The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Kagame Launches One Laptop Per Child

Kigali — President Paul Kagame has said that enabling all primary school children to own computers was the government's ultimate goal. This was during the official launch of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative at Jali Club yesterday.

"Our goal is to continue finding means and ways to provide all primary school children in Rwanda with this important learning tool," Kagame said, adding that various schemes, including encouraging parents to participate in buying computers for their children, would be used.

"We are going to turn the dream of all our children owning computers into reality - it is possible to achieve this," he said, amidst applause, calling on the vast gathering to reflect on the meaning of the exercise and the other numerous achievements in the education sector.

Kagame reminded the assembly of the increased primary school enrolment from 900,000 to well over 2,000,000 in the past 14 years, in addition to the implementation of Universal Primary Education (UPE) since 2003.

"We have also recently extended tuition-free status to the first three years of secondary school, making education a nine-year tuition-free arrangement," he added.

Earlier, the President expressed gratitude to Professor Nicholas Negroponte, the OLPC Founder and Chairman, and his team.

"Bringing durable, affordable and innovative computers to children worldwide is not only admirable but highly relevant and we congratulate you and your colleagues," he said.

"It is embedded in our development strategy of using ICT as an enabler of other sectors, including learning, as well as building a dynamic information technology industry," the President said.

The programme has been going on for sometime since government formed [a year and half ago] a partnership with OLPC to supply laptops to primary school children over a five-year period.

Some 100 laptops were provided last year, and last month, 5000 more were distributed in three districts and more are yet to come as government gets ready to purchase 50,000 laptops early next year.

OLPC can significantly improve education, as well as the country's economy, among others. The impact of the open source-based laptops extends beyond the benefits associated with education and connectivity.

More to that, it is environmentally friendly, consumes significantly less power than other commercial laptops and contains no hazardous materials. Apart from increased access, the President emphasized that the next step will be addressing issues of quality.

"That is why all sections of our society should participate in this effort."

"We pledge more resources to roll out this programme nation-wide," he said, noting that government commitment extended beyond the programme.

Kagame underscored that the business community can make considerable contribution by investing in available opportunities in the area and urged parents to provide a more conducive home environment for learning.

"We are all partners in making this programme a success," he said, emphasizing his commitment to its accomplishment.

"We challenge ourselves, the Rwandan stakeholders, to work diligently to render this initiative a resounding success."

Negroponte pointed out that it was a very special day, not just because they were launching in Rwanda but because the country had been "a real inspiration case - so supportive."

"Today is the launch of an idea, the launch of a reality," Negroponte said, pointing out the five principles under which the initiative operates - child ownership, low ages, saturation, connection and free and open source. He put emphasis on child ownership as being important to the whole family setting.

"Usually, children are objects of change," he said, and stressed the significance of saturation and connectivity, among others.

"The third thing which we do, and Rwanda is doing perfectly, is saturation, because children can be the best teachers," he said.

"Our commitment in Rwanda is absolutely unmatched, to be honest with you, in any country. We will give you other laptops; this is just the beginning," he promised.

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