One Laptop Per Child Finds New Partners in Sri Lanka Test Run

Virtusa adopts OLPC as a pet cause, tests and improves hardware and software.

OLPC

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has had its fair share of critique and controversy, but if any of that is putting a damper on the project, someone forgot to tell its founder, MIT Media’ Lab’s Nicholas Negroponte—now he's partnered with IT consulting group, Virtusa, which has decided to run user scenarios and tests to help improve the software and hardware behind OLPC.

Critics of the laptop plan have asked: Why put so much energy and money into developing a simple, inexpensive, durable laptop and education software, when the true need lies in creating a quality educational ecosystem that relies heavily on trained teachers and only to a limited extent, on tools such as the OLPC XO laptop?

Virtusa, no doubt experienced in technology in developing countries, could help answer that as it continues to support OLPC—in war-torn Sri Lanka, no less, where Internet usage is only about 5.5% of the population. About 1,300 laptops have been distributed for 13 rural schools. Would teacher training make a bigger impact? The debate goes on for now. Answers, hopefully, soon.

[Top Image via flickr/jsbarrie; thumbnail image via flickr/Rodrigo Mesquita]

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5 Comments

  • Vinay Rao

    Are the critics critical of a laptop plan or of a technology intervention in general? You need technology to leapfrog the availability of the quality educational ecosystem, so that the motivated kids can go figure out a lot of things for themselves.

    Just that, It is hard to tell if a laptop is the answer. I dont think it is the mobile phone either, though many companies are betting on that as a medium. More likely that a low cost PC coupled to a large screen working with services from the cloud - internet browsing, social networking, education, entertainment, social games - with customized interfaces for multiple users at home, will serve this market better.

    In India (and presumably Sri Lanka is not far) theft is a big issue (bigger than vandalism), so a portable product may not be around for long, especially if it is too big to fit into your pocket.

  • scott griffis

    I hope to see the prices of these devices drop. They are still a bit high. Imagine if everyone had access to the internet with the ability to research anything and compete in a global market. Anyone could create websites and start their own income source and educate themselves if they have the desire. Where you live will become less important. I know it is only part of the picture, but it changes options for a lot of people.

    ---
    http://www.cubecheck.com

  • Nicholas Negroponte

    "Why put so much energy and money into developing a simple, inexpensive, durable laptop and education software, when the true need lies in creating a quality educational ecosystem that relies heavily on trained teachers and only to a limited extent, on tools such as the OLPC XO laptop? "

    That is why. A quality educational ecosystem takes a long time, building schools and preparing teachers, most of whom do not want to go to rural areas afterward. So, in parallel, note the word parallel, leverage the children, let them teach their parents how to read and write. Start in places that have no school, no electricity, no cellphone. Continue the other stiff, but this move, at a total cost of purchase and ownership of $1 per week, can change society in a few months.

    Think of it like inoculating children (against ignorance). You do not wait for country to have a complete primary care health system before vaccinating all the kids.

    NN

  • Jenara Nerenberg

    Thanks for your comment, Nicholas. Always good to hear from the people at the heart of our stories and your perspective, obviously, is crucial to the debate. JN

  • Chamindra de Silva

    I agree with @Nicholas Negroponte. Despite any controversy, the mission of the OLPC program is very clear and honorable, which is the empowerment of children especially in rural communities, giving them _additional_ opportunities for learning that they would not otherwise have for themselves. OLPC does certainly have to compete with other low cost technologies in that regard in the market place (and I think that competition is welcome), but simply it's existence as a project has done much to bring focus to this area and has helped nurture a wealth of low cost solutions in this space. The OLPC roadmap is looking very promising with the XO 1.5s, XO 2.0s (touchscreen) and has no doubt integrated a wealth of learning from the deployment of the XO 1.0s. Everyone will have to compete harder to provide better low-cost solutions to children and this is all going to be great to help bridge the digital divide.

    Chamindra de Silva, Virtusa