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OLPC: The Revolution Begins? 17 February, 2007

Posted by paralleldivergence in Brad & Phil, children, education, ICT in Education, Internet, Life, My Thoughts, OLPC, Politics.

In February 2007, the first of almost 2,500 “$150 Laptops” will be rolled out to school children in the poorest areas of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Rwanda and Cambodia. The ambitious “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) project was first devised in January 2005 with the concept of producing an affordable laptop computer specifically for the poorest and most-remote children in the world. Just two years and several prototypes later, the impressive lime-green and white “Children’s Machine” dubbed the XO is almost ready for mass-production.


The XO is offered for sale only to the governments of countries for distribution on a one-for-one basis to children by each nation’s educational authority. The OLPC association has received orders for one million units to date and is preparing for a production schedule of five million units this coming July. A further fifty million XOs are expected to be produced in 2008, when the unit price is predicted to drop below US$100.

Comprising a 7.5″ colour tilt-and-swivel LCD screen, AMD Geode 366MHz processor, 128MB RAM, 512MB Flash RAM, 802.11g Wireless LAN, camera, microphone, stereo speakers and a battery that can be manually recharged using a string-pulley, the ruggedly-built XO packs a lot of punch for its bargain-basement price. Of course, at this price and with these specifications, we can’t expect Microsoft Windows to be included. Interestingly, Steve Jobs offered Apple OSX free of charge to the OLPC association. This would surely have been a great way to increase the market-share of OSX around the world and also be excellent springboard marketing for future Mac purchases. Alas, because OSX was not open-source and the association wanted to be able to modify the XO’s operating system, Linux was chosen – specifically a cut-down version of Fedora. In addition, a internet broswer built on the Gecko engine, AbiWord for word-processing and custom educational software such as music sequencing and video capture.

One of the XO’s main educational strengths is in the area of collaboration. With wireless-mesh networking, groups of students can work together on projects, swap images and link to repositories of educational content stored on local servers and USB drives. Where satellite connection to the Internet is available, so is access to the whole world. In theory, the devices have been well-devised – but there are vocal critics of the OLPC project.

What good is giving a laptop to each child if many children barely have access to the essentials of civilized life – food, clean drinking water, shelter and public health services?  Why would third-world governments catering for one million children spend $150 million to equip each child with a laptop when for a fraction of that, they could build better schools and develop better quality libraries to each cater for hundreds  or thousands of children?  Why would a family that earns less than one dollar per day keep their free laptop when they could sell it and buy enough food to feed the family for a year?

Poverty, hunger and child mortality are complex worldwide problems. Organizations such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, World Vision and CARE among many others are all working hard to address the symptoms. Campaigns like “Make Poverty History” are informing the general population of the struggle that half of the world faces and the actions that the first-world can take to alleviate the underlying burden carried by the governments of the third-world. But solving the problems of poverty is not only the responsibility of the first-world. It is also the responsility of the poor to contribute to their own renewal. Their contribution should be through a commitment to work and learn. To educate their future generations so that they may take an even stronger role in the ongoing building of their nation.

Just as food and health organizations provide poorer countries with subsidised and even free food and medicines, the world’s ICT industries should also contribute what they can toward an overall solution. The development of cheaper and targeted technologies is a worthwhile initiative, but here is where I believe the OLPC people have made a mistake. They have developed a product with worldwide marketability, but they are only offering it to the governments of disadvantaged countries with a stipulation that the government must buy the laptops on a one-for-one basis. There is to be no general distribution of the XO laptop.

Very few schools in even the most developed countries have a one-for-one laptop program due to the enormous costs associated with commercial laptop computers. Yet most educators will say that a one-for-one scenario would provide enormous educational benefits. Why wouldn’t the OLPC make the XO available to all governments? With even greater production, the price could be driven down even further. The development of more open-source educational software and content for the XO would also eventuate.

 Recently, the BBC reported that the OLPC could be sold to the public on a 1 for 2 basisanybody who can afford it would in effect buy two XOs, but only receive one, with the other going to a developing nation. Unfortunately, the OLPC association was quick to dispute this report, saying they had no plans to commercialize the XO computer. I think virtually every educational authority in a developed country would seriously consider the option to pay $300 per laptop on the understanding that not only their children, but an equivalent number of poor children would have one of their own. This would then relieve the up-front cost for the poorer nations and fast-track the implementation of better and more modern educational resources.

I hope this OLPC pilot is a glowing success and that ultimately there is a realization that all the children on Earth represent our planet’s future and are an investment well worth contributing to and nurturing.

As for Brad & Phil, well they see another side to the whole OLPC story… 🙂

Brad & Phil #17



1. wayan - 18 February, 2007

As much as we all would hope to see OLPC XO’s in the developed world, I say its not going to happen for two reasons: teachers’ unions rejecting OLPC Constructionist’s education model, and laptop retailers rejecting its low price point: http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/childrens_machine_xo_usa_school.html

2. Pembebas - 18 February, 2007

Do Politics off !

3. Steve Madsen - 18 February, 2007

It seems to me that this could be used in the remote communities found within the different states and territories within Australia.

4. mark - 18 February, 2007

Hi Stu

Have you read Friedman’s *The World is Flat”?

The olpc is useful in countries/regions/ghettoes that are becoming flat. Even though a country may be plagued by malaria and aids, there will be people within that country that are working towards a global (outsourced, horizontal) world. They need the olpc!

Wayan gets it right (kind of) when (s)he states that there is opposition by unions and retailers. The opposition comes from those who still think the worls is round (in Friedmans terms). This view will not persist.

Maybe I’m being a bit hopeful when i state that their 20th century viewpoint will not persist, especially when I see interests endeavering to have creationism taught as science, but hey, I’m an optimist.

