Regardless of its immense contribution to promoting the use of information and communication technology in education and improving critical thinking in young learners, the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) programme has for long been stained by issues of poor management, the Auditor-General’s office says.
Appearing before parliamentary Public Accounts Committee(PAC), yesterday, the Minister for Education, Prof. Silas Lwakabamba, said the ministry was proposing new suitable measures to close gaps in OLPC programme as well as ensuring that it serves a bigger role than it is doing now.
Lwakabamba told the legislators that introducing the new ‘two smart classrooms concept’ per school (currently under ministerial study) will present many benefits.
Citing the benefits, the minister said it trascends the realm of promoting critical thinking, problem solving, collaborative working, peer-to-peer learning and use of ICT in education, but the concept enrollment will reach a bigger platform in the shortest time possible.
“This is because it is affordable compared to One Laptop per Child, it is easy to manage and we think it can reach each child very fast through classroom setup,” he said.
“The smart classroom concept is something we have agreed at the ministry level, including other stakeholders; we wait to see if it will be approved by the government so that we see how to implement it,” Lwakabamba added.
Issues in OLPC programme
According to the Auditor General’s report that covered the year ending July 2014, on the implementation of One Laptop per Child programme in schools, there were operational challenges which were feared to limit the programme from achieving its intended objectives.
The report indicated that, out of 2,334 schools targeted by the programme for distribution by 2017, only 407 schools had received laptops by April 2014 and there was no clear roll out plan covering the remaining schools.
“There was no integration plan showing how the One Laptop programme will be integrated with the primary schools curriculum in Rwanda and no assessment criteria for children under the One Laptop programme,” the report said.
Site visits made to different schools across the country revealed that a number of laptops had gone missing (528 laptops were missing in 35 of 67 schools visited).
“In most schools, laptops are still kept in boxes and store rooms and have not been put to use, while 42 out of 67 schools visited had laptops in boxes),” the report noted.
The laptops are not yet loaded with e-Learning modules and many schools use few of them for ICT lessons. Many schools do not have teaching of ICT or use of laptops on their school timetables. This has limited pupils’ use of the laptops as a tool for learning.
The report further says that 4,730 laptops were distributed to 13 schools which had no access to electricity between 2010 and 2013.
The laptops stayed unutilised for between one and four years and were only re-distributed to other schools in March 2014.
The frequent changes in technology may adversely impact the ability to use the laptops that remain unutilised for years.
The AG also faulted Rwanda Education Board for not tracking the pupil enrollment in schools regularly to facilitate matching of laptops distributed to pupil enrollment per year.
This, at some point, led to cases of schools with high number of excess laptops and others with fewer laptops due to the changing number of pupils enrolling per year.
The AG recommended that, with the high investment so far made in the One Laptop per Child Programme, the government needed to put in place a clear strategy to guide implementation of the programme and facilitate realisation of intended objectives.
Over 3,000,000 students in the education system are supposed to benefit from the One Laptop per Child programme; however only about 200,000 laptops have been distributed in over 400 schools.
To make the devices available on the market at low prices to serve both students and teachers, the government has decided to partner with Postivo-BGH to assemble electronic devices in Rwanda, including desktops, laptops and tablets.
The company has already started building a factory to produce the computers with start of production expected mid 2015.
Lwakabamba, however, noted that the ‘smart classroom’ project would be introduced in every school to independently facilitate the full introduction of laptops on timetables.
“Through smart classroom, we would slowly ensure that every student knows how to use the laptops and then distribute them with time,” he said.
Nkubito Bakuramutsa, ICT advisor at the Ministry of Education, said: “The smart classrooms would easily reach all Rwandan students as fast as possible. It is a better programme.”