Friday, 3 February 2012

2.5 million times One Laptop Per Child (the OLPC Project)

"What children lack is not capability, it is opportunity and resources... Put this ultra-low-cost, powerful, rugged, low-power, ecological laptop in their hands and contribute to making a better world." (source)

I first became aware of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project a year or two after news of its inception back in 2005. Take a rich and persuasive philanthropist, Nicholas Negroponte, a great idea, the shrinking cost of technology, and a novel concept, then get a raft of top technology companies interested in assisting, and that is the OLPC Project. Companies such as, AMD, eBay, Google, Red Hat, Quanta Computers, and others, originally helped fund the venture. The main thrust of the project was to create a $100 laptop which could be given to kids, especially of poorer countries, and countries lacking a modern communications infrastructure, in order for them to have before them, access to the internet, and all the tools of learning and knowledge that entails. No doubt about it, a noble cause.

The idea is that governments buy up the laptops for their schools, and with substantial orders, the cost is kept low. The laptops are given to school kids, one laptop per child, and the child has this for the length of their education. The laptops have wireless broadband and can work as an ad-hoc network, one machine can talk to another, so even without full internet access, each computer is still part of a local network.

The technology behind each machine is thoroughly modern and innovative, especially in regard to screen design and power and charging systems. Although to someone in the rich west, used to the latest hi-tech mind-blowingly fast computer processors and memory, the OLPC machine may seem a bit behind, even obsolete and retro, in fact, it is the cutting edge of technology. It is designed to be used in extreme heat, or cold, resistant to weather of all sorts, drop proof, sunlight readable, and folds flat, screen up, for eBook mode. It also has a built-in video camera, no cooling fan, and no mechanical hard drive, rather it uses solid state flash memory. The full specs can be found here.

"With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future." (source)

Although, to date, they have never got the actual cost of the $100 dollar laptop down to that price, over the years, since the first production models were made, they have now shipped in excess of 2.5 million of the devices, to a host of different countries of the world. That is one hell of an achievement. That is two and a half million kids with the knowledge of the world at their fingertips. These children now have the potential to become some of the highly educated scientists and engineers the world will need in times to come. Who knows, the next Einstein could be typing away at their OLPC machine as you read this.

Of course, technology never stands still, and during the course of the development of the OLPC, improvements have been made along the way. From the original XO-1 series, came the XO-1.5, the XO-1.75, and now the tablet version, the XO-3 is on the way. As good ideas go, the OLPC project is among the finest, and as the project expands and develops and more and more children have access to the world of knowledge via this machine, the future of the world can only look a little bit brighter to even the most pessimistic among us.

"No one can predict the world our children will inherit. The best preparation for children is to develop the passion for learning and the ability to learn how to learn." (source)

It is too easy to be depressed about the doom and gloom happenings we hear everyday in the news about what is going on all over the world. There are bright moments though, gleaming sparks of hope that the future may be a little better than we dare to believe it can be. Education of the next generation has got to be the best way forward if we want to believe we can create a world where bright young people, with new thinking and ideas, can shape the future, and make it better and fairer for all. I have followed the OLPC project for a while, and it is good to note it seems to be going from strength to strength. Long may it continue.

Have a look at my article on eBook readers for schools

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