The African Union [AU] and One Laptop per Child today signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they commit to provide laptops to primary school students throughout Africa. Matthew Keller, OLPC’s Vice President of Global Advocacy, and Lidet Tilahun, Vice President of International Outreach, were present for the signing at AU’s Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The AU has committed itself to work with OLPC in developing large-scale laptop projects, and to work with OLPC on seeking funding from prospective donors as well as recipient countries for these projects. OLPC and the AU will work together to leverage the advantages of the XO laptop and its award-winning Sugaroperating system in transforming primary school education, and to promote strategies for better access to laptops and connectivity.
“OLPC’s partnership with the African Union represents another significant step toward a world in which every child has access to a world-class education, to the world’s body of knowledge, and to each other,” said Keller. “The African Union is dedicating itself not simply to One Laptop per Child, but to a world in which the children become agents of change – making things, teaching each other and their families and affecting the social development of their community.”
Commissioner Jean-Pierre Ezin, the AU Commissioner for Science and Technology, said, “Getting connected laptops filled with dynamic educational content into the hands of children throughout Africa will change the way this generation of children thinks and learns. The AU is eager to realize what could be a profound development as a result of advanced technology in the way learning happens both in and out of school, the way that books are read, and the way that education happens inside a classroom. This is a very ambitious project for which we will have to partner with various people and institutions to mobilize and find the resources required to meet the objective of educational transformation.”
At the end of last month, we were invited to sign an MOU with the East African Community (EAC) at the East African Community Investment Conference in Kampala. This was the follow-up to last November’s meeting in Arusha, Tanzania for the 10th Anniversary of the East African Community and Legislative Assembly (EALA). Lidet has been organizing this series of meetings, and helped schedule the week around this latest event.
There was a press conference and signing, with Matt, Lidet, Julia and Sam from OLPC Rwanda, the Secretary General of the EAC, the Speaker of the EALA, Ministers from several countries, parliamentarians from five countries, and Uganda’s Ministers of Education and Technology. Coverage of the event was extensive in Uganda, with some international coverage, and press questions were enthusiastic.
The seriousness of the EAC and EALA was striking. So often lip service is paid, promises to follow up are pledged, but at the end of the day, conversations slip away. But both the Speaker and the SG pledged to move quickly, spoke passionately about the future in education for East Africa, and discussed how to work with individual countries and with the EAC collectively. They also publicly stated olpc East Africa (30 million children) as a goal for 2015.
The OLPC concept is predicated on the idea that technology can reach this generation of children and teach them to think critically, and analytically, and can connect them to each other and the world’s body of knowledge. If these things were to come to pass for this generation of Afghani children, the world will look very different in ten years than it does now.
McChrystal and Smith and others acknowledged that this is not a normal war. It is a war where the US is engaged in building better lives for the people of the country, a war which seeks to build social capital between the government and its people, a war which seeks to build peace by building education and
All were hugely receptive to the idea that OLPC could: 1) Educate this generation of children right now, 2) end the isolation of the Afghani people, and 3) build social capital between the people and the government.
I asked McChrystal to be a champion of OLPC in Washington and in Kabul, and asked him to think about ways to fund every child in Afghanistan. He
asked for the dollar figure. I said it would cost $1 billion to connect every child. He didn’t blink. It can be done. In his words, “Our job is to end violence, and this is one way we can do it.“
Coming up in this series: Building partnerships and future preparations.
I travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan last week with two purposes: To assess prospective partners on the ground, including the Ministry of Education (MOE), in order to get a sense of both intent and capacity; and to meet with potential supporters for OLPC in Afghanistan, and craft a strategy for the coming year.
Afghanistan is a hugely complicated part of the world. Regional politics are impacted by the politics of India, Iran and Pakistan, and the geopolitical wrangling of America, Russia and China add an entirely different element into the mix. Combine this with decades of virtually uninterrupted war, limited natural resources, and low rural literacy, and you have a country that needs dramatic change in education.
Although relatively rapid progress has been made recently in the education sector, just over half (52%) of primary school aged children are enrolled in school. Furthermore, due to a shortage of schools and teachers, schools are forced to operate in “shifts”, the average being three “shifts” per day, meaning that each child generally receives only 2.5 hrs (5 x 30min periods) of school each day. The time constraints imposed by the shift system, combined with the fact that teacher-student ratios are often as high as 1:50-75, result in Afghan children receiving only about half the OECD recommended average time in school. In addition, many teachers in Afghanistan have an education level only a few years greater than the students they are teaching. The result is a cycle of rote education, with limited opportunities for innovation.
The conventional remedy of building more schools, training more teachers and providing more materials would require a six fold increase to the education budget (over a billion USD per year), would take 10-15 years to yield measurable results, and would be prey to some of these same problems.
On Friday, November 20, the East African Community launched One Laptop per Child as a regional partner, during the 10th Anniversary Celebration at the Secretariat Office in Arusha, Tanzania. This annual Summit is the highest organ of the East African Community and it gives general directions and impetus for the development and achievement of the objectives of the Community.
Matt Keller, head of OLPC’s Global Advocacy, made a moving and compelling presentation to the assembled audience and heads of state, including President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, and H.E. Amani Abeid Karume, President of Zanzibar. The audience included the EAC Council of Ministers, other members of EAC and EALA, and Honorable Speakers. Invited guests included foreign dignitaries and Chief Executives of regional and international organizations, and members of the European Parliament, United Nations, African Development Bank, and COMESA.
Following Matt’s presentation, Ambassador Juma Mwapachu (current Secretary General of the EAC) announced the launch of OLPC as a regional partner. A memorandum of Understanding between EAC and OLPC will be signed before the end of the year. Matt met the six Presidents and gave each of them an XO. Since our learning team moved to Rwanda to set up a learning center in Kigali, the region has become increasingly important to OLPC. It was a great honor for Matt and I to attend this historic event, and together with everyone at OLPC we look forward to working with the EAC, EALA and the People of East Africa to bring laptops to children in the region.