The nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child has designed a laptop that would cost only $150. It is meant explicitly for the world’s poorest children, so they can take their learning in their own hands. Not only is the laptop extraordinarily cheap, but it’ll also have a wireless network capability. Production should begin in Taiwan in the middle of next year.
One of the brains behind the project is Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the M.I.T. Media Laboratory. The chief technologist is a former Intel chip designer by the name of Mary Lou Jepsen. “We believe you have to leverage the kids themselves,” Jepsen told the New York Times. “They’re learning machines.”
The laptop, however, as the New York Times reported yesterday, has stirred controversy and criticism. The naysayers argue that supplying children from the developing world with laptops is simply not enough and the emphasis should be on teacher training and curriculum development instead. The Indian Education Ministry, for example, spurned Mr. Negroponte’s proposal to place an order for a million laptops, saying they’d rather spend the money on primary and secondary education. Intel and Microsoft are among the critics of the $150 laptop.
Now, how was it possible to design such a cheap laptop?
“First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display,” according to the project’s website. “The first-generation machine will have a novel, dual-mode display that represents improvements to the LCD displays commonly found in inexpensive DVD players. These displays can be used in high-resolution black and white in bright sunlight—all at a cost of approximately $35.”
The laptops don’t have a hard drive or a Microsoft Windows operating system.
One Laptop Per Child intends “to market the laptops in very large numbers (millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks,” the project’s website says.
Five countries (Argentina, Brazil, Lybia, Nigeria and Thailand) have tentatively agreed to buy the $150 laptop for millions of their students, the Times reported. And good for them. Let’s hope more developing countries see the wisdom of giving their youth computers. While laptops, by themselves, won’t solve all the educational problems in the developing world, they will certainly contribute to raising children who are computer-literate, an indispensable skill today. So much information is available on the Internet and giving children access to that information has tremendous value.