One Laptop Per Child


in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters

Bronze maple leaf

People who do not spend half their lives on the internet may not have heard about the One Laptop Per Child Program. This non-profit initiative has produced an inexpensive laptop meant to be used as an educational tool by children in the developing world. The device has been reviewed by the New York Times and, while it is limited in some ways, it seems to serve its intended purpose very well. Furthermore, it does some things that no other available laptop can, such as on-the-fly mesh networking: where computers close together automatically link up, allowing internet connections to be shared and collaboration within applications. It uses a $10 battery that is good for four times more charges than a normal laptop battery, while also providing six hours of power with the screen’s backlight engaged or 24 hours without. The machines also have built-in video cameras and microphones.

Through the ongoing Give One, Get One promotion, people can spend $400, receive one laptop for themselves, and donate one to a child in the developing world. Needless to say, one of these would make an amazing Christmas gift for a young person (the keyboard is apparently too small to be used comfortably by adults). Dust-proof and spill-proof, these things seem to be safe in the hands of the average child. Not only do they come with some very neat software, they really embrace the philosophy of letting children learn how it all works. One button reveals the code behind any website or program being used on the machine: potentially breeding a new generation of skilled programmers.

That last part is important. Some people have argued that laptops are hardly a priority in a world where people lack access to the basic requirements of life. In many places, that is certainly true. At the same time, having access to technology of this kind can help both individuals and societies push themselves along the path to development. It is more rewarding and sustainable, in the long run, to do that through the accumulation of expertise and skill than by continuing to rely upon what can be caught in nets, cut down, or dug out of the ground.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan November 29, 2007 at 4:47 pm

What’s essentially right in the labtop-per-child program is that the poorest countries do not have to develop through the progression: manafacture own simplest goods (importing complex goods) towards Manafacture most complex goods (important simplest goods) in a linear way as the 1st world has. It can simply start producing complex goods and importing simple goods right away – the problem is never not having enough food, but the foods distribution. And distribution can’t be solved by giving food away, because the destroys local economies. Countries must have exports so that they can have imports.

Anon November 29, 2007 at 6:22 pm

Mesh networking is awesome. It is how all mobile phones should eventually work.

Milan November 30, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Glimpsing Nigeria’s digital lifeline

Until recently there was nothing that marked out Galadima primary school as anything out of the ordinary.

The government-run school, flanked by a red dust road on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria, taught about 300 pupils who congregated from the surrounding rural area.

But in March this year, the scruffy primary became part of a remarkable experiment. It was the first in Africa to get its hands on the so-called $100 laptop, a rugged device aimed at helping children in the developing world get the most from their education.

Kerrie December 1, 2007 at 10:54 pm

The only thing is, I think programs like that need to be pretty watchful about the way they are delivered. If it is as useful as they say, shouldn’t the governments be partially funding the programs through their school systems, or at least through local school systems, village councils, clubs and associations? Nigeria can afford to pay for its own development. Mali and Burkina Faso may be another story but it is a question of community/national engagement.

I also have a big problem with useful programs like that aimed exclusively at children. Adults in Africa need to boost their computer literacy skills too, they just aren’t as cute and we don’t expect them to supplicate for our aid quite as much. The $100 laptop is a great idea. Why limit it with the usual sentimental, donor-oriented bullshit?

. December 3, 2007 at 10:00 am

One Laptop Per Child orders surge
Peru wants 260,000 machines; Mexican billionaire signs up

Despite slower-than-expected sales and tough competition from commercial rivals, the One Laptop Per Child Foundation of Cambridge is enjoying a surge of new orders.

Nicholas Negroponte, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who set up the foundation to provide low-cost laptops to poor schoolchildren around the globe, said in an interview yesterday that the government of Peru has signed a contract to purchase 260,000 of the $188 machines. “It was notarized five minutes ago,” he said, adding that the Peruvian order will make it easier for the foundation to sign up more countries to the program. “It’s momentum.”

Negroponte also said Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has purchased 50,000 of the machines for distribution in his country. “He’s an old friend, and he’s been involved in this from the beginning,” Negroponte said.

The nonprofit has designed its laptop to eventually cost less than $100 each. It hopes to persuade governments in developing countries to buy millions of the machines and hand them out free of charge as educational tools.

. December 6, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Rugged XO far from child’s play

Globe and Mail Update

“The machine is clearly designed for communications. One of the first things to greet the user is a connectivity map: colour-coded icons represent the presence of either a standard Wi-Fi network or mesh networking, which is a way for each XO PC to connect to other XO machines nearby.

It’s also rugged. Encased in a white and bright green plastic box, like a high-end American toy, it is so durable it can withstand a bounce or two on rocky ground. It’s also rain-proof: its keyboard is covered in a flexible membrane that keeps sand and water from gumming it up. There are no moving parts inside (its memory is flash-based) to suffer much damage, and its two antennas, placed on the screen and resembling bunny ears, double as locks to keep the laptop closed. And the whole thing comes with a carrying handle and two openings suitable for a shoulder strap.

Like the keyboard, the screen is moisture resistant, and offers visibility in either bright sunlight or darkness, with the resulting drawback that it does not offer the dazzlingly colourful display demanded by the developed world. “

. December 13, 2007 at 10:32 am

A child’s view of the $100 laptop

” So Rufus is using his laptop to write, paint, make music, explore the internet, and talk to children from other countries.

Because it looks rather like a simple plastic toy, I had thought it might suffer the same fate as the radio-controlled dinosaur or the roller-skates he got last Christmas – enjoyed for a day or two, then ignored.

Instead, it seems to provide enduring fascination.

I had returned from Nigeria not entirely convinced that the XO laptop was quite as wonderful an educational tool as its creators claimed.

I felt that a lot of effort would be needed by hard-pressed teachers before it became more than just a distracting toy for the children to mess around with in class.

But Rufus has changed my mind.

With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time.

The One Laptop Per Child project is struggling to convince developing countries providing computers for children is as important as giving them basic facilities like water or electricity.

Unusually, Rufus does not have an opinion about that controversy, but he does have a verdict on the laptop. “It’s great,” he says. “

. January 4, 2008 at 11:04 am

One clunky laptop per child
Jan 4th 2008

Great idea. Shame about the mediocre computer

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