Monday, September 24, 2007

One Laptop per Child

The One Laptop per Child programme has not received the backing many expected and has experienced what one may say is the difference between getting the handshake and PR and having a cheque in the hand.

The ambitious programme is being driven by the founding member of MIT media lab Nick Negroponte and is based on de-cluttering the laptop down to the basics, providing free open software and creating a computer that is practical, rugged, affordable and that has the potential to transform third world education. The early reviews have been glowing, and mass production is set to start next month.

Earlier, Mr. Negroponte had hoped for orders for three million laptops, but those pledges have fallen short. Orders of a million each from Nigeria and Brazil did not materialize, however Peru, for example, will take 250,000 over the next year and Mexico and Uruguay have made firm commitments. Western countries had also backed the programme with Italy having agreed to purchase 50,000 for distribution in Ethiopia.
Each country will have its own agenda with many using them to educate their children and substituting textbooks for online reading via the high resolution screens.

So why the slow take-up? The answer is probably as complex as politics itself and may not be openly supported by all technology companies and education suppliers. To give the programme a boost a new campaign has now been launch called “Give 1 Get 1,” in which Americans and Canadians can buy two laptops for $399. The give one to a child in a developing nation, and the other one will be shipped to the purchaser by Christmas. It is hoped that many will donate the extra to local schools and organisations.

The laptops are targeted to be $100 a machine, and sturdy enough to withstand harsh conditions in developing world, are energy efficient, with power consumption being 10% or less of a conventional laptop.

It’s a shame that the players can’t come together, governemts, development and aid agencies, teachers, publishers and the western public to make this happen. At a time when the UK booktrade debates whether there will be a digital iPod moment in the market we find ourselves waiting and not acting to make ‘one laptop per child’ provide the difference and be a true iPod moment for so many.