There was a bit of concern a few months back when it was reported that Niue’s government was considering dropping support for OLPC. We reached out to them to find out what the reason was, as they had reported a successful and well-received pilot. Now it seems that their education ministry remains interested in OLPC. Thanks to the Niue Education Ministry and to Michael Hutak for the update.
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“. 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 usually “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. 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. 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.
Niue, a small island nation in the Pacific, became the first country to provide one laptop per child, over two years ago. At the time, OLPC Oceania was just taking shape; since then, another 8000 children and teachers have implemented programs across the Pacific.
Last week Niue’s acting Director of Education, Lisimoni Togahai, said that although the first two years went well, they were phasing out the program. “The school could not afford to pay for the high cost of maintaining the V-SAT that’s connected to the satellite for the internet access.”
Niue supported child ownership, and children there take their laptops home and keep them when they graduate. About half of the 500 XOs deployed belong to students who are still in the school system. While schools may be phasing out their subsidized connectivity, the children can use their XOs elsewhere. The country has abundant free wifi – it was touted as the first “Wifi nation” in 2003 for the availability of wifi in all of its cities.
Michael Hutak, coordinator for OLPC Oceania, has been in touch with them hoping for further background. He recently posted a summary of lessons learned so far from Pacific pilots. An excerpt:
* There is country-level demand and political and community support for OLPC in the Pacific;
* Small pilots provide an insufficient evidence base for policy makers;
* Monitoring & Evaluation should be integrated at the outset of an OLPC programme;
* Broad-based regional technical assistance is needed to aid country capacity building;
* Laptops and hardware peripherals should be centrally maintained in the region to efficiently support trials;
* There is suppressed demand for internet connectivity in rural and remote schools.