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Reimers pointed out that Peru faces no small challenge in ensur-
ing that the machines get where they're supposed to go (and aren't
stolen once there), and in seeing that thousands of teachers learn
how to use them, keep them maintained, and share successful expe-
riences with each other. But while Reimers and other educators
were apprehensive about Peru's capacity to sustain the program
in far-flung locations, they also saw undeniable potential. "The
schools really urgently need something that can bring information
from outside, and it's not likely to be a library of books," says Marcia
Koth de Paredes, who spent 26 years as executive director of the
Fulbright Scholar Program in Peru. If the children tap the laptops'
content, she says, the machines can only be a positive force.
In Lima, I visited an olive-green warehouse, a 25-minute
drive from the education ministry. Boxes containing five XOs
apiece---25,000 in all---were stacked in neat columns. Young men
were unpacking the boxes, installing batteries in the laptops, and
a xing bar-code stickers to them. At another table, a worker used
a thumb drive to load updated software onto the machines, five
at a time, before sheathing them in plastic and returning them to
the boxes. The finished boxes were organized on pallets labeled
by region, village, and school. To protect against theft, the com-
puters leave the factory digitally locked; only when they arrive at
their destinations (or as close as is practically possible) will teach-
ers receive USB drives containing the codes to unlock them.
Delivery might be easy compared with the monumental task of
turning ill-educated teachers, generally unfamiliar with comput-
ers, into OLPC experts in 9,000 schools. There will be much to
learn: how to operate, maintain, and recharge the laptops, and how
to take advantage of all the digitized texts and software. Most of
the villages have intermittent electricity, and those without it will
get generators or photovoltaic recharging systems. But 90 percent
of the villages also lack Internet connections; the nearest access
points are at regional education o ces. Teachers will be shown
how to upload updated content to the laptops; in theory, when they
make their monthly trips to the regional o ces to pick up their
paychecks, they will be able to download new material onto thumb
drives, then install it on the laptops. "Peru is being very ambitious
in reaching out to the most-needy kids right from the get-go, but
it introduces some logistical challenges," says Walter Bender,
OLPC's director of deployment (see Q&A, March/April 2008 and
at TechnologyReview.com), who traveled to Peru in February and
March. When I interviewed him in late March, he was writing a
deployment manual that can be generalized to later-adopting coun-
tries. They "didn't have such a document" for Peru, he said, "so there
was lot more hand-holding and discovery that had to happen."
It's not hard to imagine glitches and misunderstandings emerg-
ing from all this. But in the end, the verdict on OLPC in Peru will
come from the children. Until now, many of them have had a lim-
ited sense of their own potential, says Lawrence E. Harrison, a
Latin America expert and director of the Cultural Change Institute
at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. "You
have to put yourself in the shoes of the kid, and the eyes of the kid,
and it's not easy to do," Harrison says. "The vast majority of these
kids grow up with images of programs from TV but are convinced
that this goes on in another part of the world that doesn't a ect
them. They have a fatalistic worldview, often reinforced by religion.
They do not connect education with their own progress. They see
it as something that has to be done. So really, the success of this
should not be measured in terms of their ability to manipulate the
instrument, but in changing the way they see their prospects."
That's why Harrison and Reimers think that programs to evalu-
ate children before and after they work with the computers---some-
thing Becerra says is planned---must measure values and attitudes
as well as math skills and literacy. Are the kids focused on the
future? Do they believe that knowledge matters? Do they associate
work with the possibility of getting ahead, or just with survival?
"Based on all the panaceas that we have experienced since the 1950s,
I start with a little bit of skepticism" about the OLPC deployment
in Peru, Harrison says. "But certainly, if I had been in the position
of deciding whether to do it or not, I would have tried it."
The success of OLPC can no longer be judged against
Negroponte's early predictions and plans, nor by the technical mer-
its of the laptop itself. Peru is what matters now. When I was in Lima,
OLPC's former chief technology o cer, Mary Lou Jepsen (she has
formed Pixel Qi, a startup dedicated to making even lower-cost
displays for OLPC's computers and others), visited the education
ministry to o er help and show sta ers how to repair the machines.
But she acknowledged that OLPC's future doesn't revolve around
the hardware she helped bring about. "Laptops are easy; education
is hard to transform," she said. "I don't even speak Spanish. How
can I even start to transform primary education in Peru?"
In truth, she can't. But Peru now has a chance to help Rosario,
Cecilia, Nilton, and 486,497 other kids---and, maybe, someday,
the little girl on the tra c island in Lima.
DAVID TALBOT IS TECHNOLOGY REVIEW'S CHIEF CORRESPONDENT.
LAPTOP LAUNCH In a Lima warehouse, 25,000 OLPC machines are
inventoried and loaded with updated software. Boxes containing five lap-
tops apiece are stacked on individual pallets, labeled by village and school.
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