**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q. Blog
Something I’ve been keeping my eye on for a while now is the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, a project originally spearheaded by one Nicholas Negroponte from MIT. Its intent is exactly that: ensure that every child in the developing world has access to their own computer that can be used to provide them access to knowledge and to help further their education.
To achieve this, many companies including AMD, Google, Nortel Networks, and Red Hat have collaborated to create a very cheap, very basic yet fully featured notebook computer that is rugged and can be charged through a variety of means like hand-cranks and the standard wall outlet. To cut down further on costs, the machines will be running a customized version of the Linux operating system, which is suitable to be run on low tech hardware.
You may have heard talk about a “$100 laptop” a few years ago aimed towards furthering education in the developing world; this project has its roots in that.
Unfortunately, the project has hit a few snags along the way. Because of manufacturing costs, they eventually had to raise the price to $199, although there is hope that if demand and production increases, the price can be lowered. Also, Intel has decided to create its own notebook computer aimed at the same market: the Classmate PC. Some are concerned that the machines will be put towards uses other than education, and of course, people are always asking if the money spent on this project could be better spent elsewhere, like on providing food and shelter.
Still, despite the long standing criticisms and logistical concerns, it would seem that it is slowly making inroads. Uruguay was the first significant deployment with 100,000 machines. Most recently, Peru has put in an order for 260,000 while Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has purchased 50,000 for use in his own country.
I personally think that this is a wonderful idea, and can’t quite understand why there seems to be so much resistance to this particular project in the corporate world. Yes, there are probably more immediate needs that could be solved with the money being spent on this project; just watching TV on Sunday morning constantly reminds me that there are hungry children in the world.
But the objective of this project has always been a long term one. The hope being that in a world and culture where books are hard to find or expensive to obtain, by providing children the means to access the wealth of information that is available out there for free, that the children will be given more opportunities than to those before them to further their education, and hopefully be able to lead better lives than those who came before them.
If you’d like to show your support to this project, the OLPC Foundation is currently holding a “Give One. Get One.” promotion where those in the Canada and U.S. can purchase one of these machines for $399 for themselves, and have a second machine donated to a child participating in the project. Corporations (or very rich individuals, I guess) can donate 100 machines or more and can be able to choose where in the world they will be deployed. To date, they have already received orders for 190,000 additional machines through these programs.
If an impoverished surfer dude can come up with a possible theory about everything, who knows what wealth of ideas can come from the children in the developing world if just given a chance and the means, which is why I love everything this project stands for.