Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Computers for Peace: The $100 Laptop

The goals of a global one-to-one laptop program go beyond learning.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia

Drop a laptop computer into the hands of a child in a remote Chinese village, and Nicholas Negroponte predicts a cascade of results will unfold: The child will encounter new knowledge and ways to express herself through images, words, and sounds. She may help her parents find markets for their products in other cities via cheap satellite Internet -- or even develop a business plan herself. One family's growing prosperity will lift the village's fortunes and expand opportunities for their neighbors.

Credit: Design Continuum

Millions of chains of events like this one are the goal of the One Laptop per Child Foundation (OLPC), the nonprofit organization founded by Negroponte and other faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. The group has developed a children's laptop, made in bold colors, which it intends to manufacture by the millions and sell at just over $100 to developing countries for their education ministries to distribute like textbooks.

The Linux-based machines will have a hand crank for power in places without reliable electricity, and a display screen with a black-and-white mode that's readable in bright sunlight. Internal wireless devices will enable each laptop to talk with others nearby, creating local-area networks. The XO, as the computer is called, is being tested in Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Palestine, Pakistan, and Thailand. Its makers aim to start full-scale production in mid-2007.

Nicholas Negroponte

Credit: MIT

Here, Negroponte, chairman of the OLPC Foundation, discusses the XO's prospects on the eve of its launch.

Has the XO ever been envisioned for U.S. markets? Do you see any potential benefit in the United States now?

This has always been for the developing-world market and conceived for places where less than $200 per child per year is spent on primary and secondary education. The benefit to the United States is perhaps a wake-up call. The nation should just do it. We are not needed. When you spend $8,000-$10,000 per child, whether the laptop costs $150 or $400 is not meaningful.

Whom do you expect to benefit most from the laptops?

Children. We are targeting the full span of age groups, six to sixteen. The most benefit will be for those in remote and rural areas. We have designed the machine to run on human power, for example. Likewise, in places without telephony, we have the means for children to connect to the Internet for less than $1 per month.

How will the laptops change kids' lives?

Think of these as books, pencils, music machines, and toys to make things with. The children will not be just consumers but will be expected to create things. Lives are changed by hope. In the places where One Laptop Per Child has been practiced, parents are more engaged, truancy drops to nearly zero, and teachers say they have never had more fun teaching.

Are there regions of the world where the OLPC model will not work?

There are some cultures where it works more naturally, like Brazil, which is a very bottom-up society. There are others where it is harder, like China, not only because it is a teacher-centric and top-down society, but because Confucius would not have advocated laptops. His theories about teaching, the centricity of teachers, and the required obedience of children are pretty strong.

Credit: fuse-project

Critics of one-to-one laptop programs in the United States say the computers facilitate more in-class distraction (instant messaging, MySpace, and so on) than learning, that they allow children access to inappropriate content, and that the benefits of constant access are so far unproven. Do you share those concerns?

We do not share those concerns, but that is not to say they are not real issues. Our kids in Cambodia learn English using chat and MySpace. Children are distracted if the teaching is not interesting. One education minister just said to us, about the $100 laptop, "Finally, education will include learning."

How significant of a setback was India's choice not to buy any XOs? Any lessons learned?

India did not make that decision, actually. The country decided to do it at the state level versus the federal level, and is doing so. The fuss in the press was created artificially by large corporate interests and a small academic irritant in Chenai. The setback was merely the wasted time needed to combat an orchestrated campaign. The lesson we learned is that being a nonprofit, humanitarian organization does not make you immune from dirty tricks.

Does your work end with supplying an affordable laptop, or will you press for concomitant changes in teaching, too?

We are an education project, not a laptop project. When somebody like Intel enters the market with a $330 laptop, as it has done, that is the best news we can hear. Our goal is to maximize the number of children who have laptops -- any laptop. By so doing, we approach a different kind of learning. Teaching is only one way to learn. It should and will be supported by OLPC and others. I would liken us more to Wikipedia, where most previous tools for teaching have been like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In an ideal world, what is your single greatest hope for this project?

