Peru’s Ambitious Laptop Program Gets Mixed Grades

By Frank Bajak

LIMA, Peru (AP) – Peru’s distribution of more than 800,000 low-cost laptop computers to children across the country easily ranks as one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty.

Yet five years into the program, there are serious doubts about whether the largest single deployment in the One Laptop Per Child initiative was worth the more than $200 million that Peru’s government spent.

Ill-prepared rural teachers were often unable to fathom, much less teach with the machines, software bugs didn’t get fixed and most had no way to connect to the Internet. Many could not take the computers home as the initiative intended. And some schools even lacked electricity to keep them running.

“In essence, what we did was deliver the computers without preparing the teachers,” said Sandro Marcone, the Peruvian education official who now runs the program.

The volume of low-cost, education-focused computers delivered globally remains modest. Intel Corp. says it has shipped more than 7 million, about a third in Argentina. Venezuela boasts 1.6 million distributed, licensed from a Portuguese company.

MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte inspired the One Laptop Per Child initiative, pioneering the idea that computers could be potent tools for lifting developing world children out of poverty. It was never able to achieve the $100 laptop price tag he desired, but nevertheless won adherents.

More than 2.5 million of its $200 XO laptops – green-and-white models for the early grades and blue-and-white machines with bigger keyboards for older kids – have been distributed in 46 countries since 2007.

The rugged, energy-efficient OLPC laptops, which run a variant of the open-source Linux operating system, are in Ethiopia, in Rwanda, Mongolia and Haiti, even in the United States and Australia. Uruguay, a compact South American nation of 3.5 million people, is the only country that has fully embraced the concept and given every elementary school child and teacher an XO laptop.

No country, however, bought nearly as many as Peru.

“It’s a really great idea,” said Jeff Patzer, a software engineer with a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, who traveled from school to school in Peru’s rustic Cordillera Blanca highlands in 2010 introducing and maintaining the laptops. “It just seems like there was some stuff that wasn’t thought through quite enough.'”

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Posted by on Aug 1st, 2012 and filed under Techline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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