OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Was Launched in Pakistan Last Month

olpc-launch-africaThe OLPC Pilot Project hit Pakistan last month without much fanfare. Infact, I don’t know of any tech blog that covered the event, and was told about the launch only by my brother. This came as a surprise considering that the whole world was uber-excited when the project was announced.

The OLPC guys have a wiki running here, but their page about Pakistan seems to be outdated as the last entries are two weeks old. Though Negroponte says criticizing OLPC is criticizing the church (?!) but I will risk being labeled a fundamentalist and criticize it nonetheless.

I don’t really see the criteria they used to distribute all 27 of the laptops (worth 5000$ or so – a huge fortune) among 150 children in the school – it is more like 0.18 laptop per child instead of one laptop per child. Also, if the laptops are to stay in the school (who in their right mind would let those starving kids take the laptops home, right?), then the kids can’t really have much fun with them, but If 27 selected children are allowed to take the laptops home, then I feel sorry for the remaining 123 (yea I know some of those are too young but still…). How do they use them, do they take turns? An hour every week per child?

I have been searching for news regarding the project every month to check on the progress of the OLPC project ever since it was announced, and I must say I am pretty disappointed. First, I found this post from Dr. Habib Khan “(PhD Harvard)” asking for people interested to help localize the English based OS, and then I found this page from CRULP which shows that they got together with OLPC to localize the PC, but the OLPC wiki mentions that the OS is still running English, which makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Did they have a deadline to meet, or did they simply not care? Or did they package each laptop with a universal translator right our of Startrek?

Some more questions that are bothering me:

  • What good will 27 odd laptops that don’t work and need Linux expertise to be of any use – do?
  • Did any ISP come forward and offer to provide internet connectivity to the school? What good is the laptop’s mesh technology without internet?
  • Has somebody Pakistani volunteered to teach those kids?
  • What became of the committee that was to be formed by our beloved MOIT to “study the feasibility” of the project?

The OLPC wiki says:

We distributed 39 XO localized in Dari and Pashto, official languages of Afghanistan.

Huh? I thought it was supposed to be a launch for Pakistani children – I do feel sorry for the homeless Afghan refugees, but don’t we have under-privileged children of our own, and didn’t Afghanistan get its own OLPC launch? The OLPC guys even imported two Afghan volunteers to help out with the launch as the kids can’t speak anything but Pushto/Dari. What about that CRULP project? Something is not right here. They call this a Pakistani launch, but it seems to me that the only thing Pakistani about the launch is the location.

Also, we have rich (lots of them) and generous (a few) people right here in Pakistan. Did anyone offer the Pakistani community the same “buy-one-laptop-and-a-third-world-child-gets-one-free” deal? I would have bought one for my child if someone had guaranteed that the other laptop would be used as advertised. Hell, I would even have volunteered for the project, and I’m sure there are more than 27 people like me out there in Pakistan. A simple campaign with a dozen Pakistani “stars” would surely have brought out the spirit of charity from the hearts a few of the rich.

But then again, perhaps the OLPC is just a tool to make a few thousand Westerners feel good about themselves – maybe all 27 of them can sleep peacefully after the knowledge that they have donated 100$ worth of stuff to the Afghan kids – the same kids whom they bombed out of Afghanistan not a very long time ago. Actually, giving laptops to Pakistani children would not have them the same bang for the buck as giving laptops to the poor Afghans, so yea, it all makes sense now. We need to get bombed back into the stone-ages before our children earn their OLPC.

So the hype around the OLPC project did get me excited when it was announced, but looking back, it seems wrong, almost evil. An ad featuring the OLPC will fit right into the Cordaid campaign (click on the image to see more), and this concludes my rant of the day.



