In the past few years, Rwanda has focused on establishing itself in the Information and Communication Technology sector and pushed for an efficient and more technologically sound population.
These endeavors can be greatly attributed to the efforts of President Kagame and his emphasis on ICT both in Rwanda’s economy and educational institutions.
Even the recent switch from French to English in all schools shows Rwanda’s commitment to a generation that is better equipped to develop the country into a knowledge-based, technological hub for both the East African community, and the entire continent.
One interesting initiative the government has partnered with is that of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). OLPC is an organization that tries to provide educational opportunities for children living in poverty, by dispersing low-cost laptops equipped with specialized content and software.
The organization provides these computers to students to both supplement their education and empower individual learning. One of the key philosophies that the organization subscribes is an emersion in the technology through a strict one-to-one ratio.
The organization has successfully established this goal in countries like Uruguay, where they have one OLPC laptop for almost every student between the ages of six and twelve, a most impressive accomplishment.
This year also sparked the beginning of OLPC’s Africa Project, an initiative started to engage University students in educational projects all over Africa.
These projects were supported by 100 OLPC laptops for individual project proposals that were selected by the organization, and were deployed under the same philosophy of emersion and ownership.
Fifteen teams were selected, with teams working in both rural and urban environments, and working with a varying amount of students.
Although the overall goal of OLPC is indeed admirable, one has to question if these projects, with a very limited amount of computers and what seems like an overflow of children, are really benefiting the most children possible.
As it is unlikely that anyone would argue that a child owning his or her own laptop is less effective than a limited amount of exposure, it is also difficult to determine which students deserve to be apart of this program and which do not.
After all, even though OLPC preaches the one-to-one philosophy, it does not mean they have the resources to establish that kind of ratio in every environment they work.
In this situation, the philosophy appears to be a bit damaging to the number of students that are positively impacted by having the opportunity to use these computers.
Ultimately, the strict policy of one laptop per one child causes a situation in which OLPC volunteers must choose a small portion of students to receive the immeasurable gift of their own laptop, while the rest of the students are left behind.
This is not to say that helping those lucky students is a bad thing overall, but rather, it is not the wisest use of resources.
At the end of the day, OLPC is a development organization.
They are working to develop children, while empowering them to become their own agents of learning and creativity. But the ambition and overall convention of all development initiatives is to benefit the most with the least amount of resources.
Whether this logic fits into their agenda is irrelevant. OLPC should adopt a more flexible strategy in their projects so that more students have the opportunity to learn.
Creating projects that utilize school or community computer labs or dispersing computers to institutions that can organize rotation schedules for more students is the best way to enact the greatest positive change in the communities they work.
If the organization is unwilling to change their philosophy, then perhaps focusing more resources on smaller areas is the only other alternative.
This might greatly decrease the aesthetic novelty of working in so many different countries, but it would match their way of doing things to the capacity they have as an organization. Instead of dispersing 100 laptops to 15 different countries, focus on one or two areas and donate 1500.
This damaging practice of choosing deserving students out a sea of deserving students is a flawed practice and one that works more for a certain way of thinking than it does for the people OLPC intends to help.
Dustin is an American student from Florida State University that has worked on development projects all over Rwanda. He was a project manager with the Global Peace Exchange a student-run NGO, and co-founder of the Monsignor William A.
Kerr English Language Resource Center at the Catholic University of Kabgayi (UCK) in Gitarama.