Step # 4 Ten Steps For The Next Peace Corps Director To Take To Improve The Agency, Save Money, and Make All PCVs & RPCV Happy!
Step # 4 Laptops For PCVs
The modus operandi of the Peace Corps is that Volunteers arrive in their villages with clothes on their backs and good will in their hearts. The truth is that from day one Volunteers have arrived in the developing world with radios, cameras, enough clothes to outfit a village and, in some cases, even a few extra rolls of toilet paper stashed away in their footlocker! Today, I know, PCVs carry ipods, cell phones, and often enough, their own computers.
The book lockers that the Peace Corps sent along with new PCVs disappeared in the early Sixties, a victim, my guess, of the budget and the increased number of PCVs. Back then the agency had 16,000 Volunteers overseas. That’s a lot of books.
We don’t want to bring back the booklockers (much as we loved them) for this is the Age of Information Technology. We have a new agency, and new techno-savvy Volunteers, and what we want to do is equip all PCVs with laptops to use and leave behind in their schools, hospital, or with whomever they think can best contribute to the town or village or school.
Nicholas Negroponte at MIT started his foundation–One Laptop per Child (OLPC) in 2002 to give children in the developing world a link to the outside world. “The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. In order to accomplish our goal, we need people who believe in what we’re doing and want to help make education for the world’s children a priority, not a privilege.”
Today, RPCV Maureen Orth (Colombia 1965-67) is an example of someone who believes. Her K12 Wired Foundation in Medellin, Colombia uses OLPC computers to connect this English-speaking school to the world. This school that she supports was one she built as a School-to-School project when she was a PCV back in the ’60s.
Why can’t all PCVs do something similar today?
The One Laptop per Child computer is an XO-1 which costs about $200. If 3,500 Volunteers each year take one overseas to use and leave behind in their Peace Corps town, I think the cost could drop to $100, paid for by the PCV from either cost-of-living allowance or readjustment allowance and the Peace Corps. Fifty bucks a piece.
These computers use flash memory and not a hard drive and can be connected to the Internet. They also have an anti-theft system.
Some critics of the agency, like RPCV Bob Strauss (Liberia 1978-80), complain that today’s Volunteers are ill equipped to do development work. Volunteers lack training, skills, and experience. Well, equip all these B.A. Generalists with a computer and let them go into the villages of the world. If they have a problem, they can Google Bob Strauss and he’ll tell them what to do.
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Thanks, John–really nice and the computers teach kids so many activities–taking photos, composing music, drawing in three dimensions onscreen, speaking one of 25 languages, etc. K12Wired.com has a website to learn more.
This is just the kind of original thinking that we need, all kinds of ideas that by themselves may not mean much but taken together could transform the Peace Corps.
What about the connection cost? It is one thing to have a computer, it is another to have it connected to the internet. And believe it or not the internet is not available in all places. But hey, all the kids can learn to play solitaire.
Couple of points from the field:
-Over 80% of the Volunteers who have come to Senegal the past year came with laptops, often netbooks which are not significantly more expensive than the OLPC machines. They can also run real word processing and spreadsheet applications which are essential for project management and grant writing.
-We have wireless Internet access available at most of Senegal’s regional transit houses with reasonably good bandwidth. Internet is not available in any rural villages, but is available in most Senegalese towns, as it’s usually a DSL connection made available by the phone system.
-We are very focused on using Internet-based resources to improve programming, enhance institutional memory, document best practices. In addition to what is externally available at http://www.pcsenegal.org, we also have a number of internal knowledge management tools. PCVs these days arrive in country expecting this sort of approach.
All the best. Keep it up John, Larry and Maureen!
PC/Senegal Country DIrector
Challenged with postings on this site..
Chris–do you think that the One Laptop have value in Senegal? Could they be used effectively by PCVs?
The One Laptop Per Child laptops are really designed for school children without computer experience and, for that purpose, they have merit. They also can connect wirelessly in an intranet within a classroom without being connected to the Internet, so that’s useful in the setting of a rural classroom.
For PCV purposes, a more useful machine is a small conventional laptop and almost all of my Volunteers already arrive with one when they get to country. It’s a tool for productivity, just like in the States, very useful for project documentation, research and communication.
For us, it’s less about having the tool (since 80+% arrive in country with it) than it is developing a program that makes use of their skills and abilities to effect real change at the grassroots level. That’s what we’re focused on in Senegal–the laptops are simply a tool to help make that happen more efficiently.
Great idea. This is one that absolutely should have been done years ago.
Thanks, Chris. Just as the book lockers of old were to be read and lend out to students, and left behind, I see the same possibility with the One Laptop. It could be for rural schools–and I am sure most of your PCVs are in rural locations–a rallying point for kids in the classrooms. I’m sure, knowing myself, knowing PCVs, that they are are less likely to turn over their personal computers to the class and leave the room. I’m told by Maureen Orth, who has the One Laptop per Child in operation at her school, that the small units are durable and can take a beating, even from PCVs, let alone kids!