The olpc doesnt belong in any country or region as defined by a 20th century world-is-round viewpoint. It belongs wherever there are groups of people who are awakening to the fact that the world is now flat.

That may be in a first world inner city, or a third world plagued desert.

Think Flat.

5. paralleldivergence - 18 February, 2007

Hi wayan. Yes, I agree that Teachers’ unions are going to be hard to convince when it comes to technological change, but that doesn’t mean the argument should be dismissed. In any case, OLPC just needs to convice the governments and the governments need to convince the Teachers’ unions. I’m also not suggesting it be sold through retailers. Take your exact model you have right now and offer it to the governments of deveoped nations on the 1-for-2 basis.

Steve, you’re absolutely right, and it’s about to happen: http://tinyurl.com/y7rqsr

6. paralleldivergence - 18 February, 2007

Great thought Mark, and thanks for the book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I’ll chase it up.

7. 30plusteacher - 19 February, 2007

I see many good things that can come out of this, however, two things are nagging at me—-1. Why wouldn’t this product be marketed here in this country where we are spending millions on computer equipment that are outdated as soon as the tech guys install it…not to mention county officials in trouble for kickbacks, etc, and the wear and tear our little darlins put on the machines?

2. So what we are going to tell the kiddies in these countries is, “Gee, hon I know your hungry but just use this little green thing and your problems will be solved.”

8. paralleldivergence - 19 February, 2007

Hi 30plusteacher! Wayan’s comment at the top might answer your first question somewhat – (wayan’s from OLPC). As for the kickbacks you mention with current hardware rollouts, that is a real concern.

As for 2., the OLPC cannot simply dump the laptops in each country. It must be followed up with resources, training and support or else we’ll end up with a giant lime-green and white landfill problem.

9. Jannette - 19 February, 2007

I like the idea of the children in places like Argentina and Brazil receiving the laptops. I like the idea of the laptop reaching the developed world as well, but must agree with wayan that it probably wont happen.

10. shift - 19 February, 2007

i personally like this idea. even though, yes, the children don’t have the essentials of life, a push for technology will most likely create awareness for that region and its troubles.

but, a support group, like it’s been said earlier, must be created for education.

otherwise, we’ll be back where we started at.

nice post.

11. paralleldivergence - 19 February, 2007

Thanks for adding to the discussion Jannette and shift! It’ll certainly be a great initiative to keep our eyes on.

12. tobeme - 20 February, 2007

Great post. It does seem strange that someone would be concerned with providing technology to children who do not have the basics of life. Kind of a backward Maslov’s hierarchey of needs, isn’t it.
Education is indeed needed and is a noble endeavor, however, it seems only to make sense if one first has clean drinking water, adequate food and shelter before one can have the ability to benefit from the education.

13. Jannette - 21 February, 2007

no prob pd. shift-you make a good point, I agree.

14. paralleldivergence - 21 February, 2007

Hi tobeme. Yes, it would make sense to get the basics right, but the whole problem of bringing the disadvantaged forward is multi-faceted. I like that the IT world are doing their part. If only the other areas would do theirs effectively. THere’s more useful info on the OLPC project here: http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/mar2007/id20070301_063165.htm

15. BronzeTrinity - 15 April, 2007

I think its a great idea. Having access to computers may make it easier for people to help themselves. The IT community can prvide this and other agencies can provide other things. I disagree with the argument that all money and projects have to be devoted to one thing. Even in developed countries like Canada, there are homeless people and poor people who can’t afford the necessities of life, so should the government ignore education initiatives, the environment, and new technology because of that. In my opinion no. They can just divide their efforts and money towards many different activities. Providing food is not going to provide sustainable change anywhere unless the people find a way to sustain better living conditions. No, I don’t think that every child needs a computer, but I don’t think if would hurt if a lot more kids had one.

16. paralleldivergence - 15 April, 2007

Thanks BronzeTrinity. As I said in the article, the IT community does have a big role to play – while it may not relate to staples of life like food and shelter, communication and education is very important if we expect to ever get nations out of the third world. OLPC might not be the revolution we’ve all be waiting for, but it’s a start and I’m sure we’ll get a lot of hard evidence about what it does offer and where it is lacking.

The first set of notebooks rolled out to Nigerian classroms recently. Take a look at the first images:

17. paralleldivergence - 15 April, 2007

Also… here’s a first look at the interface of the OLPC:


18. paralleldivergence - 27 November, 2007

Well, it seems just 9 months after this article was written, very little if any of it actually eventuated. Right now it *is* available on a one-for- two basis – buy two, get one and give one to a developing nation. But all of the deals OLPC thought they had stitched up with developing nations seem to have all but dried up.

Why? The Intel Classmate with it’s massive marketing and promotion in the third word is trumping OLPC everywhere they try to make inroads. Have aread about it in this update:


19. Ivan - 3 December, 2007

The first rollout of OLPC (beyond testing) started this week in Uruguay with almost 100,000 units. Another 260,000 will be going to Uruguay. Have a look at the images from the Uruguayan rollout:


20. paralleldivergence - 13 December, 2007

Thanks for this Ivan. I’ve also found an interesting report about how a 9year old UK child might find the OLPC – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7140443.stm

21. Australia’s Digital Education Revolution? « Parallel Divergence - 1 June, 2008

[…] designed for Australian school needs will be required. Thanks to the global influence of the “$100 OLPC Laptop“, several companies including Asus, HP, Dell and Intel have produced sub-notebooks, all less […]

22. Rangan Srikhanta - 19 October, 2011

Stu – an old thread that is still current. We have a couple of teachers interested in using some of your software on the XO. Can you assist?

paralleldivergence - 19 October, 2011

Hi Rangan. Unfortunately my software is not compatible with the XO.

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