What Is the OLPC Program?

Fundamentally, the One Laptop Per Child program is focused on the design and distribution of rugged, cheap to build/purchase, and cheap to operate laptop computers, to be distributed to schoolchildren. The program was pioneered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, an MIT lab that focuses on researching how computers and other digital technology are used for communication and expression, and the invention of new technologies to further these needs. At its core, OLPC is an egalitarian-centered effort to bring to other parts of the world the kind of educational benefits that the developed world has enjoyed due to digital technology - or in other words, to close the digital divide.

The OLPC trade organization, responsible for overseeing the program, views the effort as an educational program and not a laptop project. The organization believes in constructivist education theories, which is to say they believe children learn best by making things and expressing ideas. The laptops that will be distributed are the means of helping children discover and extend their learning, rather than the laptops simply being the end goal. The project and the goal are massive, but after three years of heavy preparation, the OLPC organization is ready to see if it can be done and if their educational theories are valid on a wide scale deployment.

In forming the OLPC trade organization, the MIT Media Lab has been joined by over half a dozen companies offering financial and technical support for the project. The current members are AMD, Brightstar, Chi Lin, eBay, Google, Intel, Marvell, NewsCorp, Nortel, Quanta, Red Hat, and SES Astra. It goes without saying that while the companies joining the organization are doing so for altruistic reasons, many also stand to profit from the project in one way or another, even if the OLPC organization itself is non-profit.

The laptop the OLPC program will be distributing, the XO-1, is a moderately powerful system designed for low power usage and survivability in harsh environments. Although its planned low price tag of $100 may be temping to richer purchasers, the OLPC organization has made it clear that they intend to only sell the units en mass to governments for distribution to schoolchildren. However, the OEM responsible for manufacturing the XO-1, Quanta, has stated that they intend to build a variant of it for the mass market; the similarity and prices remains to be seen.

Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Greece, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Rwanda, Tunisia, Uruguay, and even the states of Maine and Massachusetts have all publicized their intentions of purchasing XO-1 laptops for their students. As the laptops have not entered production yet - test versions are still being produced with final production beginning within a couple of months - these aren't strong commitments and the countries that actually end up placing their orders will most likely change.

Index The XO-1 Hardware
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  • Zan Lynx - Monday, August 13, 2007 - link

    I have to wonder if any complainers have researched what regular school books and supplies cost these countries that are planning to purchase OLPC systems.

    I haven't either, but considering what my college text books cost, I imagine that over the projected life of the OLPC system it will be cheaper than providing actual printed textbooks and study guides.

    I know people like to think of bureaucrats as venal and/or stupid, but I happen to know a few and they are not. So I think the burden of proof is on those claiming its a bad idea, rather than accepting that the people in charge of the project in these countries don't know what they're doing.
    Reply
  • 0roo0roo - Thursday, August 16, 2007 - link

    well its not very intelligent to assume poor countries have to buy text books at our college text prices. you do know our college texts are seriously over priced and its a racket right? they keep putting out new editions so the professors and companies can keep raking in the money and keep the used textbooks from taking over. even small governments can afford to write basic school texts, we aren't talking cutting edge science texts here. basic math and language, the texts will last for years, paper is cheap, books can be passed down from classroom to classroom. Reply
  • 0roo0roo - Thursday, August 16, 2007 - link


    now imagine all the money that has been spent on this project were instead put towards writing decent textbooks for such countries and keeping it up to date. it would be a fraction of the cost of creating the infrastructure manufacturing and research for this gadget. open source textbooks how about that? no royalties. print them off in china, how much do you think one would cost? 1 dollar a book?
    Reply
  • creathir - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    I find it surprising that your article does not mention the fact that 1 million units must be purchased by the purchasing government.

    That $75 difference would mean a $75 million price difference... quite a bit if you ask me.

    This project is one of those "feel good" projects which I have not liked from the beginning. It was designed for areas without a stable power grid (hence the hand crank) but I would think they would need stable power before a computer to surf the Internet, not to mention the infrastructure and bandwidth needs to connect to the Internet.

    This thing is such a joke.

    - Creathir
    Reply
  • jevans64 - Saturday, August 11, 2007 - link

    A million of them are going to Nigeria and are going to be used for Phishing. Reply
  • Dfere - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    "Education still remains as one of the greatest factors in creating and ensuring prosperity, and expanding it is one of the best ways to improve a developing country"

    Yet look at the countries like Greece in the lineup? I didn't think they were third world. And third world countries need a stable government for economic growth first and education second. Perhaps the message of the market for the OLPC is just not clear enough. Perhaps I have not been able to figure this out on my own. But I wonder, is it possible that the backers do not have a clear idea of the market they make this "project" for? Time to market is terrible, especially given that it uses existing technology. How can there be success in this case, even if success is charitable cause as there have been no shipments....

    This is not a venture I would back with my own money. And as a cause to end world illiteracy, it has currently done nothing. I am not sure where extra teachers would not be a better answer in second world countries.

    I am cynical, this project certainly makes for great PR and I cannot help but think that the marketing and branding being exported to lower income areas of second world countries is the ultimate goal of the companies involved and is the return they seek. Much like companies in America that get involved with (and oweners of companies become board members with) the United Way.
    Reply
  • Great Googly Moogly - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    This will be the biggest flop since IT/Ginger. What an awful waste of developing countries' funds (they will be the ones paying for these after all). Charity? Hardly. Reply
  • stmok - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    I got to try one of these when they were at the Linux Conference here in Sydney, (earlier this year).

    The screen has an additional benefit. You can still see whatever's on the screen in direct sunlight. NONE of OLPC's competitors has the same capability.

    As for ASUS Eee PC, its not a direct competitor. They're (ASUS) are aiming for a slightly different market. OLPC is expressly for developing countries. Eee PC is for anyone else who can afford a low cost mobile solution. (Its far more powerful, but less ruggered). So anyone in a developed country can get one. (assuming they can make enough of them!)

    Interesting to see that in both cases, they use Linux as their default OS.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    The summary on the main page says "One Child per Laptop Program". Unless it's some sort of breeding program, I think that's the other way around. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    Well we will have an article on that next week on our sister site BioTech...

    Anyhow, thanks for the notice. This is why working at night is not always the brightest idea.
    Reply

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