The programme’s first two years went very well, with children’s computer literacy and understanding of issues such as climate change improving. She says unfortunately the scheme is expensive to run and the Education Department hasn’t got the budget to pay technicians to service the laptops.
“When the pilot ended and the school could not afford to pay for the high cost of maintaining the V-SAT that’s connected to the satellite for the internet access. So it’s just phased out.”
COMMENT: I have been unable to confirm any of these details, however as the Pacific rep for One Laptop per Child, it is distressing to read about a national program that "went very well" but is now unsustainable due reportedly to the cost of internet access.
First it means I failed to make people aware of the capacity and benefits of these technologies even when there is no internet access. It also means however that there is still 500 XOs in the tiny country and we could still make good use of the laptops we donated to Niue at the community level, even if the DoE is ending an ongoing program.
The second point raised in the article is the prohibitive cost of technicians to service the laptops. This may well be the case within Niue's budgeting priorities for education. However there is a very active developer network of volunteers on OLPC in the Pacific many of whom have already donated their services to help small island states like Niue. Indeed the initial deployment on Niue was assisted by volunteers from Australian and New Zealand. Such human resources are still available to Niue.
Finally, if this program really is being phased out because of the cost of internet access, then it raises an issue well beyond OLPC and goes to what do we really want for basic education in this "Pacific Century". Do we really want our schools to have internet access? If yes, are we prepared to pay for it and make it a priority? Or are the pricing regimes themselves unfair and inequitable? We understand there are excellent satellite broadband internet facilities on the island close to schools. It's unfortunate that a win-win arrangement could not be struck whereby access to such facilities could be shared to the lasting educational benefit of Niue's children.
I have never been to Niue but I have met some wonderful, dedicated educators from there at several Pacific conferences. They always expressed enthusiasm for technology in the classroom and indeed for the XO laptop as a device designed expressly for children. With 500 laptops still on the island, we have not given up on Niue. We are seeking a more detailed statement from Niue's education officials, and I will be especially interested to hear some experiences on the ground from the teachers and parents.
(Any further information we can get will be shared here on our blog)
- Michael Hutak, Regional Director, Oceania, One Laptop per Child Association