Peru's distribution of more than 800,000 low-cost laptop computers to children across the country easily ranks as one of the world's most ambitious efforts to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty.
Yet five years into the programme, there are serious doubts about whether the largest single deployment in the One Laptop Per Child initiative was worth the more than $200 million that Peru's government spent.
Ill-prepared rural teachers were often unable to fathom, much less teach with the machines, software bugs didn't get fixed and most had no way to connect to the Internet. Many could not take the computers home as the initiative intended. And some schools even lacked electricity to keep them running.
"In essence, what we did was deliver the computers without preparing the teachers," said Sandro Marcone, the Peruvian education official who now runs the programme.
He believes the missteps may have actually widened the gap between children able to benefit from the computers and those ill-equipped to do so, he said, in a country whose public education system is rated among the world's worst.
The volume of low-cost, education-focused computers delivered globally remains modest. Intel Corp. says it has shipped more than 7 million, about a third in Argentina. Venezuela boasts 1.6 million distributed, licensed from a Portuguese company.