Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Inside view of OLPC, continued

Some time back Ivan Krstić had a posting (that I linked to then) about how Nicholas Negroponte doesn't speak for the One-Laptop-Per-Child project. Now he has a new post on the subject. In his words, he's moved "from displeased to angry." To find out why, go and read it.

Many were skeptical from the outset that (a) giving schoolkids a laptop was a good idea in the first place, (b) spending $100 per child on a laptop was a better use of the money than anything else, (c) the logistics were feasible. Now it turns out (according to Krstić) that none of these worries were at all relevant in Negroponte's mind.


In fact, I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out there; to say anything about learning would be presumptuous, and so he doesn't want OLPC to have a software team, a hardware team, or a deployment team going forward.

Yeah, I'm not sure what that leaves either....

Other than the incredible Carla Gomez-Monroy who worked on setting up the pilots, there was no one hired to work on deployment while I was at OLPC, with Uruguay's and Peru's combined 360,000 laptop rollout in progress. I was parachuted in as the sole OLPC person to deal with Uruguay, and sent to Peru at the last minute. And I'm really good at thinking on my feet, but what the shit do I know about deployment? Right around that time, Walter was demoted and theoretically made the "director of deployment," a position where he directed his expansive team of — himself. Then he left, and get this: now the company has half a million laptops in the wild, with no one even pretending to be officially in charge of deployment. "I quit," Walter told me on the phone after leaving, "because I can't continue to work on a lie."...

That OLPC was never serious about solving deployment, and that it seems to no longer be interested in even trying, is criminal. Left uncorrected, it will turn the project into a historical fuckup unparalleled in scale.

As for the last key problem, transforming laptops into learning is a non-trivial leap of logic, and one that remains inadequately explained....

A lot of the criticism that Negroponte has been getting recently has been over his abandoning the Linux/Sugar interface for a Windows XP interface, but, according to Krstić, that's the least of the issues. (It is an issue for him, but not for ideological reasons.) Far more important is that the OLPC project does not seem to be about education.

What is it about then? Another ego trip for Negroponte? As Krstić notes, Negroponte's previous projects have crashed and burned, as have previous efforts at laptop-based education. Yet he successfully sold the OLPC idea around the world, with essentially no justification or evidence that it would work. How did the world media, and several governments, get suckered into this giant con-job? Is everyone so much in awe of MIT that their critical faculties take a vacation?

Thank you, Government of India, for saying no early in the game.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What do you say of this latest article in IHT?


N. R. Sudheer