East Timor – OLPC Pilot

One of the main reasons for the February East Timor trip was to assist the Seaton OLPC group investigate a possible OLPC pilot later this year. Here are some thoughts based on my experiences with the OLPC in East Timor:

  1. Everyone we met who saw and played the XO’s (teachers, students of all ages) “got it” – they worked out how to drive the laptops quickly and could see great benefit to Timor. Their eyes lit up with the possibilities!
  2. Education is generally of a poor standard, is non-compulsory and it not widely encouraged by parents. If students don’t want to go, they don’t go and no one really cares. However education would greatly benefit Timor and help resolve some of the nasty social and violence problems lurking under the surface (75% unemployment, afternoon drunkenness of teenagers, teenage pregnancy and resulting high birth rate).
  3. School is boring in Timor. It is taught in Portuguese (to students whose native language is Tetun) with inadequate books (not enough and poor quality) via rote learning. XOs would make it fun.
  4. I have no doubt teachers and students alike would quickly come up to speed with XOs. Where we need to work is on integrating the XO into teaching – for example lesson plans for the next 6 months that can be agreed upon with the teachers.
  5. Cultural: There is a family pecking order in society of Father-Mother-then children in descending age order. For example Dad eats first and young children get whats left over. This means if an XO is taken home, a child’s bigger brother will be within his rights to grab it for himself. This may be a good thing (spreading laptop usage around the family) as long as it makes it back to school. Will the XO be valued and cared for in the home? Possibly – it may be viewed as a status symbol like satellite TV or a mobile phone. Status is big there – a person with no income will have a mobile phone. They will sleep on a dirt floor, have no proper kitchen or toilet but have satellite TV – a big dish standing next to a Gilligan’s Island type hut made of palm leaves.
  6. I have no doubt that introducing these laptops to classrooms will be very beneficial to students and teachers alike. The XO will literally change the course of the lives it touches. We should work together to make a pilot deployment happen ASAP.


East Timor – We really do have road rules now!
East Timor – Cultural and IT

5 thoughts on “East Timor – OLPC Pilot”

  1. Hi
    I am interested in ideas of rural/urban drift and loss of social capital associated with this movement.

    Are your observations “Education is … not widely encouraged by parents. … they don’t go and no one really cares. … (75% unemployment, afternoon drunkenness of teenagers, teenage pregnancy and resulting high birth rate).”

    Did you get to observe rural and city schools? Is this observation typical of Dili and rural areas equally? Is this loss of culture attributable to years of war or to rural/urban drift (which was accelerated by war?) or other factors?

    Would the OLPCs be better placed in a remote rural school or a Dili school?


  2. Hi Tony,

    Most of my comments were quotes from long term residents who showed me around while in Timor.

    I have only spent a few weeks in Timor so my own observations are anecdotal. I did however visit schools and observe many school age children in rural and areas and Dili – e.g. I saw first hand teenagers who were out of school, unemployed, or drunk in the afternoon. I understand the problems are more severe in the rural areas.

    I don’t think loss of culture is the right term – there is still plenty of vibrant local culture, in many ways better than “developed” nations. Re the current standard of education, Timor was never really developed, for example in 1975 there was only one high school in the entire country. So the whole country is running of a “low base”, rather than suffering from a loss of educated people.

    There were however massive infrastructure losses during the 1999 and 2006 periods.



  3. I’m interested in your project – is it going ahead?
    Also do you know of any resources for Austalian students learning about East Timor – we are trying to establish a Friendship link in remote community and fundraising for local school.

  4. Hi Tracy yes it’s moving ahead in small steps. I don’t know of any resources for East Timor, what we have picked up is from visiting….



  5. Hi Tony,

    I’m involved in a group that helps fund orphanages in West Timor and recently decided to contact OLPC to get a project up for the kids. I came across your OLPC project wiki and interested in your experiences so far working with OLPC so if you could email me. I believe you are in SA? We are central coast NSW.



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