“Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.” Well, no, the only idiot in this story is Negroponte, as the hacking story is a lie. They actually pressed the reset button on the side of the tablet. On this definition the local baboon could have ‘hacked android’. So why would an MIT academic tell deliberate lies? All in his team knew the hacking tale was wrong, yet no one came out and said it.
When I wrote a critique of the project, I had my suspicions, now those suspicions have been confirmed. At E-learning Africa this week, I spoke to someone on the ground, who was furious about the publicity the project had received. He is doing sterling work with laptops elsewhere in Ethiopia and resents the TED hype that surround Mitra and Negroponte, as it distract from the necessity of training teachers and being sensitive to the context and culture into which technology is placed.
A perfect example of this type of cultural insensitivity, is the ‘Alphabet Game’ where they had to ‘recite’: A for Apple, C for Cat… O for Octopus – OCTOPUS! Did anyone tell Nick that Ethiopia doesn’t have a coast? You’d need a passport to see an octopus.
Wenchi Crater was a spot where dozens of tourists a day visit, ride horses and go for boat trips on the lake. He thought the idea that these kids had never seen any written word on packaging, road signs or print, preposterous.
Mosquito and the tortoise
This is one of those annoying ‘mosquito’ projects. In Africa, there’s ‘mosquito’ projects and ‘tortoise’ projects. Mosquito projects are noisy, short-lived, suck you dry and often have nasty side-effects. Tortoise projects, take their time, have a protective shell of sustainable self-sufficiency. They are quiet, often unobtrusive but long-lived.
A tortoise will have sustainable technology, sustainable stakeholders, sustainable teaching, sustainable learners, sustainable change-management, sustainable electricity, sustainable plugs & cables, sustainable resources. They will also be sustainable in their language, culture and context. Above all they need to be sustainable on COST. Sustainable innovation is what Africa needs not just innovation in itself, Without sustainability there is no real innovation, only 'bad' innovation in projects that fly for a short time and die.
Negroponte, like Mitra, is doing more harm than good with these short-lived mosquito projects. It’s nothing more than self-aggrandisement that detracts from more worthy and long-lasting efforts. Even worse, speaking to someone senior in the European Commission, Negroponte was shameless in getting his brother, John Negroponte, former US Deputy Secretary of State, to pull strings for meetings with EU decision makers (and others elsewhere in the world). This is the sort of stunt that amounts to little more than educational colonialism. I should add that I have no problem with the OLPC project in Rwanda,where an enthusiastic guy is trying hard to make it work.