Alanna Shaikh, who must be blogging with fingers and toes on four different computers, has written a short obituary on the One Laptop Per Child programme, perhaps one of the most absurd development ventures in recent history. Is that being a bit harsh? I don’t think so.Ā OLPC’s mission of providing children with laptops when they are lacking basic materials and teachers is purely idiotic techno-dogma.
We need to be very careful when we try to leapfrog over skill sets Ā that take time to develop. I’ll give a anecdotal example: when I worked in the budget office at the Malawian Ministry of Finance, we tried tried to install, configure and operate an integrated, networked and very, very complicated financial management system. Due to support problems, staff conflicts and coordination problems, by the time I left two years later the system still hadn’t been fully adopted.
All of this was being eagerly supported by the donor community, despite the fact that many in the budget office still hadn’t properly mastered Excel, nor were we able to produce accurate reliable numbers that tallied correctly! What we needed was to improve our basic accounting skills, but instead were asked to adopt a system more advanced than most used by developed countries!
There’s plenty of room for technological innovation to help the developing world catch up, but the value of those innovations should be self-evidence in the markets that are generated for them, not in the public attention gathered by the computer geeks and technophiles who haven’t spent enough time out of the lab.
Update: Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC, responds to Alanna.