Few would argue against the notion that the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC, originally referred to by many as the ‘$100 laptop project’) has been the most high-profile educational technology initiative for developing countries and Indigenous cultures over the past half-decade or so. It has garnered more media attention, and incited more passions (pro and con), than any other program of its kind. What was ‘new’ when OLPC was announced back in 2005 has become part of mainstream discussions in many places today (although it is perhaps interesting to note that, to some extent, the media attention around the Khan Academy is crowding into the space in the popular consciousness that OLPC used to occupy), and debates around its model have animated policymakers, educators, academics, and the general public in way that perhaps no other educational technology initiative has ever done.
The largest OLPC program to date, however, has not been in Uruguay, but rather in Peru, and many OLPC supporters have argued that the true test of the OLPC approach is perhaps best studied there, given its greater fealty to the underlying pedagogical philosophies at the heart of OLPC and its focus on rural, less advantaged communities. Close to a million laptops are meant to have been distributed there to students to date (902,000 is the commonly reported figure, although I am not sure if this includes the tens of thousands of laptops that were destroyed in the fire at a Ministry of Education warehouse).
What do we know about the impact of this ambitious program?The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) released a long-awaited working paper detailing findings from its evaluation of the OLPC program in Peru. While OLPC has been the subject of much research interest (some of decent quality, some decidedly less so; the OLPC wiki maintains a very useful list of this research), Technology and Child Development: Evidence from One Laptop per Child Program in Peru is meant to be the first large-scale evaluation of the program’s impact using randomized control trials (considered by many in the evaluation community as the ‘gold standard’ for this sort of thing).
With reference to all the problems related to the Peruvian OLP project I feel it was two folded. On one hand, there was no previous training for teachers to develop methodological capacities to exploit the potential of those computers. Teachers basically taught the children how to operate the device, and that was it. On the other hand, it was one of many other big projects that had the aim to create noise in favor of President Garcia.