One Laptop per Child reaches Jamaica

What the One Laptop per Child project is doing in Jamaica…



Recently I had a conversation with Sameer Verma of San Francisco State University about an innovative venture he’s involved with — the One Laptop per Child project. Verma, an open source software (OSS) activist, was invited by Professor Evan Duggan, Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and new Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, whom he went to school with, to spearhead the OLPC project in Jamaica. According to the OLPC Jamaica website:

OLPC Jamaica is a general interest group for the One Laptop per Child initiatives in Jamaica. The group started at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, Jamaica on 5th September, 2008. Compelled by the belief that the OLPC has considerable potential for enhancing the efficient delivery, and improved Pedagogy in early childhood education in Jamaica, OLPC Jamaica intends to foster interest, generate ideas and learn from experiences about OLPC both on the UWI campus and in its neighboring communities.
The Group is currently embarked on deployment pilots of the OLPC concept in two local schools:
– The August Town Primary School, located in the heart of the August Town community in the University’s Township neighborhood
– Providence Methodist Basic school, located on the premises of the Providence Methodist Church in Liguanea

Now in its fourth year Verma pointed out some of the recent findings from the pilot project in August Town where Grade 4,5 and 6 students are involved. Each laptop, equipped with wireless connectivity, multimedia software, an edition of Wikipedia, games and recording equipment is provided to the youngest child in each family, there not being enough laptops to be given to every child at school. The computer belongs to them for the year, and they are allowed to take it home. One outcome of this is that children are teaching their parents or caregivers various things using the laptops.

Children at August Town Primary showing off their Xo laptops. Photo: Varun Baker

One of the interesting findings in August Town Primary has been that the most popular software on it has been a math game called TuxMath. It is the most frequently used item on the laptop and technicians who occasionally upgrade the software said that children who had somehow lost the game during upgrades would bother them endlessly to have it put back on. Lest you dismiss this as a mere game (as the blurb says’ TuxMath lets kids hone their arithmetic skills while they defend penguins from incoming comets, or offers them a chance to explore the asteroid belt with only their factoring abilities to bring them through safely!’)  the principal of the school said that normally when Grade 4 students are tested their numeracy scores sit in the mid 40s; for the batch who had played the TuxMath game the numeracy score rose to 61%. At a time when educators are discussing the lack of qualified math teachers in the school system the experience of the children in August Town Primary is particularly instructive.


Verma has met with Ministry of Education personnel to discuss the next step which is the production of textbooks as e-books. While enthusiastic about this, Ministry officials also seem locked into a Kindle mentality, that is, thinking that the adoption of e-books necessitates e-book-readers such as Kindles or Nooks to read the electronic textbooks, whereas Verma is trying to persuade them that this is unnecessary and even counterproductive to the kind of learning the OLPC project is promoting. In fact e-book reading software can easily be downloaded and added to the Xo laptops allowing children to read their school texts on the same machine they use for multimedia activity daily.

According to Verma this speaks to a deeper issue. “Learning is not just about consumption, it also has to be about production because creativity means I learn, I absorb and then I produce something. Book readers are a one-way process.” Interactivity is a core feature of the software provided on Xo laptops. Verma explains: For example there’s a game that will show you a river crossing and a train waiting to cross the river but there’s no bridge. The child’s task is to use drawing tools to build a bridge and connect it and make it strong enough for the train to go across. Then you hit go and the train starts crossing but if the bridge structure isn’t strong enough it crashes to the ground and you have to go back and build another bridge. Laws of physics and measurement come into play and over a process of building and rebuilding until you manage to get the train across a child learns many scientific and creative principles.

The Jamaican experiment with OLPC is funded/supported by several partners: Pace Canada, UWI’s Township Project, LIME and the Early Childhood Learning Commission. OLPC is being used in 47 countries.  In Peru the Ministry of Education funds it and there are 1.1 million laptops. Uruguay however, has the highest density with 100% saturation in primary school, every primary schoolchild getting a laptop when they start school. According to Verma the focus in Peru is different. In addition to integrating it into schoolwork they have a full programme during summer vacation where the laptops are used for summer vacation activities which count towards something at school. For older children in higher grades they’ve also attached robots to the laptops enabling children to explore all sorts of other capabilities. Different countries use the project for different ends and in different ways.  In Afghanistan where girls have been forbidden from going to school by the Taliban, the laptops come in particularly useful allowing female students to stay at home and learn. In Nepal everything has been translated into Nepali and is completely content-driven.

