The Republic of Suriname is a third world country situated at the North coast of South America. During my consultancies over there, I tested the potential of the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) concept. At a meeting of the OLPC-Netherlands grassroot organisation in The Netherlands (Utrecht, 13 December 2008), I presented my findings. Here is my summary in English.
The Republic of Suriname is a third world country situated at the North coast of South America. Guyana (West), Brasil (South) and French Guyana (East) are its neighbours. To the North it borders the Atlantic Ocean.
Suriname counts 500,000 inhabitants, about 25% aged under 15. About 70% live in the capital city of Paramaribo or its immediate surroundings, 20% in the rest of the 40 km wide coastal area and 10% in the interior. The interior is almost completely covered with tropical rain forest.
The state of the education is ready for big improvements. At this moment, about 7% of the population (mostly women) did not receive any education at all. Another 13% did not finish primary education, another 20% did, but stopped at that level. About 4% received higher education. In general, drop-outs are numerous as are repeaters. In the city the children have much more educational chances than on the countrysite, not to mention in the interior.
The current educational system consists of a preprimary (2 years) a prrimary school (6 years) and a variety of secondary education options at junior level (4 years), followed by senior level and tertiary education. The government is exetuting a Basic Education Improvement Project (BEIP) to replace preprimary, primary and junior secondary by an integrated system of 11 years.
Since three years I’m visiting Suriname regularly. As a consultant (Sofos Consultancy) in organisation & ICT’s, I have been involved in various e-learning projects and governments assignments. Interested in the One-Laptop-Per-Child project (OLPC), I bought two XO-laptops via Ebay and took them with me to Suriname. Only showing them to the Ministry, at educational institutes and to whoever crosses my path generates a stream of positive reactions. I also lent them to my 12 nephews and nieces there. I could experience therefore what children do with their laptops at home. I resume my findings as a small SWOT-analysis.
The XO-laptop as the One-Laptop-Per-Child laptop officially is called, is a good looking, solid, low energy device. Once unpacked, it works. It has more than ten standard applications (now called activities) on board and as many more that only have to be activated/installed. Most activities have cooperative functions that allow children to invite their peers to work together and/or exchange information.
The fact that I did not bring any manuals, nor translated the English software into Dutch was no problem at all. The standard software offered something for everybody from 2-14 years old. The laptops also raised the interest of the parents of the children. It could be a big incentive if every child had a laptop of their own.
There are some weaknesses to face as well. Children who have worked with modern PC’s will find the XO relatively slow and might miss the enormous amount of software as it is available for the Windows platform. The user interface, called Sugar, is innovative and child friendly, but can be clumsy sometimes. The standard software assumes personal ownerships of the laptop, which is not always a realistic option. Sooner or later the absence of localised software and teacher manuals will be hindering.
In Suriname many grassroot organisations are active in the field of education and/or ICTs. They could form an interesting breeding ground for OLPC projects. Traditionally also many NGOs are active in the country.
A USA-based supplier of a big telecom provider is willing to donate 200 XO-computers. A service club in Paramaribo wants to raise money for such a project. Further, the Ministry of Education and Community Development (MINOV) is modernising basic education, while another Ministry is promoting the use of ICTs in all industries. In the near future an Expertise Centre on Education and ICTs will be established (ECOIS).
Threats for succesfull OLPC implementations are:
- Many grassroot initiatives evaporate rather quickly.
- In general these projects (and their sponsors) are mainly interested in creating something new and have difficulties in trying to make that sustainable.
- As there is a wide variety of initiatives, the attention of sponsors, volunteers and public easily can go to other nice projects.
Ultimately, OLPC does not offer a systematic concept for the improvement of learning. This implies that although reinventing learning could imply the application of ICTs, it is not self-evident that the optimal solution would be OLPC.
My conclusion so far is that it makes sense to walk around, talk and demonstrate with my XO-laptops in Suriname. It creates awareness on education innovation and the potential of ICTs.
As a community we should develop teaching concepts based on OLPC, develop a model for OLPC grassroot projects, and localise the software and corresponding documents. Even more challenging could be to organise a debate on educational innovation and the role of ICTs, to develop implementation strategies from there and to find out where OLPC might be a fruitful solution.
Appendix: useful hyperlinks
- The OLPC project wiki at http://wiki.laptop.org/.
- The slides of my presentation for OLPC-NL (although in Dutch, they offer nice pictures.
- Pictures of OLPC in Suriname at Flickr.
- A movie on YouTube.