Today, I visited two schools in Abuja, Nigeria, both of which were pilot schools for the new low cost laptops targeted at schools in the third world. One Laptop per Child started in Galadima Junior school, in Abuja Model Village, and Intel launched ‘One laptop per teacher and child’ at Jabi Junior Secondary school, in Jabi district, Abuja.
I am also involved with computers in schools in South Africa, and I was interested to visit both these pioneering schools while I am on business in Nigeria. There has been quite a bit of press about the rivalry between the two platforms, with Negroponte furious that Intel left the OLPC board to start its own venture. The nuts and bolts of the differences appear to be that Negroponte is taking the High road, with altruism, opensource software, and buy one for yourself/get one for a third world child, while Intel has a business model that says Intel not AMD, Microsoft not Linux, and devil take the hindermost.
Taxis are cheap here. Petrol costs about 70 US cents per litre - taxis cruise for business. I found Galadima school in Abuja Model Village in the north of Abuja - in an area historically belonging to the Gbagyi tribe. The senior teacher showed me around the current location - now a lot larger than the original building where OLPC started in March 2007. The previous Education minister had signed off an ambitious program to provide every Nigerian schoolchild with such a laptop. Unfortunately, the April election brought in another minister, who shelved it.
Now the bad news. There are no longer OLPC laptops at the school. One of the consequences of being a pilot school for OLPC was that they were issued with beta hardware, and there were many problems with the unit, from cables coming unplugged, the wireless network disconnecting, and hardware failure. In preparation for its replacement, the hardware was withdrawn in December 2007. However, at that point, there was alawsuit filed against OLPC by a Nigerian keyboard maker, claiming infringement of layout and something about keyboard scancodes. As a consequence- the children are still waiting for their replacements.
On my way out of Galadima I visited the chief of the area - Chief Habakkukof the Gbagyi. He was gracious, and explained that his elder brother, who had been chief, had died 5 years ago, and the mantle of chief had passed to him. As a father of a child at the school, he expressed his thanks for the efforts of OLPC for bringing the laptops, and consequent attention, to his community. I explained that some friends in Cape Town, South Africa, worked on the software inside those laptops, and was visiting the school on their behalf as well to carry the message back. I hope that those children eventually get their laptops, and expressed this wish to the chief.
I met a group of people from Denmark at the Hilton Hotel afterwards - who have a long history of building schools in northern Nigeria. We exchanged notes on successes and failures, and we discussed teacher education, bringing curriculum to the classroom, and I evangelised offline copies of wikipedia for disconnected schools. I also got directions to Jabi Secondary school, my next stop. A taxi-ride got me there - for about 4 US dollars equivalent.
This school was an exercise in contrasts to Galadima. Well-maintained, older students, I waited about 45 minutes to meet the woman principal, who was busy with staff meetings. I chatted in the ante-room with some teachers, all of whom asked me about the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. I apologised, and did my best to explain what I thought were the causes. The principal eventually greeted me, welcomed me, and found the computer manager to show me around.
As a showcase school for Intel in Africa, one thing was obvious - the money was here. 250 Classmate PCs, an inverter worth US $7,000 to power some admin computers and the internet link,and a WiMAX internet link costing about US\$10,000 per month to sustain. In their first year, Intel paid for a full-time IT manager to work at the school - I estimate that cost US $25,000. As it happens, I have been closely involved in sourcing all those resources for AUST, and I am confident of those figures.
The classmate PCs use wireless access to an omnidirectional antenna, that links straight to a WiMAX flat-panel antenna that links the school to Abuja’s suburban wireless network - no server in between. Students use email straight from gmail and yahoo. Teachers book out 40 or so Classmates, the class uses them, and then they book them back. They cannot take them home.
It works. Classmate 1, OLPC 0.