  1. Dear sohaib salam,

    hope you will be in best of your health.
    its nice to here from you through ur blog.

    basically im one of the volunteers from Afghanistan, who work with regional office of OLPC in pakistan.
    you mentioned that: we launched the project, but there is no blog, site or news of that project. basically the first project of the regional office of OLPC in Pakistan was for pashto and dari languages, Pashto is the language spoken both by afghans and Pakistani side pashtoons. so i can say that this project was a coproject for afghanistan and pakistan. the childern who were given laptops live in pakistan (Rawalpindi) since the Soviet Union atttak of afghanistan. now they have pakistani nationality, there own houses, etc…
    we announced the project in Pashto and Dari Blogs (www.bloguna.com/olpc, olpc.blogsky.com), news site like http://www.tolafghan.com and many more. we announced that just in few hours. and i think you had a look lately to our pages in wiki. u r right that our pages in wiki are week, but u have to no that we are just 2 afghan volunteers and to developers. dev do there works and we control the wiki, translation pootle, pilot project, teaching the students, etc.

    Huh? I thought it was supposed to be a launch for Pakistani children -: (( i mentioned that its for both afghan and Pakistani children, pashto is for pak+afhgan and Dari for Afghanistan, and didn’t Afghanistan get its own OLPC launch?: ((the regional office of OLPC for central and south Asia is here in pak, so we have afghan children here, no need to go Afghanistan, The OLPC guys even imported two Afghan volunteers to help out with the launch as the kids can’t speak anything but Pushto/Dari. What about that CRULP project? Something is not right here. They call this a Pakistani launch, but it seems to me that the only thing Pakistani about the launch is the location.: (( our purpose is not the color deference or anything like that, we two afghan volunteers are almost able to finish the pootle translation of the XO laptops, which is fully translated in few international languages, we the right is for pashto to be launched, Urdu is so slow, because the volunteers are not interested, now we found a wise and hard worker guy, so we hope that you will help the Urdu translation, so it can be finished in current month.

    you mentioned the internet service for children?!!: so dear the children of Atlas havent any idea of the PC or Laptops, we are the first to introduce to them. now we are in beganing of our project, we have lots of thing in laptops for children to be learnt, so when we reach to the stage of internet we will provide them this facility too. we are gonna upgrade this systems in few days so the children could use the net and to use the mesh network easily.

    also you mentioned abut the distribution of 27 or 39 laptops to 150 students.: (( this is a pilot project and we gave 27 students of them, as this is a pilot or experimental project, so we have to choose few students out of 150, not all of them.
    we have in program to launch two more pilot school projects which are just for Pakistani students in few days. in will inform you from that Insha Allah.


    Usman Ansari

  2. Sohaib Athar says:

    Salam Usman,

    Thank you so much for answering a lot of my questions. First of all, let me clarify that I do not mean to hurt anyone’s feeling by mentioning the Afghan vs. Pakistan differences. Infact, my family from my mother’s side is from the NWFP and most of them speak Pushto (though I never managed to learn it myself 🙂 ). It would have made a LOT more sense to advertise the project as a co-project of Afghanistan and Pakistan, something that only you have clarified, but the websites tell a different story. What I don’t want is for the OLPC decision-makers to take all the credit for a launch in Pakistan and make it into a photo opportunity, when in reality, it is the work of two volunteers.

    I had high hopes for the OLPC launch in Pakistan, even though the project as a whole is not that well-recieved by the international community. That being said, I still think 27 PCs is a joke of a pilot – I am sure the OLPC guys can afford a lot more than 39 PCs – for a nation-wide pilot. They should have covered a complete school at least, instead of 39 odd PCs for a school of 150. I still believe that even if the Pakistani government gave OLPC a lukewarm reception, the IT community would have come out (they still can) and taken OLPC to the next level if they were asked to be involved. There are hundreds of software firms in Pakistan, and there’s no reason why we can’t afford one laptop per firm. A lot of our IT community is multilingual, so there should be no shortage of volunteers as well. As a comparison, one ipod equals 6 OLPCs in price, and hundreds of ipods are sold in Pakistan. I don’t know who has planned the pilot, but (being a skeptic) I am sure there are a lot of profiteering opportunities at the government level in this, and knowing our rulers, I’m sure they won’t let these opportunities pass by.

