What have we learned from OLPC pilots to date?

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CC licensed photo courtesy of Daniel Drake via Flickr It's been four years since the The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project (known then as the '$100 laptop) was announced.   According to recent unconfirmed news reports from India, one quarter million of the little green and white OLPC XO laptops are now on order for use in 1500 hundred schools on the subcontinent.  Four years on, what have we learned about the impact of various OLPC pilots that might be of relevance to a deployment in India?  Thankfully, preliminary results are starting to circulate among researchers.  While nothing yet has approached what many consider to be the gold standard of evaluation work in this area, some of this research is beginning to see the light of day (or at least the Internet) -- and more is planned.

The Australian Council for Educational Research has produced perhaps the most useful literature review of the Evaluation of OLPC programs globally.

Most of the evaluations to date have been of very small pilots, and given the short duration of these projects, it is difficult -- if not dangerous --  to try to extrapolate too much from the findings from such reports.  This is especially true given the 'hothouse flower' nature of most high profile ICT in education pilots in their initial stages, where enthusiasm and statements about expected future changes in behavior and perceptions substitute for a lack of rigorously gathered, useful hard data.

In Ethiopia, GTZ sponsored an evaluation of the OLPC pilot project, Low-cost devices in educational systems: The use of the "XO-Laptop" in the Ethiopian Educational System [pdf], and Eduvision has done similar work, OLPC Ethiopia Implementation Report, September - December 2007 [pdf].

The OLPC program is being closely evaluated in Nepal by Open Learning Exchange (OLE-Nepal), which posts preliminary findgs on its blog from time to time. 

A small pilot OLPC program in Russia has also been evaluated (see Evaluation report : Introduction of XO laptops for (visually impaired) school students in Pskov and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia).

Evaluation work has begun for the OLPC program in Oceania. The OLPC wiki is the best source of information about this, including two documents from the Solomon Islands (Terms of Reference - Evaluation of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Pilot Project and Measurable Objectives and evaluation framework - Solomon Islands example).

It is encouraging to see that serious attention is starting to be paid to some of the larger OLPC implementations. In Mongolia, the World Bank has proposed an evaluation framework for the Mongolia READ program, which includes a component that utilizes the OLPC.  It is from the large OLPC implementation in Uruguay that we can perhaps expect the best set of first results from a large-scale project.  Ceibal has partnered with IDRC to evaluate the OLPC initiative there and compare results with similar (non-OLPC) programs in three other countries. Uruguay's Universidad de la Republica produced a report of the first stages of the implemenation of the Ceibal project (see Proyecto Flor De Ceibo: Informe de lo Actuado (agosto - diciembre 2008)).  Most encouraging of all is that Inter-american Development Bank (IDB) is proposing a rigorous randomized evaluation of the OLPC project in Peru, the world's largest OLPC implementation to date.  Indeed, it is from the IDB that we can probably expect to learn the most about the demonstrated impact of the OLPC initiative, given the seriousness and analytical rigor that it is bringing to its work in this area.

(Inspiration for this posting came from a thread on the OLPCnews.com web site started by GeSCI's Roxana Bassi.) 

(photo at the top of this blog post used according to its Creative Commons license; photo courtesy of Daniel Drake via Flickr)


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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