Jun 5, 2006
In recent days, significant media attention has been given to MIT's One Laptop per Child initiative, including a good deal of, in my opinion, unwarranted criticism. The following is my personal take on the matter, as posted on the California Education Technology Processors Association (CETPA) mailing list:

When considering the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, we must bear in mind the real purpose of the initiative, along with the problems that these countries face with regard to education. I can understand how one might be tempted to evaluate the potential effectiveness of OLPC solely based on the technical specifications of the tool, mistakenly basing their conclusions on their personal experiences in the classrooms of the richest country in the world. Before we pass judgement on it, we must first study the project itself, discover who is behind it, evaluate the educational needs of the rest of the world without personal bias, and consider the tool as it applies to the goal, rather than our personal desires or experiences.

We would do well to consider that more than half of the world's children - that's more than 500 million - live among families whose annual income is less than $40. Most only have access to minimal organized education, where they meet in small groups, under a tree or in a structure that barely qualifies as a building, to be taught by someone with no more than a sixth grade education. The vast majority have never used anything that requires electricity - since they do not generally have access to it - let alone any sort of communication device.

When we consider the $100 laptop, we need to stop looking at it as a laptop, and start looking at it as a communication device, which is its intended purpose. It is not meant to be a powerful computer, upon which students will build sophisticated presentations, media, and programs, it is designed to be a tool that connects them to the information and educational resources of the outside world. It is designed to be rugged, to require no electricity to operate, to extend connectivity to regions that do not otherwise possess it, and to connect children to each other, so that they might learn, collaborate, and grow.

This project is more than twenty years in the making, and backed by some of the brightest minds in America today. These are no amateurs, but people with real life, hands on experience in these countries, with their children, and their cultures. They have brought computers (including laptops) to these regions for two decades, exposed the children to them, and witnessed the zeal for learning that these tools have generated in their hands. They have experienced educational successes in these areas that none of us can truly grasp.

We know that one laptop per child improves education, which is why we all believe it is a good idea. It is just as good an idea in Nigeria as it is in the United States. I personally believe that education is the solution to all sorts of global problems, and if this endeavor has a positive impact on the lives of one in five - even one in ten - then it will have been a tremendous success, having affected significant percentages of the populations of many countries. I believe that the delays and the reasons behind them are encouraging - that they indicate great care by those are involved and an effort to "get it right." I, for one, support this project and encourage each of you to look into the realities of it yourselves, rather than relying on commentary in the media by those who are not directly involved. We could, as we so often do, debate it to death in an effort to attain some sort of bureaucratic perfection (an oxymoron,) or we can act now, when the time is right, and have a positive impact on our tiny planet.

For more information on the One Laptop Per Child initiative, visit their web site at www.laptop.org


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  1. Jim,
    Interesting topic you bring to the community. I say interesting as this reflects what truly blogs are all about; reflection, questioning and communication. And as you so aptly put it bringing laptops to communities in need creates more communication and learning. Just think what our own children could learn communicating with some of these children. It's already happening in some school districts and some countries.
    It's these visionaries who see the big picture.

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