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This is NOT a School in a Box

By Wayan Vota on November 11, 2011


Recently there is much hoopla over this tweet by David Coltart, Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, in Zimbabwe:

Great meeting with Apple folk in Paris today; “school boxes” will take iPads and education apps to the most remote schools in Zimbabwe

David was referring to IADT’s “School in a Box” (SIAB), which is a Peli Case filled with iPads, a solar panel, LED projector, and speakers, and many were excited that solar powered iPads would be rolling out to rural schools in Zim.


Now there isn’t an iPad initiative in Zimbabwe, just the hopes for one, but I found the hopes around “School in a Box” to be even more misplaced. The School in a Box is a nice, self-contained computer hardware system, but let us be real.

This is NOT a “School in a Box” –>

A school is much more than just computer hardware. More than the cool apps that run on an iPad – even one with its own solar power and a projector to share its interface with a class. A school is the summation of many parts, almost all of them human. Teachers, students, administrators, parents and the surrounding community all working together to educate children and lead them to adulthood.

There is no way all that can be squeezed into a box or expected to come out of one.

Now technology can play a role. It can facilitate and accelerate the good intentions of the school community and student’s curiosity and enthusiasm. It can take the educational experience to a new level. But it cannot work wonders. And a box of iPads alone is just that. A box of gadgets. Not a school.



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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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7 Comments to “This is NOT a School in a Box”

  1. Eugenio says:


    This is a great post, I have just shared it on my Facebook profile. I find it resonates strongly with some ideas I wrote about on my own blog… I find that techno-determinism is in full blow, and it tends to bring about absurd ideas such as a “school-in-a-box”.

    You’ll find my post “Against techno-determinism” here:

    A short excerpt:
    Technological determinism is an ideological standpoint that assumes that a society’s technology drives the development of its social and cultural spheres. Those who adhere to this theory tend to see technology and science as morally superior to intellectualism, considering it to be useless and even harmful to society. They believe only in the value of what can be done, and not of what can be thought. Yet, as Kant said, “Experience without theory is blind”. Techno-determinists tend to be blind to all the theoretical and critical developments in society, and ignore the way in which these idea-driven processes actually make technological advancement possible.


  2. Wayan Vota says:


    I don’t think the “School in a Box” people “see technology and science as morally superior to intellectualism”. I think they genuinely believe in the need for intellectualism, and that technology can help bring about its development in students minds. Where I differ with them, is that I don’t think technology alone should be considered a school.

  3. Eugenio says:


    When I wrote my post, I was not thinking about the “School in a box” people… I don’t know them, so I can’t be sure what their intellectual standpoint is. But techno-determinists tend to think that technology alone can “do the trick”. In the case of “School in a box”, the guidance of teachers and the social interactions that happen naturally at schools seem to be dismissed, in favor of a scenario in which lone students, surrounded by technology, can learn by themselves. I do see a great dose of techno-determinism here. And although I agree that technology can greatly enhance learning, there’s definitely much more to the process, and that’s what seems to be missing in this project.

  4. Jim Teicher says:

    Equipment simply plays a supporting role as part of good teaching and learning. Everything is driven by what it is that needs to be learned — and how to present it to impact students most effectively using today’s equipment and content. Bring on the iPads once there are clear instructional objectives, a sound pedagogical approach, and plenty of funds available for ongoing professional development.

    I think that the iPads and related equipment are beautifully packaged — but this is the farthest thing from a being a school, and labeling it as such actually serves to set back the whole mentality regarding the role of ICT in learning. It’s easy go package equipment, harder to package learning. This has been said over and over and over.

  5. c-sez says:

    how many iPads per school?
    how many iPads per student?
    what is the opportunity cost of this spend, measured in teacher-years of salary?
    what a joke.

  6. sburton says:

    Right on point.

    This is savvy marketing, for sure, but it’s precisely ICT4D projects being spun this way that perpetuates the widespread misconception that tech is a ‘magic bullet’ solution.

    If we (both the general public and the ICT4D sector) are going to stop investing time and money in projects that (potentially) repeat mistakes that have already been made, we need to stop oversimplifying the way we explain ICT4D.

  7. Wayan Vota says:

    A friend just pointed out that to get to all the content this program refers to for schools, you need an iTunes account. To get an iTunes account, you need a credit card. Not just any credit card, but one accepted for retail sales in the USA or Europe. No credit card no account.

    I wonder how many schoolteachers or students have US credit cards in Zimbabwe?