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So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the One Laptop Per Child project, aka OLPC. This innovative and amazing idea is the brain child of Nicholas Negroponte, of MIT Media Labs, and set off with the goal of making an affordable, durable, fully featured laptop computer for children in under privileged areas. Originally the machines were supposed to cost no more than $100, and while this price point has not yet been reached the Project has created an absolutely incredible machine for only $199.

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I’ve been a fan of the project since I first heard about it. The idea is brilliant. I’ve long thought that children should have more exposure to computers, they’ve changed the world immensely, and have become a common and necessary tool for daily life. Especially with the modern prevalence of the internet, and the information it brings to your finger tips, computer use has become a priceless life skill. Education has been the one aspect that hasn’t fully embraced computers and, let’s face it, the price hasn’t made it easy for them to even try. The OLPC Project’s XO Laptop fix this problem, and not just for developed nations, as evidenced by the number of countries which are taking part in the program.

While many news outlets have discussed the effect that the Project will have on developing nations, there has been surprisingly little coverage on the effect it will have in the United States, and the information available on the OLPC wiki isn’t very enlightening. Since I have a lot of interest in the education system here in America, I decided to see if the OLPC staff would answer some questions about the level of interest they have received from US states, and the status of the project in America. They were gracious enough to answer my questions, and help me to gain a better understanding of the OLPC Project in the United States.

Angry Midwesterner: I have a few questions about the XO laptop, specifically about the effect it might have on poorer regions of the USA. I was wondering if it is possible to get information about what states have expressed interest, or in fact committed to buying, the XO laptop?

OLPC Staff Member: 19 states have contacted OLPC for more information and expressing some level of interest in doing the program. OLPC hasn’t disclosed which states because it doesn’t make sense to do so until something concrete happens.

Angry Midwesterner: Completely understandable. Has the organization considered making OLPC’s available not only to countries and states, but to county/city level education programs? If so, when might they be available, if not, would this be considered in the future?

OLPC Staff Member: OLPC’s focus is working with governments of developing nations. OLPC is focused on achieve large scale distribution of laptops and that is best handled at this level. OLPC does not have the resources to work with lots of individual county/city level education programs. There may be exceptions to this now and then but generally OLPC wants to focus on the largest possible distribution.

Angry Midwesterner: Thanks, one last question. If a county or city wanted to obtain laptops for their students, could they use your Give Many program to
direct them to a city or county school system, like perhaps the City of Chicago Public Schools, or Champaign County Public Schools?

OLPC Staff Member: I think they could but depending on the quantity they’d probably want to just work directly with OLPC.

Angry Midwesterner: Thanks for all of your help. I’ve really appreciated your talking with us, and answering our questions.

It’s great to know that the folks working on the OLPC have in fact been working directly with US states, and have mechanisms in place to work with city and county school boards, should the need arise. While some states, such as Maine and Georgia, have instituted laptop programs, and at least 17 other states have started investigating the OLPC, education has long been a rather local issue in the USA. Most school boards, while beholden to the states, are rather independent, a fact that is all too apparent when one looks at the variation in quality of education present within any given states. Some areas, such as the Mississippi Delta region are so impoverished that they sometimes resemble underdeveloped countries. It’s a sad fact that Americans everywhere don’t have access to the same standard of education, a fact that projects such as the OLPC could help to change.

In addition to providing children with a tool for learning technology, the OLPC has many other exciting applications. Imagine the cost savings to school districts if they could purchase textbooks in e-book format, instead of print format? Suddenly textbook life spans are extended by huge margins, and the cost of each individual book drops dramatically, allowing teachers to order additional resources for their students. Locker space could be reduced as well, as students now don’t have to manage a pile of seven thick text books, only their XO Laptop, which they bring with them to every class anyway. Given the model of student ownership for each laptop, it’s not too hard to see how this model extends beyond Elementary School, but instead provides the student with a machine that could last them until High School and beyond.

Of course the truly exciting fact is that the XO Laptop is available for us to purchase through the Give 1 Get 1 promotion which runs until December 31st, 2007.

For $399 ($200 of which is tax deductable) you can not only receive an XO laptop for yourself, but also give one to a needy child. It’s a brilliant idea in my opinion, and I hope they get a lot of interest. I know I’m interested. This is a great option for individuals looking to develop for the XO Laptop, or for those of us who simply would like a durable, portable machine, tablet, and e-book reader with an outstanding battery life. T-Mobile has chipped in for the program too, and sweetened the deal by offering a year of free Wi-Fi service at any T-Mobile hotspot.

I have my fingers crossed that this project will be the huge success it promises to be. If it is adopted as readily and widely as it should be in the USA, it will help to equip young Americans from varied backgrounds and income levels to compete in the global technology market of the future, and help to reduce the cost of operations for each individual school, freeing up additional resources that can be used to outfit other needy sectors of education, such as properly outfitting science labs, and building maintenance. Keep up the good work OLPC, the future depends on you.

-Angry Midwesterner

1Photo by Jim Gettys, used under permission of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.
2Photo by Mike McGregor, used under permission of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.