Friday, October 3, 2008

GHC08: Experiences with OLPC Technology in Ghana, West Africa

Suzanne Buchele, from Southwestern University, spoke to us about her experience in Ghana, West Africa with the One Laptop Per Child program.

She started with the background of the pros  for having OLPC in countries where many children don't have electricity or even anything better than a dirt floor in their house.  One of the big pros for this program is to help provide education for young girls, as families can't often afford to educate all of their children - so they tend to only educate boy children.  She also believes this helps bridge the digital divide for incredibly impoverished children.

Ms Buchele then asks, is it really the best use of money for these incredibly poor people, when the laptops, while cheap compared to standard laptops, are far from free - especially when you consider what it takes to deploy them and secure them.  She seems to think that it is, because it's just not possible to train the teachers appropriately in a country where the median age is 25 - and not all of the existing teachers even want to go into those very rural areas. These laptops help to put education directly in the hands of the students, giving them a unique perspective of ownership and pride of taking care of the laptop themselves.

She talked extensively about the current educational realities in Ghana. For example, that students there learn by rote, which means they may know that 9 by 9 is 81, but would have no idea what that means. Same as they may know how to copy a sentence, but they won't be able to tell you what the words mean.  Also, the teachers are grossly under educated or just not available, or there are just not enough classrooms or no classrooms at all.

So, there seem to be real benefits to providing these laptops directly to the children at no cost to their family, which gives the children more direct learning opportunities on their own timeline.

Valerie Fenwick

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