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Why did One Laptop Per Child fail?

Over at UN Dispatch, Alanna Shaikh has a thought-provoking eulogy for Nicholas Negroponte's fizzling One-Laptop-Per-Child program:

Americans wanted the OLPC. We fell in love with its tremendous promise and adorable shape. (note: I own an OLPC) We were the first market it conquered. OLPC launched a give one-get one promotion that let individuals pay $400 to donate one laptop and receive one for themselves. It was a huge success, except that OLPC wasn’t set up for that kind of customer order fulfillment. Laptops arrived far later than promised, and several thousand orders were simply lost.

Once the laptop finally started arriving in the developing world, its impact was minimal. We think. No one is doing much research on their impact on education; discussions are largely theoretical. This we do know: OLPC didn’t provide tech support for the machines, or training in how to incorporate them into education. Teachers didn’t understand how to use the laptops in their lessons; some resented them. Kids like the laptops, but they don’t actually seem to help them learn.

It’s time to call a spade a spade. OLPC was a failure. ...

As Shaikh suggests, OLPC is a classic case of a development program more tailored to the tastes and interests of its funders, than the needs of the people it was supposed to help. Back to the drawing board. 

PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images

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