Laptop programme to roll out shortly

– 13,000 machines set to arrive

The government hopes to roll out its One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) programme before the end of the month as 13,000 computers are expected to arrive here within the next two weeks.

Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir, who has ministerial oversight for the OLPF, told Stabroek News that 5,000 netbooks were expected to be dispatched on Friday. An additional 8,000 instruments are set to arrive the following week, Nadir indicated. “I am looking forward that by the end of the month we can begin distributing laptops to the recipients,” the minister said. He also tried to dispel suggestions from some quarters that the laptops were being issued to spy on citizens. “I want to reiterate that the computers have no equipment in them to spy on anybody,” Nadir said.

On September 15, the government signed a US$7.56 million contract with Chinese firm Haier Electrical Appliances Ltd for the supply of 27,000 netbooks for the OLPF Project. According to the bid document of the project, the first batch of instruments should be delivered 60 days from the date of the contract signing. Nadir said while there was some uncertainty that all 13,500 would be in Guyana within the first 60 days, the government was not worried since the suppliers had made some favourable commitments. The unit cost per computer is US$280 ($56,000) Nadir said, explaining that this figures includes an 18-month warranty and free access to spare parts if necessary.

Nadir told Stabroek News that a mechanism has been put in place for the computers to be stored in a safe and favourable environment while the instruments undergo sample testing. The testing should be completed within two to three days, Nadir explained.

So far over 9,000 applicants have had their information verified. He said that most of the applicants were compared with the disability and single-parent databases and the records for the Women of Worth (WOW) programme. The beneficiaries of the OLPF are expected to give back to the country via community service and Nadir made it clear that the authorities will not be telling the recipients that they “must do that or that”.

He said that the community service would depend on the skills of the individual as well as the national needs. This, he said, could include a teacher volunteering to teach remedial mathematics or someone volunteering at a national event, community project or one of the non-governmental organizations.

Nadir also indicated that there are at least 30 hubs nationally that are ready to facilitate the OLPF. More are expected to be ready shortly. The hubs are expected to be training centres for the families benefiting from the programme.

A pilot for the OLPF was launched in January, when 142 computers were ceremonially handed over to students from four entities. It was later disclosed that the computers were bought with a controversial US$50,000 gift from Chinese company Huawei, after it had won a US$14 million contract to lay fibre optic cables here.

Under the OLPF, the government hopes to distribute 90,000 computers to poor families over the next two years.

According to the Project Unit, once families receive their computers, they will benefit from continuous technical support and learning guidance and will have the opportunity to enhance their learning by progressing from basic to intermediary and advanced levels, through their ICT Hubs.

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