One of its architects, Seymour Papert, lies in a Boston hospital (but out of intensive care) recovering from a head injury suffered in a collision with a motorbike in Hanoi in early December, but the idea of equipping tens of millions of students around the world with inexpensive, wireless-ready laptop computers continues to roll towards implementation.
The Christian Science Monitor carries an editorial more full of hope than opinion, on January 5, 2007, about the computer project. The laptops have been dubbed “XO.”
For billions of parents who earn only a few dollars a day, paying for a child’s education – books, etc. – often gets neglected. Many simple solutions that break that cycle of poverty have been tried and have failed. Now another one is on the horizon: a “$100 laptop.”
While noting past errors in sending technology to the third world, the Monitor cites some numbers from implementation that are quite dramatic, if accurate:
So far, only eight countries are on board: Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Thailand, and Uruguay. And prototypes of this white-and-green machine, which is dubbed XO, have not been fully road-tested with children. By July, though, several million XOs are expected to be shipped, with $29 million in funding from companies such as Google Inc., Red Hat, and News Corp.
Note carefully the nations that are “on board,” including population giants Brazil, Nigeria and Pakistan. Note that the nations include dramatically different cultures and dominant religions on three different continents.
For many projects, getting this kind of commitment would already be considered signs of success. The dreamers behind the idea dream bigger, though. They have tried to make the idea resistant to the infrastructure support failures that plagued other help projects.
The “$100 laptop” seems designed with those concerns in mind. It’s powered by a hand-pulled mechanism for charging batteries (like the inexpensive radios invented for poor villages). Its unique software, based on Linux, is suitable for a preteen to master. But its real value lies in the ease of a wireless Internet connection that can download the latest “textbooks” and curricula, allowing collaborative learning and turning teachers into facilitators.
One might marvel that a project with such potential to change the world can get so far, so fast, and with so little attention paid to it in western media. The good ideas that may save us in the future sneak up from behind. At least, we might hope they can.
Meanwhile, Dr. Papert is still hospitalized in Boston. MIT’s Media Lab has a virtual get-well card project going. Wouldn’t it be an great historical case if the card he is ultimatley delivered includes greetings from a few million students, sent from the laptops he envisioned?