For 3 months in 2009, and in limited capacity in the months after that, I got a chance to consult the Ministry of Education in Niue, an independent island nation in Polynesia, on the roll out of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. This was arranged through my mentor Joe Mertz and his program "Technology Consulting in the Global Community". I was hugely fascinated by OLPC and Sugar OS during these years, because of the vision Nicholas Negroponte showed for the opportunities personal computing and the Internet could bring to kids who otherwise would not have access to these. I wasn't as apprehensive and contemplative about the complexity of learning back then.
A year before I showed up with another young consultant, through the support of another organization funded to support education in the South Pacific Islands, the country had received a laptop for every child in the country (through a windfall without any catches or co-payment). Because it was such a small country, this didn't translate to more than a few hundred laptops. But this also made it interesting because you could easily run experiments and measure what works and doesn't work when every kid in the country has this resource. Unfortunately, the roll out wasn't really succeeding in any meaningful way. We were there to figure out what was going on and if we could salvage the situation.
We couldn't. There were deep social and cultural problems there. There was a lack of buy-in from the highest people. Local curriculum wasn't easily available on these computers, which made them a toy with little learning value, something which eventually inspired me to start OpenCurriculum. Many of these problems plagued the project internationally. But unsurfacing these problems required a lot of human research, classroom observation, inter-department coordination orchestration, endless hours fixing networking and server problems, installing LMS and context-unaware content libraries, teacher training, and waiting. A lot of waiting. It was a masterclass in the administrative and social complexity of placing technology in education.
From a cultural experience, it was very rich! Niue was a beautiful place. And the people's hearts were very large; I cherish the relationships I made there. To be welcomed unconditionally by a new community is truly humbling.