One Laptop per Child

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In January 2005 the MIT Media Lab launched a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. To achieve this goal, a new, non-profit association, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), was created, which is independent of MIT.

The official project website is located at laptop.org. There is also a comprehensive description of the project in the Wikipedia.

The table of contents for this wiki can be found here.

Contents

Overview

“One laptop per child” is a concept. It is an education project, not a laptop project. It can be implemented in more than one way, by no means limited to the embodiment of the OLPC non-profit association’s so-called “$100 Laptop.” The argument for olpc is simple: many children—especially those in rural parts of developing countries—have so little access to school—in some cases just a tree—that building schools and training teachers is only one way—perhaps the slowest way—to alleviate the situation. While such building programs and teacher education must not stop, another and parallel method advised by OLPC is to leverage the children themselves by engaging them more directly in their own learning. It may sound implausible to equip the poorest children with connected laptops when rich children may not have them, but it is not. Laptops can be affordable and children are more capable than they are given credit for.

Learning learning

Learning is our main goal; we do not focus on computer literacy, as that is a by-product of the fluency children will gain through use of the laptop for learning. Children—especially young children—do not need to learn about IT and certainly do not need to be fluent users of WORD, EXCEL and POWERPOINT—They are not office workers. However, picking up these skills, having grown up with a laptop, will be readily accomplished.

Learning some math facts while learning to hate math is far from ideal. Learning about things that are personally meaningful while constructing knowledge—especially where children realize that they had to extend themselves beyond what they believed they were capable of doing—is both natural and liberating.

Children need to learn learning, which is primarily acquired through the passion that comes from access, the ability to make things, to communicate and to express. Writing a computer program, while seemingly esoteric, is in fact the closest a child can come to thinking about thinking. Likewise, debugging a program is the closest one can come to learning learning.

It goes without saying that Internet access and tools for expression (text, music, video, graphics) are the contemporary “toys” for learning. Every child of any means in the developed world has access to a computer at home and usually his or her own, with music, DVD, plus interactive and rich media to do anything from learning languages to play games.

Making these same resources available to the roughly one-billion other children, who do not have such access, has seemed ridiculously daunting, but is no longer. This is simply because the high costs of laptops has been artificial and perpetuated, not innate. It is fair to say that OLPC has broken this spell and companies like Intel are following it.

The intransigence of the problems of formal education in the face of conventional solutions, combined with pervasive poverty and the need for high-quality lifelong learning for inclusion in the global knowledge-based economy, warrants new thinking. The same digital technology that has enabled an unparalleled growth of knowledge, when combined with new methodologies for learning, can unleash the latent learning potential of the children of Pakistan.

Poor children lack opportunity, not capacity for learning. By providing laptops to every child without cost to the child, we bring the poor child the same opportunities for learning that wealthy families bring to their children.

Scale versus pilot

Consider immunization by analogy. Inoculating a few people here and there has no meaning. Scale is needed. Likewise with laptops. And furthermore, each child has to own his or her own machine and view it not as government property, but as a personal medium, cherished like a bicycle. The child is more confident, has greater self-esteem, and is more entrepreneurial than children without this tool.

Building computer labs in schools was an earlier approach—and perhaps the only one possible in the past. Such labs cater to a formal classroom setting. Today, additional approaches are possible. A laptop program can reach every child within the context of informal settings, which are the only ones available to many children. A nationwide roll out of personal machines can capture many more hours per day than school itself, not to mention night time, weekends and holidays. This will mobilize children. In addition it has significant spill-over effect on the entire family where a child has the OLPC.

Of the many values of scale, the foremost is the child as teacher. Peer-to-peer learning is one of the best ways to leverage children. The reach of such collaboration can go far beyond national borders and, in the longer term, lead to the bigger goals of world peace and understanding. To this end, OLPC is launching on three continents and in at least six countries.

Beyond school

Any parent whose child has a laptop at home has almost undoubtedly asked that child for help. What then follows is a change in one’s relationship with the child, with more elements of friendship and (on the child’s part) self-esteem. This by no means destroys the parent-child relationship. On the contrary, it enhances it. A bond to learning is formed between the child and parent at home.

The teacher-child relationship can and will likewise benefit. With sufficient self-confidence, teachers can learn from children without risk of unraveling the fabric of education—quite the contrary, improving it.

Children must not only own the laptop, but take it home. In so doing the whole family will benefit. Current pilot projects have shown unequivocally that parents become more engaged in their child’s learning and, very often, learn to use the laptops themselves. The role of the child in society changes; it is a more productive role. The child is not the object o change but the agent of change.

Features

Children need more—not fewer—features than high-end laptops. Notably, they need three things unique to their condition: low power, sunlight readability, and automatic connectivity.

