Africa, Politics, Sci-Tech

Cheap laptops for world’s poor: one man and his dream

By Branko Brkic 9 November 2009

Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child project, which has already reached a million kids in 31 countries, is attracting criticism from all the right people. Greater success surely awaits.

In January 2005, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The mission statement was as bland as the goal was ambitious: “To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.” At first believers were few, but when project chairman Nicholas Negroponte and UN secretary general Kofi Annan presented a working prototype to the World Summit on the Information Society in November 2005, important people began to take notice.

Today, OLPC has delivered around a million laptops to impoverished children in 31 countries, at a price of less than US$200 per unit. There are a further million on order, which makes this something of a phenomenon in the ineffectual-yet-well-meaning world of NGOs. But the problem for Negroponte, as the New York Times has it, is that he promised to ship seven million laptops at a price of US$100.

Is he embarrassed by the shortfall? Regretful? Not in the least, and neither is he apologetic – he had to aim high, he says, or he would not have gotten the publicity and governmental support that enabled him to get this far.

As the NYT observes, Negroponte has delivered on the rarely attempted and the even more rarely achieved. Very few technology firms target their products or services at the “other 90 percent,” simply because the richest ten percent have all the money. And not only is Negroponte’s laptop a threat to mainstream IT thinking. The NGOs don’t like it because they reckon it’s a vanity project, teachers hate its educational methodology, environmentalists moan about its toxic waste potential, and techies complained about its commitment to freedom when Microsoft (ultimately unsuccessfully) prevailed on it to include Windows XP as an operating system option.

Which means, of course, that OLPC is going to be an all-‘round winner.

Read more: New York Times

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