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Re: [school-discuss] OLPC Solutions for African Villages (was: Ways to put Linux PCs in villages w/o electricity)

John Munro wrote:
> I realize that this list is specifically for opensource/FOSS etc but is there anything to preclude considering a hybrid solution for this Malawi project involving OLPC units or equivalent?

Funny, I was rereading the OLPC stuff when your mail arrived. Your points about power/efficiency and unconventional ways to solve problems, as well as the positive attitude stuff resonate well with me. But let me address the OLPC because I have been reading up on it:

1. You still have to order too many at a time, and it *requires* government involvement up front as opposed to being doable with a grass roots initiative.

2. As you point out, this is an open source group, and I'm the CEO of a foundation here in Georgia to promote the use of open source in Georgia schools. All the philosophical reasons Negroponte gave for ensuring software in education is open source resonates tremendously with me. So, I'm not happy with Negroponte's decision to support Windows, thereby raising the price of the laptop hardware, and personally I'd rather not be part of a pilot in which I volunteer my time where it could turn out that we end up dooming an entire continent of needy kids to buying all of their software from Redmond the rest of their lives. I understand that the dialog in the blogs seems hopeful that Negroponte will still sell the Open Source version in developing countries, but I now believe that is up in the air. The paid-for software economic model will not work in these environments anytime soon (recall Doug's comment about entire school budgets being only $12k), and may not ever. On the other hand, an open source model may work if the hardware can be made available cheaply enough and if associated infrastructure issues can be addressed.

3. I actually disagree with Negroponte about the OLPC approach being the only right way to do it, and forcing constructivism on the process. My experience in my daughter's school was that a tipping point occurred when we got 5-6 working PCs in each classroom (these villages typically have only one school classroom). Sharing encourages collaboration, as long as there are enough, we saw that with our kids. Further, by the thin clients being fixed on the tables/desks, the kids often interact in 'face to face' type encounters when not at the computer desks that is sadly missing in my older daughters school where every girl has a Mac iBook and the halls are quiet at dropoff and pickup. From our work, ready access to a PC with at least a 3:1 ratio is the most important element and gives the biggest bang for the buck, even if ideally, it would be better to have 1:1. Recall an OLPC condition that you must buy enough for one laptop per child in the deployment. If our village has 30 kids in the school building, that's $5250 at $175 each, and you still need the components for wireless access and solar array to power them, so you're back up to close to $7000. I'll do 7 villages for the price of doing 2 using the OLPC approach, and I believe I'll get 90 percent of the benefits for education, collaboration, and communication with the outside world.

4. The software my proposed system would provide is not only OpenOffice, Abiword, Firefox, KStars, all the programming, edutainment games etc. found in K12LTSP, but since the server will have so much more memory, we can add new titles as they come along as well. This software can be upgraded regularly and for free throughout the life of the system. That means all grade levels can be addressed immediately, including adult education. The OLPC is still seen as a primary grades device, and while maybe older students would use it, I don't see adult ed happening with the OLPC device in it's current incarnation.


Daniel Howard
President and CEO
Georgia Open Source Education Foundation