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OLPC, IDB to launch pilot project in Haiti

By Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service
February 15, 2008 12:40 AM ET

IDG News Service - The One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) has teamed up with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to launch a pilot project in Haiti, the first time the group will be able to comprehensively evaluate the idea of giving laptops directly to students as a learning tool.

OLPC, which makes the $188 XO laptop aimed at kids in developing nations, will contribute $2 million to the project, while IDB will provide a $3 million grant. The project aims to distribute XO laptops to 13,200 students and 500 teachers in 60 Haitian primary schools, the groups said in a statement.

The organizations are financing the project to test whether the use of laptops in schools on a one-to-one basis can improve teaching and learning in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.

"We have studies about the impact of computer labs and shared computers in the classroom, but there's never been a comprehensive evaluation of the learning model based on giving each child a laptop," said Emma Näslund-Hadley, the IDB's project team leader. "This is crucial to determine the effectiveness of this model under conditions of extreme poverty and as a tool for accelerating learning."

One aim of the project is to determine how the laptops can be used to help solve problems such as a shortage of qualified teachers, as well as educating children of different ages and grades in the same classroom. The Haitian government hopes the laptops can help speed up the learning process for students who enter school late or have to repeat grades, according to the release.

Teachers and students will be trained how to use the laptops and carry out basic maintenance and trouble shooting. Some students will receive vocational training to handle more complex laptop repairs.

The project will be evaluated by UNESCO's Regional Office on Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, which will conduct standardized math and language tests before and after the pilot project to determine performance improvements. Observers will also gauge whether the laptops affect attitudes and behaviors regarding school management, the value families place on education, the use of laptops at home, and the perceived educational progress of the students.

The OLPC project started as an attempt to build a $100 laptop and work with governments to pass them out to kids in poor nations, but the XO, will likely end up costing nearly double that amount at first. The organizers of the effort, led by academics and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), hope high-volume sales of the device will drive down costs.

The goal of OLPC is to make sure nobody misses out on the benefits of computing. The fear is that the price of a PC is keeping too many people in developing countries from learning how software, the Internet and communications via computing can improve their economies, job prospects and lives, or that poor countries will fall further behind the modern world due to their inability to access computers.

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