chapter  7
20 Pages

‘One Laptop per Child’ – A Critical Analysis

The past six chapters have highlighted a wide range of interests and influences that underpin the worldwide implementation of educational technology. In particular, a picture has emerged of educational technology being shaped by an array of factors at international, national and local levels. Rather than being a globalised and determining force, any form of ‘educational technology’ is itself dependent upon a number of social, cultural, political and economic interests. Of course, this is not to deny that educational technologies are associated with some significant changes in education around the world. Yet anyone wishing to understand fully the nature and outcomes of educational technologies use has to look far beyond the technical specifications and features of specific devices and gadgets. As has been reiterated throughout this book, educational technology has to be described and discussed as a set of socio-technical arrangements. Focusing on the social aspects of educational technology inevitably raises ques-

tions of how, why and in whose interests these devices and artefacts are used. In this manner, we have seen so far how the use of digital technology in education – as with any aspect of society – is a profoundly political concern. The past six chapters have attempted to look beyond the harmonious portrayals of educational technology that can often be found in popular, political and academic discussions, and instead examine the areas of tension, contradiction and conflict that underlie any instance of digital technology use in education. As all our examples so far have demonstrated – from the most advanced Singaporean ‘Future School’ to the most basic Indian ‘Hole-in-the-wall’ – educational technology is perhaps best understood as an intense site of struggle. As we have seen over the past six chapters, these are struggles that take place across a number of fronts – from the allocation of resources

and production of knowledge, to the maximising of profit and political gain. As such, most of the questions that surround education and technology are the fundamental questions of education and society – i.e. questions of what education is, and questions of what education should be. At this stage of our discussion it should be now clear that digital technologies are drawn inexorably into the global, national and local politics of education – for better and for worse. In this penultimate chapter, our critical reading of educational technology is

advanced further through a detailed examination of what many people consider to be the most significant global educational technology programme of recent times. The ‘One Laptop Per Child’ initiative (OLPC) is one of the most ambitious, most publicised and most lauded educational technology initiatives of the past thirty years. This is a programme that claims to address many of the ICT4D issues outlined in Chapter 6, yet at its heart has a universal agenda of promoting ‘technology enhanced learning’ across low-income and high-income contexts. Indeed, throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s, the goal of building and supplying a lowcost laptop computer for children and young people around the world has become a touchstone for progressively-minded technologists and educationalists alike. Many people’s faith in OLPC as a transformatory example of educational technology persists to this day. The initiative therefore offers an excellent case study through which to refine many of the themes that have emerged so far from this book’s analysis. The remainder of this chapter now goes on to examine the case of the OLPC initiative in detail – making sense of the rhetoric and the reality of one of the defining global educational technology programmes of recent times.