Bruce Nussbaum writes an incredibly thoughtful piece on the failure of OLPC.
The OLPC has consistently been lauded in the US in terms of its design and its technology, not its underlying education pedagogy. But it is the pedagogy that has always been the crux of the experiment and it is the pedagogy, in the end, that proved unacceptable to governments around the world because they felt it insulted and challenged them.
The lesson here is that however brilliant the innovation, it needs to be appropriate to the context and the culture. It needs to fit in and not be imposed. And it needs coalitions, teams, to support it. In fact, in the case of education, which is extremely politically sensitive in every country, OLPC should have developed both the design of the computer and the pedagogy with the Indian and Chinese teachers and administrators, not for them.
Without the implicit and explicit support of both the governed and the governing, social welfare initiatives, however beneficent, are doomed to failure. Especially one as impactful as to suggest in some measure, bypassing the educational systems supporting 2.4 billion people in China and India alone. Although OPLC embraced the constructionist theories of learning as part of the OPLC development strategy, (which is good because these theories have cross-cultural applicability), it seems that "selling" this applicability wasn't part of OPLC's "goto market" strategy.
Piaget, through the study of his own as well as other children created Cognitive - Development Theory. He proposed that children's thinking is qualitatively different than adults and he successfully demonstrated that children need to construct or reconstruct knowledge in order to learn, therefore they need rich opportunities to interact with the physical world and with their peers. Papert on the other hand, also a constructionist, focuses not so much on the qualitative differences in learning at the various developmental stages but on the "art of learning", how children learn to learn and how children engage in conversation (ironic eh?) to drive self-directed learning.
Self directed learning is a critical element of development but is just one of many educational vehicles which fuel a child's development. Reflecting back on the the Chinese and Indian educational systems, surely they are capable of educating their youth, but the OPLC project would have made such self-directed constructive learning much more powerful. Further, while both Piaget's and Papert's theories hold universal applicability, there are cultural differences, and perhaps the OPLC team did not do enough to place those differences in context of the specific cultures they were targeting. Research suggests that it is possible to adjust for these cultural differences.