One Laptop Per Child – Redux

While Noah Burdett has already completed an entry on this venture, I thought I would expand and look at the project from a different angle.  I have closely followed the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project for a number of years now; the philosophy and controversy behind the project fascinates me.   Negroponte and the program have struggled to get the devices produced, on budget (the XO no longer referred to as the $100 laptop), and adopted by countries.

However, after finding this video:

I think Negroponte may have found a buyer that typically has much deeper pockets than the educational branch of government one would expect this product would be marketed to.  Here, Negroponte partners with the Columbian Ministry of Defense to bring laptops to children in remote areas.

Depending on the motivations of a country’s military, having a wired, educated, distributed network of users in remote locations that have traditionally been under the control of guerrillas or insurgents could prove a boon to these isolated areas.

As adage goes, the military rarely holds bake sales to fund its operations and the paltry $200 cost per device compared to other communications systems typically employed by the military could make this a very interesting experiment – and most importantly, will get these device into the hands of the kids.

Running this through the cube we get:

Market: Developing Nations (and philanthropic individuals in developed nations who participate in the buy one, give one program).

Offering: this is a hardware offering and arguably a service as the mesh network created by the laptops for a community web.

Buyer: Still a national level – only large scale purchases can produce the low price of these machines.  If Negroponte can “pitch” the benefits to branches of government other than education, we will see some significant development of this project.

Piece of the global market: Definitely targeted towards underserved, developing nations with established education system but little other supported technology.

Development of the market: This is a contentious piece.  Many think this project can revolutionize education in impoverished areas – many think that $200 per child could be better spent on teachers, food, clean water, shelter, etc….  The market seems to be still in the pioneering phase.

Integration of learning technology: The environments that these laptops are entering have, almost by definition of the marketplace, little integrated learning technology as we would see it from a western perspective.  The laptops offer a quantum leap in environments where they are placed.


1 Barbara { 10.05.09 at 7:30 am }

I think the problem with OLPC is defining the offering. If we define it as a product, then i would say it has a lot of flaws, the support is not great and if the hardware companies saw a large market they would quickly produce something to outperform it. In fact I believe OLPC sparked the emergence of the netbooks we see today. I think Negroponte should redefine OLPC as an education and communication service for countries. The buyer is definitely then the nation because having total coverage is the only way i’ve seen this work. the example of Uruguay is fantastic where ALL primary students in the country have one. There the teachers, parents and rest of society have seen the irreversible need to understand technology or be left out and work to reinvent education. It is a painful process though.

2 Byron Kask { 10.05.09 at 8:52 am }

Jeff, I find your remarks about the benefits of connecting the children in remote areas with the rest of the society to help stave the influence of cartels and guerrillas interesting. I imagine that having little communication with those in the capital areas would make it more likely that you would align yourself with the local power, whether it be government or insurgent.

I also wonder if the ad-hock nature of the OLPC network connection will allow the military to expand it’s own network, piggybacking on the students’ computers. It could be a very inexpensive and resilient way to keep lines of communication open. I imagine that keeping radio or cell towers running would be expensive and prone to sabotage, but the users of the OLPC’s would keep their network up for their own use. Just my left-field thought…

3 Merv LaBrash { 10.05.09 at 10:27 am }

Etec 522
Jeff, this defense approach is very interesting, the military would be using this laptop as a type of weapon against ignorance and civil unrest. This would be an example of the military involved in community development. Perhaps this approach could be used in other countries and with others types of technology, have the military sponsor e-learning activities for local communities, military personnel, and perhaps prisoners?

4 Mark Reed { 10.05.09 at 11:13 am }

As my wife and oldest son just returned from Uganda it was interesting to see how one contact they made there was able to utilize the net without having a computer (not able to buy one) by paying at net kiosks to accomplish his goals of finding sponsors for street children. In his case having a computer was not necessary – the ubiquitous nature of mass producing computers seems like a potential for more debt and garbage.
I thought that Byron’s comment is very appropriate given the discussions that we have been having with the generation of funds from the web 0.0

5 Jay Dixon { 10.05.09 at 4:14 pm }

Great thread of discussion. the military connection was a good point. Although I am a supporter of tech & initiatives such as one laptop per child, I also see the flip side and the impact on cultural practice in some communities.
On a lighter note this thread made me think of the “poker stars” commercial where it flashes to people all over the world and then the winner in a hut in an isolated village. Hmmm

6 Jeff Laird { 10.05.09 at 6:50 pm }

No Byron, you’re not in left field – my thoughts exactly. Having an educated and connected populace can avoid the development of factions – especially if the isolated groups feel like part of the decision-making process. Connecting these rural villages enables them to participate and contribute to government.

Of course, if the government screws up, you have just provided education and covert communications tools (in dayglo, fischerprice green) to the group that is going to overthrow them – but I prefer the unicorns and rainbows outlook.

7 jennie wong { 10.08.09 at 12:43 pm }


I just wanted to mention that OLPC is an excellent idea for environmental purposes. We let students have them like binders and they all store their notes within them. The students do keyboardng and texting (shorthand) and actually prefer taking notes with their laptops.

It would be great to have the program grant laptops to every student under a lease situation. Many companies are also very generous when it comes to computers for school programs.


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