more corporate sponsorship so that the amount paid by the schools could be reduced.

On the question of whether the OLPC program had any input into education - a study done in Peru has put paid to this widely touted idea - Srikhanta would not give a direct answer but said that work going on to evaluate the programs and come up with empirical data.

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.

A school principal from Doomadgee, Richard Barrie, has been cited as claiming that the OLPC has helped children improve their NAPLAN scores. When iTWire asked Barrie about this some time ago, 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."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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