Too much "sugar" and too little "coffee": The real risks of failure for the OLPC project

info at info at
Thu May 1 14:40:39 EDT 2008

    XOs are deployed (by Governments) without following the original

This means big risk of failure for the educational project. IF in the 
next 3 years there is no Sugar, and there is no OLPC, the whole 
educative project can survive... wounded... but it will survive. The 
ideas (principles) are set up and they can be developed with other tools 
(Windows?) or by other organization (many). IF the original educative 
principles are not followed then there is no possible solution: with or 
without XOs, with or without OLPC, with or without Sugar/Linux, the 
educative project will be deeply sick and it will be a failure or just a 
"political" thing that will not have real impact in the global 
population of poor children.

These are the big risks than can be seen in today's scenery:

a) Too focused training (exclusive?) in Sugar/Linux. Teachers and 
children will not be prepared to deal with the more than possible 
XO/Windows computers.

b) Theres is risk that the "self repairing" idea for the XOs can be 
lost. Repairing and giving service and training to 250,000 computers (in 
Peru) is a BIG business that will be desired by many top companies 
(related to bids and government relationships... it happens in all times 
and all around the world, isn't it?). This companies and "money driven" 
individuals will put its own economies and business needs (and thoughts) 
over children and teachers shoulders. Furthermore, IF the computer 
belongs to the children and NOT to the school... what money have this 
children to send HIS/HER computer for repairing to one of these 
companies? Self repairing will be forgotten, hidden, not promoted, and 
soon the big business will show up.

c) The promises for self generated energy are not available yet. This is 
a big risk of failure because the government (in a logical and 
understandable movement) will send the XOs to villages that have 
electricity from the traditional wall system. This will leave thousands 
of children in small villages without any possibility to reach one XO. 
For Peru: Solar energy is not the answer (we have 100% clouds in most of 
the Andes by 4 to 5 months by year), according to manufacturers of solar 
panels in those conditions you will get from 5% to 20% (at most) of the 
total energy that the solar panel can produce.

d) We, all, are preaching to the chorus. We are not reaching the poorest 
children: we are letting government to send the XOs to cities and 
villages were there is full electricity, VSATS, and other kinds of 
previous development. We are doing "what can be done". That is not good 
enough. Too much "Sugar" and too little "Cafe" (coffee = energy!). That 
can be the "motto" for energy search & find mission.

e) In Peru there is an old project named "Huascaran" (Internet and 
computers for the rural areas). It involves huge resources from the 
government. It doesn't make logic that the XOs and OLPC becomes part of 
the old "Huascaran" project. That will put oil in and old motor, that 
will help for the survival and renewal of "Huascaran" project (named 
differently in these days). But this is, again, preaching to the chorus. 
The villages that have a VSAT or that can be "inside" the government 
budget to get a VSAT are not the villages that are in deep need of OLPC 
help. We keep preaching to the chorus: those children look poor, they 
are poor. But that is for "U.S." standards. For local standards we have 
deeper and more humiliating poverty that need us more: no light, no 
internet, 1 day traveling in a 4 x 4 car, kids walk 2 hours to reach the 
school, 50% of the born kids doesn't reach the 12 years old tag, 50% of 
kids have anemia, total annual family income: FIVE hundred dollars 
(annual). 80,000 villages are like this, with 5 million people there.

f) There are some voices that point out that the XOs will not be 
property of the children. We should explain the necessity of this to the 
responsible people. Any other explanation is just "hot air", most of the 
time we will hear voices related to the power and selfish related to the 
right to "administer" a pool of 50 or 70 computers (XOs) in this or 
other town... or 200 or 300 XOs in this or that area (I will not get 
surprise to find that some "clever" people get extra money in their 
monthly salary according to how many computers (XOs) get under his/her 

g) The lack of content: many of the contents that I have seen (from 
Peru) are not of real and good value. The fact that the information that 
will be put at the reach of the children is the SAME that was available 
for the old "Huascaran" project lead us to think that "something is 
rotten in the state of Denmark". The fact that in that group of 
literature there are more than 30 manuscripts by an obscure author tell 
us that this is not all the info that we need to provide to the isolated 

h) There is no guarantee that the XOs will be a world wide communication 
tool. If the XOs are useful JUST for communication between 50 kids then 
we will get the best that 50 poor isolated children can develop with 
their knowledge and experience. The lack of collaboration between 
schools is just the tip of the iceberg, it was recently reported that 
this "lack of communication" is due to "economic reasons" in the 
networking structure develop by the Peruvian Ministry of Education (my 
country! my authorities! my responsibility too...). If the XOs are not 
connected and collaboration is not develop at its full reach then we are 
letting behind all the knowledge and previous experience that the whole 
human race has develop by centuries. Words too big? No way.

Finally... Education doesn't guarantee nothing. Worse case (or better 
case?) sometimes education means revolution (sometimes pacific... 
sometimes... not so pacific... like the French revolution...)... but in 
one way or another we need to give education. If not we will be like 
that French King that didn't want to publish the 28 volumes of Diderot's 
"Encyclopedia" (published from 1751 to 1771.. ten years before the 
French Revolution (1789))... That king (Luis XVI) said: "Those two men 
(Voltaire and Rousseau)have destroyed France" (meaning him). And 
Voltaire said: "books rule the world, or at least those nations which 
have a written language..." 
The king said ... "who will cultivate our fields if the peasants get 
educated?" and he was not without reason: in the next years many farmers 
came to the city... and a revolution was born (Just for the record: I 
prefer evolution over revolution).

If we don't have Linux/Sugar we are wounded. But we will survive. All 
these other factors are the ones that have the real potential to kill 
the educative project and transform it in a political/economical 
movement without real big importance in the education of poor children.

We live in "an unweeded garden" (Hamlet). Too much "Sugar" and too 
little "Coffe" (my words).

Javier Rodriguez
May 01 2:34 PM
Lima, Peru

(I have published this in: 

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