Dreaming of Technology
I remember drifting off to sleep in my chair with 60 Minutes airing in the background. It was late 2007. I thought I heard a man discussing his vision of putting a laptop in the hands of every third world school aged child on earth. What?! That woke me up. What an absolutely stunning vision for the future of our world. The entire population literate on computers.
The man was an MIT professor, Nicholas Negroponte and this wasn't some random, insane scheme. It was a true act of global altruism with an implementation plan. His laptop design was a plain affair but it had WiFi. His goal was to raise funds to distribute this hardware to third world countries. In order to achieve this end, the laptop needed:
Shareware OS and programs
Extremely low power consumption
No moving parts
A price point below $100 per unit
More information on the design and internals is available on Wikipedia
Initial fundraising and distribution efforts were focused in Africa, Latin America and Cambodia. In 2008, a program called Give One Get One promised to match every one of these laptops purchased in the US with a donated one abroad.
So, what happened? How are things going for this remarkable organization? It is always a wonder to me that we live in such a noise filled media environment that good news struggles to get through and be heard. We spend such an inordinate amount of time and attention on toxic politics and other bad news... but I digress.
OLPC is alive and well
For a while, their offering morphed into a tablet:
The one pictured above runs Android 4.0 and sold for $60 at Toys R Us. On the OLPC website, it looks like they have reverted back to the laptop as the primary offering. Popular Science did an unflattering article about the tablet. The summary of their dissatisfaction with the unit was that it was not as feature rich as the original laptop, making it more of a novelty than useful tech.The shame of it is that an android tablet can be purchased online or at any big box store for under $70 and could have the full functionality of a large tablet or a laptop.
Do Not Live or Die Based on Test Scores
I read an article from Mashup, bashing the OLPC laptop offering because of poor academic test score improvement... I do not see the relevance. The presence of technology is better than its absence: A student may not be better at math by having internet access to the outside world. A student may not be a better reader by having larger and more diverse quantities of reading material. I am disappointed that more people do not recognize that value is not always measured in educational test point spreads. I am disappointed that Mashable played for the easy headline and left it to the reader to find the hidden good.
In a World Bank study of OLPC application in Peru, the same findings were revealed and on a more positive note, they found “some benefits on cognitive skills” as a result of the program. This was also mentioned somewhere deep in the bowels of the Mashup article.
Sugar and Khan Academy
Sugar is the name of the OLPC human interface, organized by Sugar Labs. It is available free not only for OLPC laptops but as the functional interface for any laptop, as an emulator. The interface gives access to all tools developed for the Sugar environment. Khan Academy has a program called KA View for viewing their videos. There are over 400 applications available in the Sugar environment. A new program called Sugarizer allows the sugar environment to be easily used on any device.
Who is Running The Show?
One Laptop Per Child is currently run by Roberto Zamora and Maria Josefina Teran. Roberto Zamora is the founder of Grupo Lafise, a Central American investment banking services company. He is also the head of Banco de Credito Centroamericano, a Nicaraguan bank. Maria Josefina Teran is the head of the Zamora Teran Foundation, an educational foundation with OLPC as a primary beneficary. I wish both of them all the best in this magnificent effort of goodwill.
To donate to One Laptop Per Child, http://one.laptop.org/content/donate-online
To learn more about Sugar, https://www.sugarlabs.org/