One-to-One Laptop Schools/Ethiopia

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OLPC in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is one of the oldest African countries with a population of 85 million. About 16 million are in-school students (Hollow, 2008). The majority of schools in Ethiopia are located in Addis Ababa province. This case study is describing One-to-One Laptop Initiative in Ethiopia that follows the successful trials of 60 laptops used in class in Addis Ababa.


Ethiopia’s OLPC initiative is a result of a Get One Give One (G1G1) 2007 American and Canadian promotion. The program’s promotion concluded in December 2007 and described that participants who donated $399 would cover the cost of one laptop to be distributed by OLPC to one of its least-developed partner countries. The participant would also get to keep one of the laptops (G1G1, 2007). Today the OLPC initiative has projects in over 30 countries and the 2008 G1G1 program supports the production of 150,000 XO laptops. More information regarding the G1G1 initiative can be found at

The OLPC's mission is to provide a child with a laptop. So "Why give a laptop to a child that may have no electricity or running water?" (One Laptop Per Child on 60 minutes, 2007). The answer to that question becomes clear when you replace the word "Laptop" with "Education". According to Nicholas Negroponte the answer is to "Eliminate poverty and create world peace by providing education to the poorest and most remote children on the planet by making them more active in their own learning, through collaborative and creative activities, connected to the Internet with their own laptop, as a human right and cost free to them" (OLPC Foundation).


The Ethiopian’s OLPC initiative is led by the project manager Eskender Andualem. Eskender and the ECBP team (Engineering Capacity Building Program) use the Ethiopian engineering capacity building as a primary distribution and teaching building of XO laptops. The development phase of OLPC initiative included the awareness of the project, teacher training and content distribution. In order to successfully prepare the program implementation the project team had to demonstrate the value of XO Laptop in education. The team met with OLPC experts and educational bureau to discuss and share their experiences with the program. The team also participated in Information Communication Technologies exhibitions where students would demonstrate the XO laptops and their success in education. The professional training included more than 220 teachers from the Addis Ababa region. For many it was a new experience learning and teaching with computers. Ato Ashenafi, an 8th grade math teacher has expressed that he wished he had the teaching opportunity with a computer long time ago. Many traditional instructional materials have been converted to support the new teaching opportunity. The project guidelines called for collection of regional text-books and conversion to a digital format compatible with XO. Because of the costs and limitation on instructional copies it was concluded that all references should be compatible with XO. The project has collaborated with Eduvision and Macmillan to produce interactive teaching materials.


The first OLPC in Ethiopia implemented a 60-laptop initiative on a one-year test phase in two schools in Addis Ababa. The second and current implementation includes a 5000-laptop program in four primary schools of Ethiopia. These schools include Atse Naod, Menelik II, Rema and Mullo Sayyoo.

Atse Naod is an elementary rural school and has 40 teachers and 780 students. Atse Naod received 800 XO laptops grades 2 to 8. The classes were big, some had around 70 students according to the EECB. Few students already had computers at home. It has been reported that school's electrical socket were broken, on average one per classroom (Drake, 2008).

Menelik II is a larger school in Addis Ababa that has 120 teachers and 2270 students. This school received 2390 XO laptops. Some problems have occurred with teacher training and school management (Drake, 2008).

Rema, in Amhara region, about 6 hours drive from Addis Ababa received 446 XO laptops. Rema has 20 teachers and 424 students. It is important to note that Rema is solely powered by solar energy. Thus some obstacles occurred with charging the XO laptops. Each laptop was provided with personal solar panel charger (Drake, 2008).

Mullo Sayyoo, is located two hours outside of Addis Ababa. This school received 637 laptops grades 2 to 7 and has 17 teachers and 620 students.(OLPC Ethiopia) Each classroom has one power socket. There is no lightning fixtures installed. Students had very poor to no understanding of a computer in this school (Drake, 2008).

XO replacing Books
Eduvision has helped to produce an interactive textbook called Akili. Akili is written in C++ language and uses Quicktime and Webkit an open source browser for content delivery. According to the project Wiki book the format for most Ethiopian curriculum textbooks is in Akili XML file format (OLPC Ethiopia). According to Hollow (2008) the idea behind the Akili text reader was to eliminate the teacher when used XO outside the school and have students be the agents of their own central learning. Students would be the ones to shape and define their own progress in education. The book and other instructional content had to be digitized to Akili's format in order to be supported by XO, however there were some difficulties. The OCR recognition software did not include Ahmaric language.

Professional Training and XO Content
According to Hollow (2008), students were very pleased to hear about the OLPC laptops initiative. Most of the teachers supported the idea as well. The major obstacle was the professional teacher and student training. It has been noted that the students expressed concern about the proper use of educational content by teachers. In other words teachers were not prepared well to carry the instructional lessons using the XO Laptop. Additionally the lack of content for the XO was slowing the program marginally. Hollow (2008) described that students reported that they used laptops mostly at home, but not in classes, and that was due to the poor integration mechanics. Students and teachers had a poor understanding of XO educational capabilities, -- some students treated the laptop as a toy. Some parents expressed frustration that students used laptops for playing rather than spending more time studying. Similarly some teachers complained that students played with laptops in class rather than paying attention to lectures. Sometimes students would play with the audio software resulting in a chaos in class. Other Teachers reported that they had no problems with students using the XO to look up instructions during class. If however they started to distract from the lesson, teacher would appropriately make a remark to those students, and they would pay attention to lecture.

