The sight that greets you as you walk through Kanombe airport’s Bourbon Café is one that is unexpected. What makes afternoons and evenings at the airport interesting is the fact that the coffee shop has become a one stop internet hot spot for both children and adults alike.
With their little green and white laptops, children clad in uniforms, are busy typing and concentrating at what the World Wide Web has to offer.
The availability of a wireless network at the airport and other hot spots within the city has made the inquisitive young kids converge to surf, and now that they are more less addicted, a day hardly goes by without them browsing the net.
However, this comes at a cost of Rwf 1000 per hour at Bourbon Café. For the green and white laptop children, parents cater for their expenses or they will have to save from their daily food allowance in order to surf the net during after-school hours. It is only within schools boundaries that wireless internet is readily available.
Last year in October, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was launched in Rwanda. According to Theoneste Mutindashyaka, the State Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, 5,000 laptops were given to primary school children.
And, an additional 10,000 are now owned by children from the districts of Rwamagana, Gasabo, Rusizi, Nyarugenge and Kicukiro. The target is to have up to 2 million primary school children own the laptops by the end of the year.
As Rwanda’s advances towards prosperity by the year 2020, integrating this technology among children does not come lightly.
The cabinet constantly sets in place development strategies and policies that will see Rwanda’s economy transform from an agro based one to a knowledge based one.
The children have then become the best natural resource that the country can have. This was the dream that Professor Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman and brainchild of OLPC had when he launched this project.
He wanted to provide each child in the developing world with a low-cost laptop as a way of encouraging self-empowered learning.
Currently over one million laptops have been distributed in Uraguay, Haiti and Rwanda. These three countries are now the world’s nucleus of all OLPC activities, with Rwanda standing as the training base.
During the launch, Negroponte put emphasis on the fact that the laptop is “about the children.”
He called for people not to think of the laptop project as, “just another incremental change in education but as a fundamental transformation in society.”A transformation, he said that cannot be ignored since it has an impact the quality of life and economy of Rwanda.
Putting into account Rwanda’s plans for a brighter future that is developed through a strong and skilled workforce that can well exploit available ICT, Science and Technology resources, then a knowledge based economy is just on track.
The strategy for Rwanda has been to equip its most important natural resource- the children. These by 2020 will be the strong and skilled young adult workforce of Rwanda who will be pushing forward the country’s plans and goals for development and prosperity.
Intellectual and practical investment in human capital is the route Rwanda is taking to impact the lives of its people who will in turn impact the wider region.
Targeting both rural and urban Rwanda equally, Dr. David Cavallo, the Vice President of Learning, OPLC, noted the necessity of establishing a culture of integrating and cycling laptops to the community.
“Children know what to do with technology. If they have access, then a technology culture of people who can impact the community will develop,” Cavallo said.
Since different cultures worldwide connect through internet, Rwanda’s children have for the last eight months been learning new skills in mathematics, languages, animation, drawing, photography, music and games which have developed critical thinking. All made easier by the availability of the laptops.
For Bonheur Nsabamungu, a 14 year old primary six student of Rwamagana B Primary School, the laptop is his answer to improving his speaking, writing and language skills.
“I like to write people’s stories with my computer; I can draw tables, pictures and take photos which I can edit using the scratch-program.”
Nsabamungu says, just like many other children, he enjoys browsing the web, sending emails to friends and does a lot of research for his school work.
As much as internet is a great facilitation to learning, its unlimited accessibility gets problematic when children browse through websites that are X-rated. This has exposed them to pornography at their tender ages.
“There are some children at our school who know how to go to these sites and start teaching innocent ones who know nothing,” Nsabamungu says.
“ Its the biggest disadvantage of the laptops.”
Narcisse Musabeyezu, Rwanda’s Inspector of Schools, said that as much as the laptop is a great tool that is improving the learning skills of Rwanda’s education system, its limitless internet access is a major setback. And, this is where the role of parents and teachers comes in.
“It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to monitor what their children are doing with their laptops while at home and school respectively,” Musabeyezu said.
“Through teaching and instilling good morals, children will become responsible for what they do with their laptops.”
With this great innovative stride in Rwanda’s development, the OLPC strategy despite its critics is an important step that Rwanda has taken towards building a new generation of young minds who will pursue the country’s developmental and prosperity plans and create a knowledge base for generations to come.