In the past three decades the personal computer has made an unprecedented impact in improving education in the classroom. What started as a large machine in a back-office to help a school organize things, followed by far smaller machines to do more personal tasks such as word processing and playing the classic MECC edutainment games, has now evolved into a device that is inseparable from education. In the most developed nations, if a child isn't using a computer regularly for schoolwork some time in primary school, they most certainly are in secondary school.

Although this evolution came at what amounts to much expense and many growing pains, few can argue the benefits of computers in education when used correctly. Word processors allow for a far more streamlined ability to write, correct, and revise writing; printing of said writing has created a common platform of legibility replacing (and perhaps harming) the myriad of different handwriting styles. Optical discs have compressed bookshelves of text down to a 12cm piece of plastic that contains the basic knowledge of the human race. And the Internet has altered the face of communication and research forever, connecting the most unlikely of people and giving them access to the rest of the world's knowledge that can't be fit on a disc.

All of these education benefits, as modern education theory goes, have in turn driven great improvements in these developed societies. The modern information society builds a population that has access to the answer for any question at their fingertips, citizens who have the ability to be better informed than at any time in the past, and educational enrichment has driven a new period of invention and understanding. If education is the cornerstone of stability, growth, and prosperity, then the computer is a mighty tool that can help a society better reach these goals.

In spite of the raw power of computers, they cannot overcome all obstacles. There are over 6 billion people on Earth, fewer than 1 out of every 5 have access to an internet connected computer, and the benefits of the information society have been concentrated into the hands of those nations with the resources to undertake the required investments. In such a situation computers are in essence a problem, not a solution; it's people that are the solution.

There have been many charitable efforts over the past 100 years to help with education in underdeveloped nations; few can claim to be on the scale of the modern push to get computers into the hands of more school children for their educational benefit. Governments, schools, and companies have come together to solve this problem. Each has their own reason, but the goal is the same: bring the benefits and knowledge of computers and the internet to those children who do not currently enjoy such access.

Today we'll be taking a look at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, a program designed to build and distribute low-cost laptops to schoolchildren. Sticking with the focus of AnandTech we'll be looking at things primarily from the technical side, though we'll deal with a bit of the politics too as such is inseparable from a program of this magnitude. As we will see, much is being done to improve access to computers, the Internet, and information; and the children receiving the laptops and eventually their home countries stand to gain a great deal out of the program.

What Is The OLPC Program?
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  • thesafetyisoff - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    A few years back there was a scorpion epidemic in a town in South America. The government hit upon the brilliant idea of importing hundreds of chickens, which prey on scorpions, to take care of the pests. One month later there were still plenty of scorpions stinging people, because the villagers had eaten all of the chickens.

    Providing laptops to people who don't have electricity, can't read, and have no interest in education is a complete waste of money. Six months after this program is launched most of them will be broken, stolen, or sold. And the ones that are left will probably be under-utilized.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    I think you(and everyone else who has made similar posts) make a good point, but are also in the process missing part of the point of OLPC in the first place.

    It is true that a lot of effort has been made to design the thing for use in extremely rugged/rural/poor conditions, but the fact of the matter is that's not where the XO-1 is going to end up at the beginning. Most of the nations planning on ordering the laptops are all nations in later states of developing, as opposed to being entirely undeveloped. These people have access to the basics such as food and medical care, and a lesser developed power and communication grid(e.g. you have power at school, but maybe not at home). In these situations there's no needs problem to solve, so the only real issue is of education: will the laptops provide the educational benefit the OLPC organization desires?

    By the time the organization is distributing the laptops to the poorest nations and poorest children, we should have an answer to that question, which will make going forward a lot easier.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    Ok - exactly. The laptop isn't going into the bush or the desert - it's going to places that can't afford $500, but maybe can afford $175. The problem is THE #^%$#& DESIGN OF THE LAPTOP IS BASED AROUND IT GOING SOMEWHERE IT'S NEVER GOING TO GO!

    Just looking at this thing, it's terribly obvious that some altruistic but naive designer pictured village children in sub-Saharan Africa or SE Asia using this, and then totally missed the point that the internet connectivity and power access just wouldn't exist.

    Then people got a clue, and realized that a cheap laptop would work great in Eastern Europe, or heck, even sub-middle-class America. The problem is those markets need power and storage. They don't need wifi webs or waterproof casings.

    I would ask one question to the project if I were given the chance - how does this ridiculous laptop actually serve the needs of the people who will actually be able to make use of it better than a used $175 laptop? The answer is it simply doesn't.
    Reply
  • headbox - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    These are people that can't even feed themselves. A laptop will be as useful as a space suit. In Zimbabwe they kicked out all the white farmers to give to the "rightful owners" (because racial diversity is only expected when it means white countries) and the end result was mass starvation because they didn't know basic farming. Do we really expect people living in the stone age to make the leap to the modern era? It took thousands of years of social and technological advancements to get to where we are today... and now we expect an illiterate 3rd worlder to watch an animation on a laptop to bring them up to speed? LOL! Reply
  • Lemonjellow - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    quote:

    History - animated battles and speeches by participants ... etc. All of these will hold a child attention much better than a book.


    Yes, because animated battles and speeches by the people in those battles can teach children about the effect of the Anopheles Mosquito, steam locomotion, or industrialization on global imperialism and/or the effects of capitalism on the developing worlds in which these children live!

    Knowing about a battle means nothing if not taken in the context of it's cause, impacts, and there-for, what-for ,why-for, who-for, how-for, and all-fours (oh, wait no that last one is part of the porn feature)...

    While a striped down not-quite-laptop is handy it will never take the place of a good teacher and a well written book, but it is better than the alternative......
    of nothing at all...

    Reply
  • acronos - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    Trying to take notes on a standard laptop is foolish (not quite so bad on a tablet pc.) The advantage of laptops in the classroom is to complement or even replace books. A truly good teacher is rare. However, software written and developed by a truly good teacher and development team scaled across thousands of schools can make a fairly positive difference. Teachers could choose competing software, similar to the way they choose books now, that complement their teaching style. Very few subjects would not benefit from this. Language - practice pronunciation. math - some of the best ways to learn early math already exist in the form of video games, science - see discovery channel, History - animated battles and speeches by participants ... etc. All of these will hold a child attention much better than a book. In addition, teaching how to truly use google could totally change society. Reply
  • slashbinslashbash - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    "the unit can safely be hooked up to any number of power sources, including solar or peddles."

    peddle = to travel around selling wares
    pedal = a crankshaft system designed to be operated by the feet
    Reply
  • saechaka - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    i thought i read that using the kids were using these laptops to view porn. i guess it's good we are giving them a way to see them naked ladies or guys.

    anyways, my point is that i don't think having a laptop will have a big an impact as having books and good teachers. i'd rather see the money on these laptops being spent on teachers and books
    Reply
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    I agree with you. Good teachers are more important. Reply
  • Verdant - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    As someone who has tried to use a laptop in a classroom, I find the usefulness of each student having one minimal. Input for most subjects is not natural at all with a keyboard (want to sketch a diagram or anything other than basic text and bullets? - takes more effort than doing so by hand)

    Not to say that OLPC is not a valid project, just that people need to be a bit more aware of the fact that it will not perform miracles, and I don't think they are that valuable in a lecture situation.

    The tablet pc is a good step, but the software available is limited, and such systems are clearly not fiscally feasible for something like OLPC.
    Reply

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