OLPCs: if you were leader of a 3rd world country, would you buy them?

Note: This post might be a little dated. It was published in December 2007.

Imagine you are the benevolent leader of a small fictional country somewhere in the third world. Your resources are limited. While your country isn’t as poor as some other third world countries, many of your citizens can’t read or write, and some live in complete poverty. Much of the population lives in slums, and people are currently migrating in droves from rural areas to the city. Your country and the world around it is changing.

Since you are a nice leader and you care for your people, you want to start increasing your yearly spend on education (as well as healthcare and housing). Last month some Westerners in shiny suits came to visit and tried to talk you into buying OLPCs. Everyone else in your position seems to be buying them.

It seems like a good idea, but on the other hand, you can’t really afford them. Buying them would involve cutting back on other things. It’s a substantial decision. You firmly believe that computers and internet are the future, but are they the right thing for you to buy right now, with what little money you have?

And you suspect that the men in shiny suits don’t really know how things will pan out for the children of your country. You’re worried the OLPC might be a white elephant. It almost feels like a big experiment carried out by the west, but funded by you.

What do you do?

  1. Blow your cash on a lot of OLPCs. Trust that teacher training and infrastructure will emerge organically, as a result of being ‘connected’.
  2. Don’t buy any OLPCs yet. Instead spend the money on old-fashioned, unsexy stuff like teacher training, books, school buildings and blackboards. Then, watch what happens in other countries like yours that have adopted the OLPC. Perhaps in the mean time some alternatives will appear on the market.
  3. or… something else? Your suggestions please!

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