Low power is key. Most children do not have electricity at home. Therefore, a laptop needs to run on both human power and long-life batteries. Human power, whether cranking or other gestures, must run a laptop at least 1-to-10: one minute of cranking provides ten minutes of use. In the case of batteries, a 10-hour life is need. Laptops cannot be plugged in at desks in classrooms. Even the richest school does not provide power to each desk.

Sunlight-readable displays are important for outdoor use as well as power conservation. This should be achieved as an option to traditional backlighting, not as a replacement to it. Both are needed. Furthermore, during night-time use, the laptop itself needs to be the light source for the surrounding area.

Connectivity cannot assume DSL, WiFi hotspots, or the like. Instead, the laptops collectively have to make a network automatically, without child or teacher intervention. Roughly 500 children should be able to share a single point of back haul to the Internet. While this may be modest bandwidth, among themselves and with a school server they must have very broadband connections.

A further goal of the OLPC effort is to awaken the software and hardware giants to the needs of children in the developing world and thus to reconsider their strategies.

Laptop Gallery

There is a more extensive image gallery here.

The hardware

The Green Machine prototype, styled by Design Continuum, was unveiled at WSIS, Tunisia by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Nicholas Negroponte.

Fuseproject has developed the more recent prototypes.

We have several groups looking at different human-power options, including a hand crank, a foot treadle, and a pully system. Our goal is a minimum of a 1:10 ratio of "cranking" to use, e.g., one minute of cranking give you ten minutes of use. Note that we've determined that built in cranks are less efficient and impractical; human powered systems are best done for ergonomic reasons in separate devices. We'll post details of the generation systems as they become available. In the meantime you can look at Freecharge portable charger for examples of how people are already doing human-powered generators.

The hardware specification for the first generation machine is pretty much set. There are many aspects in which this design is truly ground breaking and make this the first of a new class of systems, unlike any other "laptop" in the world.

The software

We are committed to the principle of Open Source for this project. Please refer to our manifesto: OLPC on open source software.

Developing software for this machine is very straight forward, though there are development issues you should be aware of. Our partner in software development is Red Hat. We have begun an OLPC software task list. Please help us refine this list.

Discussion of eBook feature set is a page in which traditional and nontraditional features are discussed both in abstract and in relation to the different eBook readers out there.

Wiki as an ebook reader is where we discuss the suitability of wiki as an ebook distribution medium, and why it would help solve some of the other challenges that the $100 laptop is trying to address.

Educational content

OLPC is based on constructivist theories of learning pioneered by Seymour Papert and later Alan Kay, as well as the principles expressed in Nicholas Negroponte's book 'Being Digital'. Some background on our approach can be gleaned from David Cavallo's essay, "Models for growth—towards fundamental change in learning environments"

Launch plans

The laptops will be sold to governments and issued to children by schools on a basis of "one laptop per child." Discussions are ongoing with many countries and we are in detailed discussions regarding a launch of the program in Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Nigeria, and Thailand. A modest allocation of machines will be used to seed developer communities in a number of other countries in early 2007. A commercial version of the machine will be explored in parallel.

See Category: Countries for a list of pages for countries that have OLPC groups.

Pictures from the Country Task Force Meeting are now available.

Getting involved

There is a page in this wiki dedicated to Getting involved in OLPC, an OLPC Idea Pool page, an IRC channel (irc.freenode.net, #OLPC), mailing lists for generic OLPC discussions not specific to any Linux distribution, and a Jobs at OLPC page.

There is a Fedora Project for OLPC, where you can get the Fedora software for the OLPC hardware and join Fedora OLPC related mailing lists.

We have had significant quantities of prototype electronics built for people who need early access to the hardware for device driver, power management, wireless, distribution and UI work. The beginnings of notes on using the OLPC developer boards contain information that may be useful to those working on this early hardware. Please get involved in the Developers Program if you have the time, energy and ability to help.

Also, we are doing a OLPC Google Summer of Code.

Translation

There's a new set of PO files for the laptop.org website. You can find more information (and the base english files) at Localization/www.laptop.org. You can help us by either translating them into your native language or reviewing and correcting them.

Help us review the new OLPC website. We have versions in English US, and Spanish.

Help the ongoing translation work of Korean, Portuguese, and Simplified Chinese.

We can't translate everything, but we sure want to hear what you would like to see translated into your language. If you got a translation to suggest please let us know!


We would like to thank all the translators and reviewers for their efforts that made the first versions of the now 'old' PO files in Arabic, Bengali, Catalan, Danish, German, Greek, English (US), Farsi (Persian), Finnish, French, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Igbo, Italian, Japanese, Lao, Nepali, Norwegian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Telugu, Turkish, Thai, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Yoruba, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese.

FAQ

The official FAQ is on the project website; a more extensive collection of questions (and answers) is here: OLPC FAQ. Please feel free to pose additional questions here: Ask OLPC a Question. There is also a collection of OLPC myths.

A separate page has been created for the History of OLPC to collect information about the genesis of the project.

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