In Jamaica UWI has provided student interns to work in the field. What is needed now is for one major funder to come on board or failing that the Ministry of Education. Having a number of small partners creates a problem with ‘ownership’, if no one feels total ownership, its difficult to move the project forward as is needed. For more information view the video below and link to the OLPC Jamaica website. Also check here for beautiful photos of the children in the August Town project.

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

19 thoughts on “One Laptop per Child reaches Jamaica”

  1. This article warms my heart. I hope that the Ministry of Education will see the light and change the approach to childhood learning. The old norms don’t work any more. You have to keep children engaged and make learning fun. That way they will be encouraged to learn more, and feel a sense of self-worth. I grieve when I read the headlines in JA of all the crime and the seemingly callous, course and wicked behavior being exhibited by some of our countrymen. It all boils down to them not being valued or considered for greater things when they were young…This is a great program, I hope J’cans will invest in such initiatives to help our children even if the government is unwilling to assist in any way…

  2. I am so pleased to hear that this program has reached Jamaica! I know it has done a lot of work in Rwanda etc. recently. I have had a bit of an IT/youth focus in my blog recently, and so am happily reblogging! Cheers.

  3. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an attractive-sounding programme. However, reservations have been expressed about the extent to which OLPC is able to accomplish the goals it sets out to achieve. Peru, mentioned in this blog, bought more OLPC laptops than any other country, However, the Peru experiment, costing US$200 million has been described as a “flop”.

    What has been found to be critical is not so much the technology, but the model in which the technology is used.

    1. Thanks nothango for your comment and the caution…the article makes a valuable point…i quite agree…technology shouldn’t be neutered by inserting it in dated educational paradigms.

    2. The IADB study touches on several points, but the Forbes article does not do justice (I think the author was trying to sell his book…). Some important points, with respect to Peru are:

      1) The program covered social inclusion from the very beginning.
      2) They started with a very challenging set of teachers (62% did not reach reading comprehension levels compatible with elementary school)
      3) a 5-6 month advancement of cognitive skills over the 15 months of the study. More details at

      Then, there is this:

      Context is everything. Something that works for Peru may not work for Jamaica, and that’s where ownership comes in. We need for these communities to take ownership fo these projects and make it their future. In both of our pilots, the laptops go home. That, by itself, is a game changer.

      We’ve seen some pretty amazing things with the children in August Town and Providence Basic. A six-year old has figured out how to modify a Python program (game) to make it suit his style! A fourth grader has figured out that he can take pictures of water bodies around his school to substantiate the Water Cyle lesson in class. Oh, and there is this hidden gem of an artist in August Town who makes mermaids by hand, using the touchpad:

      I am too close to the problem, so I am most definitely biased, but I can’t contain my joy when children ask me for a math game! More to some soon 🙂

  4. I was with my son at M.I.T Junior Summit in 1998 when Dr. Nicholas Negroponte, head of the Media Lab announced he was embarking on a project to build a $100 laptop specifically for students. The OLPC device is what has emerged from this great intuition and the great advantage is that education can now be delivered efficiently by digital means. The fact that children can take the laptops home means they can be self-teachers and in addition, can be like the primary schoolgirl who recently passed 2 CXC subjects before she enters Secondary school this week. Schools can become de-centralized, smaller and offer a better teacher-so-student ratio when information is equally shared on the laptops. When their books are available on the laptop, students will no longer be burdened by the overweight bags they have to carry now, and parents can cross that item off their burdened budgets. I truly hope that financial support to spread this programme island-wide comes from an organization that recognizes the leap forward it will bring to Jamaica’s education standards. Please keep readers updated on this project.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Annie! And the comments are also very useful, especially the one from jamediapro explaining the benefits of integrating technology. Really hope a banner sponsor steps up.

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