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Low-Cost Laptop: A Redesigned Computer for the World's Children

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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If you're not aware of the One Laptop per Child effort, you should be, if only because the rest of the world clearly is. And don't stop at reading what the One Laptop per Child Foundation has to say about it; read this article about it, and search "olpc," and you'll soon be an expert.

I attended a meeting today, May 20, 2008, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Nicholas Negroponte and his OLPC team discussed their current efforts and the next-generation device. (On one side of me sat a colleague from Maine; on the other was a fellow from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's Education Ministry.) Here is some of what was announced:

  • The next iteration of the OLPC XO computer will be released in 2010.
  • It will work both in Sugar, the open source operating system on the first-generation XO, and on Windows XP. (Microsoft has reduced the price of XP to $3 per license to make it possible for OLPC to keep costs low.)
  • The screen will be much improved.
  • The overall format will be like an e-book -- folding, with two touch screens (each screen will behave somewhat like the iPhone) -- and a virtual keyboard will be available.
  • The target cost is $75.
  • The discontinued Give One Get One program, in which buyers donate a laptop to a child in a developing nation when they purchase their own, will resume.

In 2000, the European Union designated global distribution of XO laptops as a Millennium Development Goal to help reduce world poverty. How will the world change when every student ages 6-12 in, say, Uruguay, as well as every teacher, has a laptop? Will that make a difference to your school? What are your thoughts about the porting of Sugar into Windows XP? Does the apparent move from open source concern you?

When I spoke to Negroponte before the session began today, he described responses to the OLPC as resembling an "anti-bell curve" -- no one is in the middle. They either love it, or they hate it. Go take a look and share your thoughts. It is the future.

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (23) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...this makes everyone think.

It is great to see the thoughtful comments, and the varied "good news, bad news, happy news, sad news" tones. I, like so many others, am torn by the idea of laptops for all... Imagine the potential! Imagine the problems...

But then I remember that people are people, and schools are schools, and I wonder about really having to worry about reaching that potential or surfacng those problems...

Because, in the end, I don't think any problem is either created by technology alone or solved by technology, be it a social, environmental, or intellectual issue. The creation of problems and their solutions must be a complex mix of people, tools, and how the former uses the latter. You may be interested in reading the piece I wrote here about on "21st Century Skills and Any-Century Skills" -

Lissette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it's an amazing idea to be giving computers to children in rural countries. But at the same time lets open our eyes and take a look around we might not be a third world country but there are still homeless children and fmailies around poor schools that don't even have enough books or desk for the kids not even supplies. I think we should focus on both sides of the world our children here in U.S and the children in other parts of the world.

Wendy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a great program. At my school district our computers are really old and it what make a difference if we had new computers. If each student had their own laptop, I could incoperate technology more and use them as teaching tools. This would inhance the student's use of technology as adults.

Chantel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a fabulous idea. It's only a matter of time before it's fully implemented. Kids today are more comfortable and familiar with technology than their teachers are and so I imagine that it will be harder for us teachers to allow this shift than for them.
This will allow students to have with them, at all times, all of their books, notes, homework, etc. Instead of carrying around those scoliosis-causing backpacks they'll have everything in a tablet style laptop.
As long as costs are maintained low and affordable, we should run with this idea. Where I live, Miami, this program has really only been seen in very well-to-do private schools. If we're going to offer this to public schools we need to make it accessible to ALL students! I completely agree with another bloggers comment, I think it's very generous on our part to donate laptops to 3rd world countries but it's important to provide for our poor as well.

As a side-note though, let me be honest, I personally feel like there's nothing like flipping through pages. I fear this will become a thing of the past.

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Chantel -

Ahh, the flipping through pages. I agree! Please take a look at this piece I posted about Any Century Skills. Balance in all things, and both digital and real-world are so important.


elyse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I spent last summer actually building schools in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Before they get laptops, perhaps they may actually need CLASSROOMS, which are scarce and overcrowded. Ok, now if they have classrooms and teachers, who will teach the teachers how to use these laptops? The kids don't have shoes, electricity, or health care. Teachers don't always show up. Classrooms are overcrowded or non existent. I am all for this technology, but we need to evaluate its use and implementation and the priorities of needs of the people we want to help.

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elyse -

I applaud your efforts in Malawi. To my mind the thinking around the OLPC is that the situation in many places around the world, Malawi being one, is too critical to make education wait for schools to be built.

In other words there is a push to put the tools for learning directly into the hands of the learners, the kids, and, in a way, to cut out the middleman. So I would agree yes to building schools, but would also look for other ways to increase access to thinking and learning resources.

Digital distribution of thinking and learning resources makes it possible for us all to ask the question, "Why do we still need schools?" The reasons we need schools are so many, but their role must grow beyond the traditional, it seems to me.



Max Miller's picture
Max Miller
Parent of 2 in Tucson

When I grew up computers were just starting to become a part of every school. Now I can't imagine my children NOT having computers when they go to school as well as at home. I really hope that the One Laptop per Child effort is successful. If not, I think schools around the globe need to have access to cheap laptop rentals so that students can have a chance to use laptops for special projects once in a while when necessary.

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