The idea behind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project by Nicholas Negroponte was to create opportunities to improve early education (Primary education) and create a spark for learning for children in the world’s poorest countries. As children progress through the school system, they become increasingly responsible for their own learning. Lately, there has been a groundswell of interest on how ICT particularly computer (laptop) can be best harnessed to improve the quality of Primary education in emerging countries.
There is substantial evident that in the right hands and used appropriately for specific purposes in specific context, ICT can be an effective tool in supporting the process of teaching and learning. Investment in early education plays a major role in human capital investment as it lays a good foundation for progressive and innovative education. The questions of whether or not the OLPC initiative is “an educational improvement project, or a laptop project” is based on the notion that by focusing on providing laptops to pupils without in depth consideration to teaching and learning modalities, culture, and welfare of such children could hinder the process.
Van de Snepscheut once said “the difference between theory and practice is that in theory there is no difference but, in practice there inevitably is”. From a theoretical perspective, a surface analysis on the OLPC project will no doubt produce intellectual and inspiring recommendations, and perhaps predict excellent outcome and result. Furthermore, considering the essence without adjusting the methodology and evaluating the relevancy, applicability, appropriateness and sustainability of such initiative will be misleading. In practice my theory remains; if the project is long term and requires large amount of money to implement these two questions should act as a guideline (1) what is this going to solve? (2) Is something else more important, more urgent to those it seeks to empower?
Without a doubt OLPC project would plays a vital role in improving the quality of primary education in Nigeria. Incorporating Information and Communications Technology into education is an urgent task for Nigeria however; there are key issues that must be addressed for this project to succeed. The hurdles are mainly divided into these categories;
Lack of ICT Trained Teachers
One of the major challenges opposing the OLPC project in Nigeria is unskilled teachers. It is human nature to instantly resist or criticizes what is not understood. According to the research data, this option scored the highest ranking on the “factors that could oppose/hinder effective implementation of OLPC”. A report by Toluwa Olusegun, wwwIpsness.net further supporting the idea that, investment in OLPC initiative must include the teachers, as the success of such process is highly dependent on the quality of teachers.
Lack of ICT Educational Policy
Without policies support or imposing the application of ICT in the method of dispensing knowledge, teachers will view the OLPC is an optional extra. It is a common misconception that accesses to a laptop without a supporting policy will on its own motivates teacher to apply it in their teaching. The biggest barriers to the use of computers identified by teachers participation in the 2008-2009 survey assessing the world link schools programmes were the lack of time available in classes, tendency of ignoring the process in their own schedule for planning; and the lack of a national policy on the use of computers in schools (Kozma, McGhee. Quellmalz 7 Zalles, 2010) P.367)
Language and Content Control
Due to social, religious and cultural diversities in Nigeria, exposing children to laptop with internet access may not be ideal for some parents, as they may be greatly concerned with the choice of language and content their children are exposed to therefore, resisting and creating barriers against the effectiveness of such projects. The notion that the accessibility of information and communication tools is bad because children are becoming increasingly influenced by any form of media is one of the challenges to overcome in the OLPC implementation.
Effect on Culture & Value
The lack of culturally-appropriate educational content, particularly for developing countries, poses challenges as uneducated and conservative parent regard ICT tools as threat to their culture and social value. Cultural differences affect learners; ability to fully understand and benefit from the lessons and their intended learning outcomes. It is therefore clear that local content should be adopted to suit the beneficiary.
Although the OLPC project will improve the quality of pupils however, it raises a critical question; whether OLPC initiative is the most urgent need of children rendered vulnerable by poverty in third world countries, making basic needs such as food, clean water or health a more pressing priority. Certainly, a child who treks 5 miles each day to school on bare foot will not choose a piece of “fancy machine” over sandals, shelter or decent meal. “if I had a laptop I will sell it and take the money home for my parent to buy me school sandals and food, in my house we eat once a day” Akim Akinshola, 9yrs primary 5 pupil in Ifako Primary School, Gbagada Lagos. A delegate from an African country argued in a world meeting of the United Nations that clean water and schools are more important than ICT adoption. He argued that adopting programs such as the one laptop per child program which will cost $199 per child contrasting the cost for building library, hosting 400 children, which is only US $2 per child.
Recommendations in Order of Priority
- Teacher at the core of strategy: In Nigeria, religious leaders, parents and teachers have the highest authority and a child cannot be perceived to know more and or better than such authorities. For example, in 2010 there was a popular accident in University of Port-Harcourt, Nigeria; a lecturer deliberately failed a student who during the cause of a lecture questioned the lecturer extensively comparing the lecture to information gotten from the student’s research on the internet. These teaching cultures still exist from the foundational to the tertiary level of education today in Nigeria. Involving teachers should be a core strategy to an effective implementation of the OLPC projects.
- Prioritizing Beneficiaries Needs: The only way to reach poor people is by offering incentives which will eventually act as a means to penetrate and get them to embrace the change you want to create. I have noticed that development projects in third world countries require a sub-project to attract potential beneficiary, high lining the main project (OLPC) with the sub-project for example “feed the child” using that as an entry point. For example, there is a project in Lagos state called “Dustin Estate”, it is an access to informal education to street and homeless kids. The project uses food, field trips, cinema tickets to attract kids, once they register to attend, attending classes become a prerequisite for gaining access to these incentives, thus create a spark for learning. Dustbin Estate projects feed over 300 children each daily, among them is an 11 year old boy who won a gold medal in the annual national mathematic competition.
During an interview the Dustin-estate project co-originator was quoted saying “these kids come here because they are sure of at least a square meal each day, and we have realized a lot of very intelligent kids in the process”. A strategy such as this would aid an effective implementation of the OLPC.
Concerns over educational improvement projects such as the OLPC in developing countries should coexist with the imperative of accessibility to basic need of the beneficiaries (children) rendered vulnerable by poverty.
Furthermore, Nigeria must learn from the experiences of others, but must respond to its own “specific educational needs” considering the teaching and learning culture in Nigeria, and not just following the trends in developed countries. In conclusion, the OLPC projects in developing countries should focus more on strategy, sub-project partnership and influencing policies that will aid effective implementation process.