Following last week’s announcement that the education department is “phasing out” support for OLPC in the South Pacific island nation of Niue, OLPCA is reaching out to the community there, looking at options of how to manage the ongoing communal ownership of the laptops for the benefit of everyone on “The Rock“.Â OLPC is working with its Pacific partners to conduct a needs assessment to ascertain the status of the program there, and how they could move forward. We will work with all partners in Niue to ensure the XO contributes to its ongoing educational progress.
We understand the XOs, and all essential associated network infrastructure on Niue, remain in robust working order — and firmly in the hands of the island’s children. It was there that we learned that the OLPC principle of child ownership needed tweaking in the Pacific, where traditional cultures often value the group over the individual. In Oceania children are usuallyÂ “custodians” of their laptop, with a responsibility to safeguard it on behalf of the community, and further to share it with that community. These lessons come directly from our first experiences in Niue.
The Niue Department of Education and its partners had put in place a comprehensive and technically competent deployment. Eucators have said the OLPC program “went well” for two years and the XOs produced real educational benefits among students. We are keen to ensure that we document and build on this success, both in Niue and elsewhere in the Pacific. And no matter what direction the program takes we want to ensure it aligns with OLPC Oceania’s Community Participation Guidelines, especially the need for environmentally responsible solutions.
Both OLPCA and the Pacific countries that today are introducing the XO are incorporating lessons from our first Pacific pilots.Â We are comparing it to the progress we see elsewhere in remote Australia and in Micronesia in the North Pacific, where the largest donor (the United States) is now working with countries on OLPC.Â The fact that a funding shortfall was key to the Niue decision has spurred a broader debate in the region on aid to Small Island States like Niue, and has allowed us to raise the issue with other stakeholders in the region.
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With hindsight available it is important to understand why the OLPC program failed in Niue. It is ironic that the conditions that superficially supported Niue as an ideal country for the OLPC pilot program, id est its small population, was also the factor that created its failure. Along with depopulation comes the brain-drain and although Niue may seem to have the infrastructure and expertise, these necessary requirements are actually very thin on the ground. When such generous programs are offered there is a reluctance of the Niue Government and its departments to admit their capacity limitations and therefore the donors concerned are left with a distorted picture of the degree of infrastructure support.
We at the Niue Business Round Table fully appreciate the aspirations of the OLPC program in Niue and would like to help find ways to overcome these teething problems if indeed it is not too late.
Niue Business Round Table
Thank you for sharing your insights, Mark. We also hope these are temporary hurdles to overcome. Expanding opportunities and addressing brain drain starts with youth… I will put you in touch with Michael Hutak, who is coordinating the project from OLPC.