Elements responsible for successful planning

According to Koscev (2009), from the German Technical Cooperation foundation, the most successful aspect of planning process responsible for the OLPC success was the teacher training. Teachers did not know much about the technology. It took over a year for the teachers to get accustomed to teaching methods with XO laptop. Teachers use laptops much more in last few months than they did before, however the use of the laptops in classroom was scaled down. Training include innovative learning to reform the teaching practices and didactics in elementary schools.

The ECBP itself was very helpful with the project. Eskander and 6 people from ICT were leading the project and educating the teachers. They were really helpful with their expertise to promote and manage the project.

So far the students are learning quick, most of the time quicker than the teacher. They have learned how to read, write and draw on XO. A very positive report from a 2nd grade student describes that he first learnt how to open the computer, then draw and then save and open files to read (ECBP, 2008). Some critics have speculated that giving students laptops instead of paper and pencil wasn't a good investment. However, according to Abebe Checkol, a pilot project manager students get much more benefit from the XO laptop that justifies it cost down the road. Each student has a $50 financial support, -- the laptop costs much more. Checkol describes that that schools had problems with getting instructional materials, sometimes that would have different ones at different locations. Checkol said that with XO you have access to the same materials at all schools (ECBP, 2008). According to Wossenyelesh Kassahun, a teacher in Atse Narod primary school "These laptops can be a pen where there is no pen, there can be a book where there is no book. Introducing these kids at the early age will help them attain what others have with better access have attained" (ECBP, 2008).

Elements responsible for problems with OLPC program

According to Koscev (2009), the most problematic issue was the planning. Planning was a very big challenge to Ethiopia's OLPC team. The environment is different, people and their traditions are different. The set out plan included planning, time-line and deployment, but because there was so much else going on in the field that it was virtually impossible to follow deadlines and time-lines. Koscev (2009) said that pushing set project goals does not work. It only angers local people. It was very hard for them to adopt European ways of scheduling and planning.

Another issue related to the problems with OLPC initiative in Ethiopia were the stakeholders. There are many donors in Ethiopia. However it was very hard to get people into supporting initiative and resources at the beginning. Presently there are two people assigned and paid from educational berau in Ethiopia to help with the project. There are also members in various level of administration and steering committees that help lead the movement.

The parents themselves expressed concern regarding the XO laptop. They had a fear of what is going to happen if the laptop breaks. They were unsure who will pay or replace the parts.

Solar charging panels for Rema's school were delayed. The team had to cancel the contract with the solar energy foundation after a while. They did not provide sufficient power wattage. The charger station was only 200 watts instead of 2000 watts.

There were also some technical problems at the beginning phase of laptop deployment. The major obstacle included the laptop running the Linux operating system. Because of that the team had no technical support who understood how the system operates. Daniel Drake a python programmer was invited for 6 months to help with coding patches. He help write the keyboard patch to include Arhmeic language. Additionally the technical support system was non existent. The logistical issues presented themselves when 5000 laptops showed up and there was very little help. The team had to re-flush the operating system to minimize the initial installation bugs. It took them few weeks for all the laptops to function properly. Presently the technical support is located in every school. There is help from local universities, -- college students volunteer to help. They also help with monitoring and evaluation.

Lastly the issue with the School Server was resolved. It provides access to instructional resources for all the laptops. There are 2 school servers in Addis Ababa for students to download books and materials. However the server limits active connection to 15 at the time. Teachers and students take turns to download resources. There is also no access to Internet. It is very expensive to run an Internet connection, even something small like ISDN.


OLPC in Ethiopia has introduced a complete revamp of traditional curriculum. It has changed the way that students and teachers perceive education. For some it was a brand new experience, some never knew the concept of computers. But the focus of the Ethiopian's OLPC team was to overcome all of the challenges and continue the project with set educational goals. Recent press coverage had showed that the program may encounter some financial difficulties. According to Africa News (2009) the OLPC project initiative funding may collapse the project. The future of XO in Ethiopia is uncertain at this point. Recently Crunchgear (2009) reported that the schools in Ethiopia are banning the laptops for being a toy like. Ethiopian curriculum places emphasis on memorization and basic scholastic values, where XO initiative focus on exploration and individual learning. According to Matron Koscev the laptops are not being banned, however their use in classroom is getting scaled back (Koscev, 2009). The Italian government has pledged in 2007 to purchase 50,000 laptops for Ethiopia, however there has been no recent mention of this promise. Because the OLPC in Ethiopia is more than education (Koscev, 2009), the project is looking to expand the use of the program to pilot additional one. Ethiopia's team would like to deploy additional 500 laptops in more rural schools next year.


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