By Tim Receveur
November 22, 2005
One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a U.S.-based organization created by faculty members of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, seeks to distribute the low-cost computers through ministries of education, according to Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and Wiesner professor of media technology at MIT.
He says that OLPC has had "initial discussions" on implementing the program with officials from China, Brazil, Thailand and Egypt.
Negroponte, who first announced the initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, said the new technology could revolutionize how the world's children are educated.
"Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think," he said November 16. "They are a wonderful way for all children to 'learn learning' through independent interaction and exploration."
"We hope to provide these laptops to hundreds of millions of children around the world," he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the laptop initiative "inspiring" and said it has the potential to change lives in poorer nations. "It holds the promise of major advances in economic and social development," he said during the WSIS meeting.
"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," Annan said.
OLPC hopes to have laptops ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007, and will begin manufacturing when 5 million to 10 million machines have been ordered and paid for in advance, Negroponte says.
Power supply interruptions are a recurring problem in developing nations. To address that constraint, the laptop can be fitted with a hand crank to supply extra power when needed. According to MIT Media Lab, one minute of hand cranking will result in 40 minutes of uninterrupted power.
"In one Cambodian village where we have been working, there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home," Negroponte said.
The laptop also features a low-power display that can be switched from color to black and white to allow viewing in bright sunlight. Many children in developing countries attend school outside, he said.
The machine can be folded in different ways to serve as a computer, electronic book or media player. "We designed the device to perform many roles," said Negroponte. He also said applications will be open-source based (run from a nonproprietary operating system), and available in "every single language that people want."
U.S. GOVERNMENT GOALS
The OLPC initiative is consistent with other U.S. efforts to narrow the gap between countries that make comprehensive use of technology and those that have little access to it. It is one of many U.S. public- and private-sector efforts to bring the benefits of information and communications technologies (ICT) to the developing world.
"The key here is to get countries around the world, but particularly in the developing world, to adopt and ingrain the use of technology to help better their economies, jobs, economic opportunities," U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher told reporters November 16.
WSIS originally was convened in 2003 to help bring the benefits of technology to poorer countries. However, in advance of the Tunis summit, talks and media attention focused heavily on a disagreement among nations over Internet governance and the oversight of the main computers that control traffic on the Internet. That disagreement was resolved, clearing the way for WSIS again to focus on its original mission.
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