A three-step hope: World peace through the elimination of poverty through education through learning. Education is the goal; learning is the means. A lot of learning can happen without teaching. We're banking on that.

Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Maddie Davidson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wonder if it would be possible for schools to use the Title nine funds to provide laptops to US students who are living in poverty? Or, perhaps, we could organize a charity movement to buy laptops for students who qualify for Title nine funds? And as a classroom teacher who often has 30 students working on 15 computers, I had no more trouble with students on unacceptable pages when I did not have a "net nanny' than I do now with one. Teacher supervision is the answer to all distractions from paper clips to computers. It is my job to stay alert and to make my lessons as student centered as possible.

Jim Oser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Pay $400 (actually it is $430, when you include shipping) and get:

1) A laptop that someone might enjoy to learn about programming and for doing other experiments. It has Linux and python on it.

2) A laptop goes to a 3rd world country.

3) You get a $200 tax donation.

4) You get a year of T-Mobile Wireless Access. The T-Mobile part alone is valued at $400.

See http://www.laptopgiving.org for details.

There is a video about this computer.

Go to http://www.nytimes.com

Click on the video tab.

Search: XO

Select: One Laptop per Child by David Pogue

I just signed up for one.

Deadline for signup is November 26.

Even if you don't want the laptop, take a look at the video. It is pretty interesting.

JIm

Interested's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My sister wants to give a laptop to her 8 year old grandchild. She is suffering from cancer and can't afford the high prices for computers. How can she get one of these for $100.00?

chris webb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I live in the philippines and I want to purchase one of these laptops for my 4 year old daughter. can ne1 out there help me and tell me where in the philippines I can purchase one

many thanks

chris

Jackie Creneti's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it is great that children in other countries will have the opportunities to use Laptops. However, I am a classroom teacher for Philadelphia. I only have one working computer in my classroom. It would be wonderful if my students were given the same opportunity. My students can not afford computers. Some of my students can not afford supplies. I would love it if we had some working laptops in the classroom. Let's face it, technology is growing. We must supply our students with the knowledge to use that technology or they will be lose.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a fantatic idea. Children would be very interested in learning on a laptop as opposed to a "paper and pencil" method and this could be used as a wonderful educational tool. I do think that this idea would be beneficial to students in poverty here in the United States as well.

Doe Worlator's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

A noble idea which is long overdue. Nevertheless, it`s better now than never. How on earth does the price of the laptopXO keep changing? At one time it`s $100, the next time it`s doubled, sooner than later has even quadrupled. How sure are we that this is not highjacked by the wealthy in these same poorer countries? Some governments in the 3rd World have already awarding credits to self and party i.e. NPP/Kufuor (Source:ghanaweb.com) for the sweat of the innovator/philanthropist Dr Negroponte. This is global and revolutionary so why can`t the persons in the third world who can afford just buy it at the said $100 price from source. In effect this could fasten the said dream of reaching the needy and the poorest of the poor, guaranteed. So that it does not become another overdependend tool for exclusion.

Takele Desisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted by Takele Dsisa.I admire you for this noble endeavor. I'm a teacher in Ethiopia and a strong advocate of technology integration in the teaching and learning. I have seen how the use of technology has made an impact in the learning of my students. My students' faces light up whenever I tell them we will hold our class in the computer laboratory. Using technology enables my students to improve not just their technological skills but also their research skills, communication skills and creativity. They are able to express themselves better with the aid of technology.
When I assign projects, almost all my students come to school early because they do not have computers at home. Our 2000 students need to share 90 computers. Many of them get disappointed whenever they come to school thinking that they can use the computer only to see that the laboratory is jampacked with students wanting to have access.
I do hope that this project would come to Ethiopia soon. I hope our government also looks into this possibility of providing one-to-one computer to our disadvantaged students.

Barbara Brown's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That day is not the far away when computer will take the place of routine text books.
The next generation of computer will be known by the name of laptop copy or register. It will be used as a paper made copy. This type of laptop will be comfortable in dealing. No doubt the next era will totally be dependent and devoted to computer technology.
Barbara Brown
Laptop Computers South-Africa

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.