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Re: Master thesis on OLPC

Hello Bao Long!

I will try and give you some information to start with.

We have not had much contact with the little OLPC project in Ha Long Bay that I started for follow-up information. Volunteers in Hanoi and HCMC worked to translate the help manual into Vietnamese and we provided contact information in Hanoi for assistance, but no one from the village got in touch with anybody. We did hear that the XOs were still working and being used, as recently as last summer, 2013, from Chinese visitors who saw them.

I believe that when we volunteers start a small project or try to do some good somewhere, it is important that the Project itself want to carry it forward and make it their own. We can assist, but they have to participate too. Sometimes when something is "free", people want the gift, but they are not ready to have it. I thank my friend Quynh for explaining this to me.:)

 With the VVV project, the lack of communication does not mean failure. I am certain that the children who have used the XOs have computer skills transferable to PCs and Macs, and that they will have better future opportunities because of it. Children in rural areas even today, in rice farming villages for ex. all over Cambodia, in rural areas in other parts of the world, stil have no access to computers or to learning digital skills. 5 years ago children in the towns and cities have Internet cafes and play games and know how to use computers. Today they have smartphones and tablets and computers. I like to say it this way. "the rural kids will be left behind, sweeping the floors."

Since bringing the XOs to the VVV village, I have volunteered mentoring OLPC projects across the globe. I journal my volunteer work in detail to share helpful information with others doing similar work, in a Travelpod Blog here:

There is a Table of Contents at the bottom of the page and also at the bottom beneath the thumbnails of each blog entry. I have written many many details in the blog & you will find lots of helpful info there.

The OLPC Association (the non profit corporation) only sells XOs in minimum quantities of 100 laptops or more. Their original business plan was to distribute many millions of XOs at a low price of $100 by selling to governments. OLPC was never interested in working with volunteers for small projects. And with some exceptions, success stories, e.g., Uruguay where every child in school has an XO (even today and even high school students), most governments could not buy them because they require bid processes for large purchases. There was no comparable netbook with a sunlight readable screen to bid against...and OLPC could not be the "low bidder against less rugged laptops that would not hold up for the purposes being bought.

Re: Questions # 1 & 4, each small project is generally different. In Vietnam we started with 13 XOs for 24 children 2 to 1, although the goal is 1 per child. The details of a very successful long running project in Reaksmy Cambodia are in my blog. Start here and then click backwards and forwards:

The most recent entry (last month) in the blog is about 3 new projects in Malaysia. One has 40 XOs 1 for each child, the other 2 are sharing 10 XOs where each child own an SD card that holds their work.

Check a successful project in Kenya here:
and another group working in Kenya here: http://www.smallsolutionsbigideas.org/

These two groups have been working independent of each other for 5 years. This year they came together in Nairobi for the first time for a teacher training and sharing of information. Kenya is taking off...they love the XO and think it is the best laptop for the rural children.

Re: question # 2: you ask  What are the main problems which you meet? (Lack of developers, materials(equipments): There are many problems:) Money (funding) is a big one but that's question # 3.  A big problem is cultural. In Vietnam & Cambodia and Jamaica and Haiti and Africa and China, and many places in the world, the teachers are the "expert deliverers of information" and the children listen and learn what they are taught. The XO laptops are designed to teach the children "how to learn things themselves" not just to memorize information. But teachers, especially 5 years ago when many in the developing world did not use computers very well themselves if at all,  were reluctant to teach the children if they were not expert and 1. did not know how to use the laptop and 2. did not know how to use it to deliver the required curriculum.  (For example, in Vietnam, a teacher might "lose face" to say I don't know the answer to a question asked by a student.  It is very hard to show the teachers how to say, "I don't know. Let's sit down and figure it out together." So some teachers are afraid to use the laptops. (Then many places would start a computer extr-curricular class outside school. ) But in some places, the adults were afraid that the computers would get stolen or broken and they would keep them locked up except when they were being used with adult supervision. Teacher training sessions are very important!

Yet the most successful XO stories happen when the children own their XO, take it home, and explore how to do things on their own. I think there is a time for each project to learn that they can trust the XOs not to break (or that they can learn to fix them if they break -that's learning too) and let the kids have the XOs.
A big problem is supply (and money). Getting many XOs to a site (more than a volunteer can carry in suitcases...means shipping and customs and duties and bribes. In early years that was a big problem. Not so hard today. And if there is money, equipment is not so hard.

The Sugar operating system has 100s of apps so developers is not a big problem. Except maybe a project (like mine in VN) needs to find developers to translate software into the home language. The XOs have wifi and a mesh intranet...and they dual boot into Gnome with everything that offers also. Two years ago, one of our Kenya volunteer colleagues converted 3000 Khan Academy videos into .ogv files which can play on a Mac/PC and XO without Internet. We have shared these in places all over the world to use with the XOs. But if English language is a problem then each respective place needs to find translators or dubbers to localize the videos to the desired language.

I like the Cambodia model (blog link above) where the children are learning in English as they learn English and computer skills and more...but of course that does not work where everyone even teachers are non English speakers.

Question #3 Money: Each project is different. Culturally, I have found that for success, in most locations teachers and staff need to be paid. Unlike a government or education ministry project, some projects are self sponsored like mine (and I don't have funds to continue it, or for ongoing expenses). Some projects are sponsored by NGOs that do fundraising to pay administrators, staff, even a living stipend to volunteers.  Almost every OLPC volunteer I have met during the last 6 years has paid their own expenses, or had an NGO helping them.

That limits what we can do of course. Money! Money solves a lot of problems.:)

I am sure you know about the OLPC Wiki. The search engine is a bit frustrating if you don't know your way around...but keep at it and you'll find all of the info you need there. Start here:

I may not be available for the next 2 or 3 weeks on email, but I think this information will keep you busy for a while. I hope it helps and wish you much luck on your thesis!

On Fri, May 2, 2014 at 5:24 AM, Ngo Vuong Bao Long <[email protected]> wrote:
Dear Mrs. Severs,


My name's Bao Long, I'm a student at the University of applied science in western switzerland. For my master thesis, I have to search some information about OLPC project and one part of my work consists in applications need in emerging countries.

I will be very happy if you could help me by answering these questions :


  1. With the on the spot children, what kind of application do you develop? (To teach to the children to read, to write or something else?)
  2. What are the main problems which you meet? (Lack of developers, materials(equipments)
  3. In spite of to be a non-profit project and people are volunteers, have you all the same financial helps?
  4. I saw that you have few devices, how do you make? The children come to the school and put themselves in several around a device?

Thank you in advance for your effort.

I'm looking forward for your answers.

Best regards.