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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

OLPC divides Nigerian IT experts

Nigerian Information Technology (IT) professionals are divided over the recent plan by the federal government to dump the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.

Champion Infotel recalls that federal government through the Minister of Education, Dr. Igwe Aja Nwachukwu expressed displeasure over the manner through which the project was being managed.

OLPC, a non-governmental organisation, was founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor emeritus, Dr. Nicholas Negroponte, with a declared mission of making laptops available to children all over the world especially in developing countries.

Nigeria bought into the concept after its official global launch at the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunisia in 2005, following which Negroponte had anticipated populated countries like Nigeria and India, should be encouraged to be part of the first roll out of the OLPC.

Reports have it that Dr. Nwachukwu despite recognising the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) did not hide his observation, declaring that the Nigerian nation cannot accept its primary and secondary schools to become dumping grounds for all forms of computer ‘toys’ in the name of one computer per Nigerian child.

Intel Corporation, proprietors of Classmate PC with XO recently partnered with OLPC under unclear terms, which stakeholders suspected to be in contrast to each other.

Noteworthy is that OLPC was initially slated to be sold at $100 per PC (about N13,500) but has since escalated to about N20,000 lately due to cost of production.

Despite the division, some IT professionals expressed optimism that by taking second look at the project, it would work as originally designed, while others caled for alternative by way of encouraging local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), such as Zinox, Omatek among others.

Reacting to the development, Nigerian IT experts were sharply divided over the minister’s disposition and whether or not the decision was hasty and retrogressive for the penetration of computer education among Nigerian children of school age.

An Abuja-based IT professional, Idara Akpan, described the original $100 project as a good idea, stressing that the difference between OLPC and XO is that while OLPC is humanitarian the other is commercially inclined.

According to him, Linux solution, apparently a Free and Open Source tool, is generally not paid for and therefore to some extent is non-commercial, but could coexist with the likes of Microsoft Windows, an opposite that attracts payment, thus commercial.

He emphasised that the real issue is not the source but the use that is made of these PCs eventually.

“Whether it’s commercial or humanitarian, whether it’s the OLPC or the XO, the real issue is the use of the PCs,” he declared, adding that mere purchasing of technology does not impart its supposed values.

“It does not mean progress, and it will never ever mean,” he insisted.

Akpan further informed that a government school in Maitama area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had three Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) equipment donated recently in addition to one radio for Internet access connection.

“Only two of those VSATs are functional. The school also has one computer lab, equally donated by Zenith Bank Plc and Direclearn. Till date there is no integration of IT into the training process of the school other than the use of those PCs for word processing, game playing by the students, and the occasional computer lessons.”

Also commenting, Executive Director, Fantsuam Foundation, Dr. John Dada, said that OLPC presents opportunities, which should be explored.

“Outright rejection is throwing out the baby with the bath water,” he warned, asserting that at Fantsuam, they could team up with the OLPC to make this device work for Nigerian children and adults in terms of technology transfer, challenge of content creation and job creation to name a few.

Dr. Dada, therefore, canvassed for re-examination of the marketing strategy of OLPC in the country.

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