Archive | April, 2009

One Laptop per Child – one big waste of time?

29 Apr

one laptop per child cartoonThe One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative was geared at children in “developing countries” when it was introduced in 2005 as the $100 Laptop. Its key design features were that it required little power and was enclosed to prevent water, sand or dirt damage also giving it a toy-like feel so not to appear too intimidating to a child who has never come across a computer before.

It has made us question what place technology has in global development efforts. Four years on, environmental historian Benjamin Cohen points out some of the ‘snags’ of the $100 laptop, which include:

  • Issues with actual cost (the $100 laptop is no longer called that, because it costs $200?)
  • Political and governmental resistance from countries to whom OLPC seeks to send the laptops. (In two cases, Nigeria and Brazil had been seeking local laptops, not imported, but other countries have presented other kinds of resistance.)
  • Businesses, such as Intel, who would like to make their own inexpensive laptop (the Intel classmate)
  • Grumblings from consumers of wealthy nations (“we want a cheap laptop too!”)
  • Education (what value are laptops when you don’t have pencils? or a teacher?)
  • Countries who have ordered in volume have experienced some measure of delays getting the devices.


See Cohen’s follow-up here.

But India placed an order this week for 250,000 of the OLPC machines for distribution to around 1,500 schools – a U-turn decision after the Indian government publicly rejected it OLPC as “paedagogically suspect” back in 2006, when the Education Secretary, Sudeep Banerjee, wrote:

“We cannot visualize a situation for decades when we can go beyond the pilot stage. We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools.”

Is this a move that reinforces the notion that India is at the forefront of the globalisation process? Either way it will give the boost that OLPC needs, who has lost key members through resignation and been forced to cut staff.


Twitter and malaria bednets

20 Apr

The online world is fast becoming a platform for cyber activism – but can you make a difference in just 140 characters?

My last post looked at NGOs using Twitter. During the last week, the social networking site became the latest tool to raise awareness for malaria, when American actor, Ashton Kutcher, challenged the CNN network to a race to be the first to get a million followers, where the winner would donate mosquito bednets in awareness of the near approaching World Malaria Day on 25th April.

Kutcher had been posting about malaria on his Twitter feed in the run up to the race which he narrowly won.

“I just think its amazing that 1 voice can now be as powerful at an entire media network. thank you twitter!” (7:06 PM Apr 13th from web)

But this is the guy also Tweets about his wife’s behind.

The point Kutcher was trying to make, was that the power of social networking like Twitter can potentially make you as influencial as an entire media network…if you’re a high profile celebrity that is.

What was actually achieved? It wasn’t each follower that paid for the bednets, and how many of his followers actually clicked on any of the preachy malaria website links he Tweeted?

The Malaria Policy Centre thanked his efforts, but one blogger accused Kutcher for using Twitter to massage his ego.

“What you did succeed in doing is placing the focus on the wrong aspect of Twitter. Now every celeb would think ‘hey I’m more popular than Ashton, I could totally go beyond 1M.’ You’ll be lying if you say you’ll be reading each and every post from your 1M followers — just not physically possible.

Twitter’s value to me has always been the information shared from each contact. What you did succeed in doing is putting old media Hollywood thinking into Twitter, ie the bigger the audience you have, the better.”

Sure, social networking is an important media tool for development that cannot be ignored  – but through the front of  a celebrity it makes it very difficult to measure its realistic impact.

What are NGOs tweeting on about?

17 Apr

Micro-blogging and development…

Oxfam using TwitterWe have seen the great potential of real-time micro-blogging – for example a student journalist who used the platform to get out of prison.

But now even NGOs and charities have flown into the ‘tweeting’ nest in a bid to share videos, stories and blogs – and as a way to keep their supporters up to date on the development work they do.

Some people are still wary and critical of this method of communication, with fears that it will totally replace a more conventional method of reporting.

‘Bits of tiny shorthand’

Anna Kramer of Oxfam America says:

And as a nonprofit communicator, I fear that Twitter undermines everything I try to do: Use words. Tell stories. Talk about people… I imagine Oxfam writers coming back from the field in the not too distant future.

