University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
One Laptop Per Child
1.Why are Microsoft, Intel, and other leading for profit companies interested in low-cost computers for the developing world? In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT’s Media Labs, announced the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program at the World Economic Forum. The concept was simple and appealing. Innovate a $100 laptop and distribute it to children in the developing world. No one can argue the power of getting kids access to computers/internet, and hence, access to a virtually limitless store of information, connectivity to the world and educational software.
And for a technology optimist like Negroponte, the payoffs were obvious. But as the OLPC program has found out over the years, there is more to the success of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in Education, than just handing out computers to kids, and expect it to works its magic on its own. To begin with, the premises and approach of OLPC program as articulated by Negroponte are fundamentally flawed. OLPC stipulates that laptops be owned by children over the age of six rather than by schools. Efforts to reform curricula and assessment are viewed by the program as too slow or expensive, and teacher training as of limited value due to teacher absenteeism and incompetence, so laptop implementation must proceed without them.
The program also believes that in the end, “the students will teach themselves on how to use the laptop. They’ll teach one another, and we have confidence in the kids’ ability to learn”. The other flaw in this program is that the poorest countries targeted by OLPC cannot afford laptop computers for all their children and would be better off building schools, training teachers, developing curricula, providing books and subsidizing attendance. No one ever understood Nicholas Negroponte’s position when it comes to the $100 Laptop/OLPC/XO. While the idea behind creating a super cheap, super durable useful computer for children in developing nations is good, Negroponte has always approached the idea as one where only he should be allowed to see that vision through. When other companies decided it might be a good idea and wanted to target that market themselves, Negroponte flipped out and started attacking them for trying to undermine his project.
In order to explore One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and its mission to improve education in developing countries, it is necessary to first understand the nature of living in these countries. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes health, food, and education as basic human rights, but people living in developing countries are deprived of these seemingly simple and obvious necessities. Founder of OLPC and MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte firmly believes that education is the solution and that children are the world’s most precious natural resource.
Combining these thoughts, he founded OLPC in 2005 as a response to the educational needs of children in developing countries. At the 2005 World Economic Forum, he presented that a $100 laptop in the hands of every child would empower them to learn from and to teach each other. As CTO of OLPC Mary Lou Jepsen said, the “laptop is a vehicle to transform education around the world.” In order to bring this idea to reality, OLPC set out to design a laptop that would fit in the context of the developing world.
2.Do you agree with Negroponte’s decision to partner with Microsoft? Yes, I think it is a good initiative because now that the XO laptop will be available in both Linux and Windows varieties and we can view it as an opportunity for OLPC to expand in a couple of ways. Moreover, now it will have a broader acceptance in the community and the other is to have more software and software developers available. The OLPC’s philosophy of openness is behind its decision to allow Microsoft software on the machines, but it would be hard for OLPC to say it was ‘open’ and then be closed to Microsoft. According to Negroponte, the XP announcement is the latest development in a long-running collaboration between the project and Microsoft. Microsoft was also interested in this project and was working to see if it could get Windows XP up and running on the OLPC devices.
To make it work, Microsoft needed to get the operating system to boot from an SD card and to create drivers to work with OLPC’s unique features, such as its touchpad and e-book reader mode. Negroponte said the ability to run Windows is a must-have in some countries. For example, he said, Uruguay made it a requirement in its recent solicitation. Even in other countries where Windows is not required, Negroponte said compatibility with the Microsoft operating system still helps give the laptop credibility. Meanwhile, Negroponte stressed that he is not giving up on Linux and ultimately aims to deliver machines that can boot into either operating system.
There’s no premeditated plan that one is going to dominate over the other because both is a very powerful option. Though, there is obviously cost issues, which is necessarily higher for Windows, because it requires more hardware than Linux. Language support is possible for any community in Linux, but in Windows it depends on the good will of Microsoft, or rather the bottom line market analysis results that Microsoft works from. But according to Negroponte, he was mainly concerned with putting as many laptops as possible in children’s hands.
3.Assess the thinking behind the “give one, get one” promotion. Do you think this is a good marketing tactic? Yes, it is a good marketing tactics but it also brought about some drawbacks with it which is inevitable. Since, OLPC initially stated that no consumer version of the XO laptop was planned. The project, however, later established a website to accept direct donations and ran a “Give 1 Get 1” (G1G1) offer starting on November 12, 2007. The offer was initially scheduled to run for only two weeks, but was extended until December 31, 2007 to meet demand.
With a donation of $399 to the OLPC “Give 1 Get 1” program, donors received an XO-1 laptop of their own and OLPC sent another on their behalf to a child in a developing country. Shipments of “Get 1” laptops sent to donors were restricted to addresses within the United States, its territories, and Canada. Some 83,500 people participated in the program. Delivery of all of the G1G1 laptops was completed by April 19, 2008. Delays were blamed on order fulfillment and shipment issues both within OLPC and with the outside contractors hired to manage those aspects of the G1G1 program.
According to Negroponte, the Give One, Get One project was both successful and not. It was a great success because there are 162,000 XO laptops gaining support for the project in the U.S. However, he still would like to see more sold. In order to make the project viable, Negroponte says they will need to sell about three million devices. The program also aims to lower the production cost of the laptop to the original target of $100. The OLPC program has the correct intentions, but a flawed philosophy and approach. Just deploying technology and expecting to work its magic is not the way to go. For the diffusion of the technology, it is crucial that we adopt to the local practices and constraints.