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Leapfrogging or Headbutting. Which access strategy do emerging countries deserve?

With all the energy that many of us have focused on a child’s right to be able to reach their full potential through access to their own personal portable computer, our biggest challenge has surely been providing access to those in the most extreme learning environments.

These are the young people in extremely poor circumstances in developed countries and the vast numbers in emerging countries. Surely the most dramatic impact comes from those who are able to overcome those challenges in extreme environments, and the role of technology in addressing many of the Millennium goal challenges cannot be understated.

Certainly the precedent comes from the manner in which millions in developing countries have been able to leapfrog the communications barriers in their communities through the introduction of mobile phones. No longer do they have to replicate the pain, cost and time to construct telegraph poles and wires for the landlines that were so prominent in developed communities. Instead they have the opportunity to ‘catch up’ and in some cases, pass, (Kenya’s mobile phone reach a case in point) developed countries communications networks and dramatically improve their economic outcomes.

This leads us to look at the technology access strategies that are being promoted in the developing world. As readers would know only too well, AALF mission is focused on 1 to 1 access for ALL young people, as part of their right to an education that offers them the best chance to reach their potential, which in a modern world, means they are technology-enabled.

There is no doubt that OLPC have lead this mission proudly over the past 5 years, and initiatives like Intel’s Classmate and Millennium project have also made universal access a reality for millions of students across the developing world.

So it comes as somewhat of a shock to find that there are still significant initiatives being driven by a range of NGO’s, corporations and funding agencies for what is euphemistically called ‘increased access’ to computers for students in developing countries. I’m of course talking here of thin client labs, shared server programs and variations on Lab themes, which simply deny a child 24/7 access to their own personal portable computer.

Have the past 3 decades not taught us anything?

Do we really think that young people in developing countries must first go through the pain students in the developed world suffered through decades of shared lab access?

Did we really not learn anything from the years of research showing the limited educational outcomes from the billions that was spent on the ill-conceived SHARED access model of labs?

Do we so underrate those young people in challenged environments that we would rather have them head butt the possibilities that technology access can offer through the compromise strategy of shared labs, rather than leapfrog to greater education outcomes through personal 1 to 1 access?

Ah, but that’s just not possible, I hear those driving these legacy program advocates say. Well, tell that to the millions of young people in developing countries around the world whose educational opportunities have already been profoundly impacted through 1 to 1 universal access.

It IS now time we stopped hanging on to failed programs and legacy strategies that compromise the chances for these young people in the most extreme of circumstances.
Surely it is time we put all of our energy into expanding those universal access initiatives that have been proven to have a real impact on the lives of young people in all countries across the globe.

...As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.
May 29th, 2013 @ 2:10PM