To get the word out, we’d tweet about our experiences, crafting bits of tiny shorthand to share with followers. They’d then re-tweet, passing things on, sure, but not really connecting anyone to the heart of our story–the people and organizations we work with on the ground. With space for only 140 characters, I wonder: Where do those voices fit in?


I understand Kramer’s point. Twitter produces media that is devoid of the ‘human face’ factor and you cannot simplify a humantiarian crisis in 140-characters. But it does give NGOs a human voice that followers can engage and interact with – not forgetting applications like twitpic that can accompany tweets.

It can get over-personal however, as the tweeter’s personal views cannot cloud the NGO’s micro-blogging goal. It also gives them the real-time opportunity to be more transparent in the work they do. What they must not do is use it as a platform to advertise themselves per se.

New audience

Twitter gets the information across without emphasising the element of poverty voyeurism to which people have grown so accustomed, and gradually becoming immune.

NGOs can also open up to audiences always on the move whose concentration spans can only cope with 140-characters and it can help with the branding of an NGO who needs to get a real feel for their audience and who is missing from it. People choose to follow you on Twitter so it’s also not so passive.

If NGOs use the right techniques they can effectively utilise this cost-effective media tool to expand their donor base and maintain awareness over a longer period of time than you would get with a 2-minute television ad. And then there are celebrities, with whom Twitter is a big hit – if you get them retweeting your updates, you have the potential of a massive audience.

Take a look for yourself at at how these organisations are using Twitter:

You can also read an interesting report on global activism and new media here.

Sex education software in Nigeria

4 Apr

Learning About Living (LAL) is a new media project in Nigerian schools helping young people to combat ignorance on issues around sexual health, HIV and AIDS, maternal morbidity and gender violence, based on the Nigerian Family Life and HIV/AIDS Education (FLHE) curriculum. It has been running for over two years now.

Funding for the Learning about Living pilot is mainly from the West: Oxfam Novib, Netherlands, MacArthur Foundation USA, Butterfly Works and Finalist IT Group, Netherlands so there is likely to be an element of Western influence over the content of the software (which is made to be compatible with Intel classmate laptops and also the One Laptop per Child device.

The idea behind it is that young characters on the computer screen become the ‘peer educators’ in classrooms that you then discuss in class exercises. 

Sensitive topics

One of the main reasons such a learning tool is needed in Nigerian schools is because young people and parents find it difficult to talk about sexual topics openly in Nigerian culture. This could potentially lead to generations of miseducation regarding sexually transmitted infections.

Professor Bene Madunago of the Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) which is also in collaboration with LAL said that even teachers themselves were not comfortable with talking about subjects such as HIV/AIDs.

The programme follows Nigerian culture and it initiates discussions about sex, but it is important that it only accompanies teaching rather than replaces it, as not talking about sexual relationships face-to-face may become the norm and could be a dangerous thing if health education on sensitive subjects was solely dependent on computers that replace human contact.


It is a largely decontralised approach that can seem less orderly to an authoritarian-style teacher for example. so they have to adapt as well as the students.

LAL explores myths

The problem with these programmes is that student assessment and feedback can be fairly limited and bandwidth limitations mean you cannot necessarily develop them any further.

Apart from a short quiz after every section of information, there is not actually a way of monitoring whether students are taking any of the information in.

I went through one of the lessons online on HIV and AIDs. In effect it did feel like I was reading a health leaflet but with some colourful images accompanied, but information was very simple and clear. It also promotes abstinence which can be dangerous if ‘fidelity’ is the only thing you’re relying on for STI prevention, however it does offer advice for young people who don’t choose abstinence.

The interactive test is interesting as it explores the myths surrounding HIV as well as the facts – have a go here.

On the whole it also allows teenagers to ask questions online, discretly which they would never have done out loud in the classroom. The online service has had a good response indicating the need for it. Perhaps there is a need for more consultation with young people and parents to establish their information needs.