    I have a few more questions now. You say the Urdu volunteers are not interested, why is it so? The CRULP guys at FAST were a very enthusiastic sort the last time I saw them, who have you talked to? Maybe I can get you in touch with people who are interested. You call me wise (which I am not) and hardworker (the “Procrastinating” part in the blog title is the real truth), but I am not the right person to ask for urdu translation, as my Urdu isn’t that great. But, I remember that a bunch of Linux people, in Karachi I believe, translated Linux GUI to Urdu – have you tried to get in touch with them? I am interested in helping out in anyway that I can, though, so do get in touch with me via email.

    By the way, I have a son who will turn 5 in two days – he spends a lot of time on his computer, and I know for a fact that many times more educational games, software and multimedia are available online than on Linux. So instead of reinventing things from scratch, why not give the kids (supervised) online access to websites catering content for kids? I am sure telecom firms like Telenor/Warid etc. will jump at the publicity opportunity.

    Work is calling me, but let us continue the discussion here.

  3. USMAN says:

    Sohaib khan salam,

    its nice to here that u r converted Pashtoon, realy amazing. anyhow sorry for jock. i will try to talk wid Dr Habib Khan abut FAST and others.

    i added u as a friend in Facebook. i think that the right place to discuss.


  4. Sohaib Athar says:

    Usman, its hard enough being a Pakistan, I can’t afford any further sub-classification 🙂
    Do talk to the CRULP people, if you haven’t already.
    I did search a bit more on the topic and this place:

    says that Pakistan isn’t officially a part of the OLPC project. If this is true, then what is the story behind the launch – if it is not supported officially?
    Also, I see that you are a student of philosophy, so I am impressed that you have jumped into Linux development – I am also curious to know the tech people you guys approached before giving up on the Urdu conversion due to lack of interest. I don’t have much faith in our MOIT but I do have a lot of faith in the Pakistani public when it comes to volunteer work.

  5. usman ansari says:

    sohaib salam,

    you are right that pakistani gov is not envolve in olpc, but its not fair that just for not envolving our gov we refuse the whole program, i also know that pakistani nation wont let the olpc fail in pakistan, a Sallust them. the proeducation minister of pakistan refused the XO laptops and ask the EAU Ameer to handhim over the money donated for XO laptops. i think Arab shaikhs know us (central and south Asians). we just tak e the money and put it in our pocket. so cuz of that pakistan is not officially involved in OLPC,but we hope that new gov will get involve in this project.

    we will try to be in contact wid CRULP as soon as possible…


  6. Uzair Sukhera says:

    Dear Sohaib and Usman
    I really feel that we are quite short of workforce. This lack of personnel makes sohaib be cynical of the project. I have a proposition. Sohaib has written a blog post and its on first page of google results for OLPC pakistan. You have made a difference in publicizing the project

    I am student of Electrical Engineering NUST. I represented Pakistan at ITU Telecom Asia Youth Forum 2008. There were two participants from each country. All the youth fellows were given an OLPC as a gift by Mr Matt keller on behalf of Professor Negroponte. We the youth have committed ourselves to promote Information and Communication technology in our countries and to help create difference in lives of youth. Most of my international friends (from the forum) have started working on OLPC initiatives in their countries.

    Me and my colleague Ms. Aneeqa (the female representative of Pakistan) have decided to get involved in the OLPC project. If u guys can start some outreach programme in any way i am sure u can get many volunteers from universities. We both are the first one to offer our services.

    I hope u can put us on team and get some work from us.

    Best Regards

    Uzair Sukhera

  7. Sohaib Athar says:

    This thread/page is all yours if you want to make a difference. Yes, I’ve been quite cynical but only after looking at the lukewarm reception that OLPC received globally, the idea was right and very marketable, so there must have been something wrong in the overall implementation (though it is easy to be a critic from far away). Only yesterday, I read that a small country (think it was Brazil?) ordered a few million dollars worth of Classmate instead of OLPC, and their order was more than all OLPCs produced so far.
    But in any case, if you can generate a solid OFFICIAL and feasible plan, I will do whatever I can to promote it. A couple of things that come to my mind immediately are to talk to my brother (who teaches at NU/FAST here in Lahore) and to get it covered on a couple of technology blogs that I am associated with, for example http://greenwhite.org
    Feel free to add me up on a messenger.