In the past three decades the personal computer has made an unprecedented impact in improving education in the classroom. What started as a large machine in a back-office to help a school organize things, followed by far smaller machines to do more personal tasks such as word processing and playing the classic MECC edutainment games, has now evolved into a device that is inseparable from education. In the most developed nations, if a child isn't using a computer regularly for schoolwork some time in primary school, they most certainly are in secondary school.

Although this evolution came at what amounts to much expense and many growing pains, few can argue the benefits of computers in education when used correctly. Word processors allow for a far more streamlined ability to write, correct, and revise writing; printing of said writing has created a common platform of legibility replacing (and perhaps harming) the myriad of different handwriting styles. Optical discs have compressed bookshelves of text down to a 12cm piece of plastic that contains the basic knowledge of the human race. And the Internet has altered the face of communication and research forever, connecting the most unlikely of people and giving them access to the rest of the world's knowledge that can't be fit on a disc.

All of these education benefits, as modern education theory goes, have in turn driven great improvements in these developed societies. The modern information society builds a population that has access to the answer for any question at their fingertips, citizens who have the ability to be better informed than at any time in the past, and educational enrichment has driven a new period of invention and understanding. If education is the cornerstone of stability, growth, and prosperity, then the computer is a mighty tool that can help a society better reach these goals.

In spite of the raw power of computers, they cannot overcome all obstacles. There are over 6 billion people on Earth, fewer than 1 out of every 5 have access to an internet connected computer, and the benefits of the information society have been concentrated into the hands of those nations with the resources to undertake the required investments. In such a situation computers are in essence a problem, not a solution; it's people that are the solution.

There have been many charitable efforts over the past 100 years to help with education in underdeveloped nations; few can claim to be on the scale of the modern push to get computers into the hands of more school children for their educational benefit. Governments, schools, and companies have come together to solve this problem. Each has their own reason, but the goal is the same: bring the benefits and knowledge of computers and the internet to those children who do not currently enjoy such access.

Today we'll be taking a look at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, a program designed to build and distribute low-cost laptops to schoolchildren. Sticking with the focus of AnandTech we'll be looking at things primarily from the technical side, though we'll deal with a bit of the politics too as such is inseparable from a program of this magnitude. As we will see, much is being done to improve access to computers, the Internet, and information; and the children receiving the laptops and eventually their home countries stand to gain a great deal out of the program.

What Is The OLPC Program?
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  • Zan Lynx - Monday, August 13, 2007 - link

    I have to wonder if any complainers have researched what regular school books and supplies cost these countries that are planning to purchase OLPC systems.

    I haven't either, but considering what my college text books cost, I imagine that over the projected life of the OLPC system it will be cheaper than providing actual printed textbooks and study guides.

    I know people like to think of bureaucrats as venal and/or stupid, but I happen to know a few and they are not. So I think the burden of proof is on those claiming its a bad idea, rather than accepting that the people in charge of the project in these countries don't know what they're doing.
  • 0roo0roo - Thursday, August 16, 2007 - link

    well its not very intelligent to assume poor countries have to buy text books at our college text prices. you do know our college texts are seriously over priced and its a racket right? they keep putting out new editions so the professors and companies can keep raking in the money and keep the used textbooks from taking over. even small governments can afford to write basic school texts, we aren't talking cutting edge science texts here. basic math and language, the texts will last for years, paper is cheap, books can be passed down from classroom to classroom.
  • 0roo0roo - Thursday, August 16, 2007 - link

    now imagine all the money that has been spent on this project were instead put towards writing decent textbooks for such countries and keeping it up to date. it would be a fraction of the cost of creating the infrastructure manufacturing and research for this gadget. open source textbooks how about that? no royalties. print them off in china, how much do you think one would cost? 1 dollar a book?
  • creathir - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    I find it surprising that your article does not mention the fact that 1 million units must be purchased by the purchasing government.

    That $75 difference would mean a $75 million price difference... quite a bit if you ask me.

    This project is one of those "feel good" projects which I have not liked from the beginning. It was designed for areas without a stable power grid (hence the hand crank) but I would think they would need stable power before a computer to surf the Internet, not to mention the infrastructure and bandwidth needs to connect to the Internet.

    This thing is such a joke.

    - Creathir
  • jevans64 - Saturday, August 11, 2007 - link

    A million of them are going to Nigeria and are going to be used for Phishing.
  • Dfere - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    "Education still remains as one of the greatest factors in creating and ensuring prosperity, and expanding it is one of the best ways to improve a developing country"

    Yet look at the countries like Greece in the lineup? I didn't think they were third world. And third world countries need a stable government for economic growth first and education second. Perhaps the message of the market for the OLPC is just not clear enough. Perhaps I have not been able to figure this out on my own. But I wonder, is it possible that the backers do not have a clear idea of the market they make this "project" for? Time to market is terrible, especially given that it uses existing technology. How can there be success in this case, even if success is charitable cause as there have been no shipments....

    This is not a venture I would back with my own money. And as a cause to end world illiteracy, it has currently done nothing. I am not sure where extra teachers would not be a better answer in second world countries.

    I am cynical, this project certainly makes for great PR and I cannot help but think that the marketing and branding being exported to lower income areas of second world countries is the ultimate goal of the companies involved and is the return they seek. Much like companies in America that get involved with (and oweners of companies become board members with) the United Way.
  • Great Googly Moogly - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    This will be the biggest flop since IT/Ginger. What an awful waste of developing countries' funds (they will be the ones paying for these after all). Charity? Hardly.
  • stmok - Thursday, August 9, 2007 - link

    I got to try one of these when they were at the Linux Conference here in Sydney, (earlier this year).

    The screen has an additional benefit. You can still see whatever's on the screen in direct sunlight. NONE of OLPC's competitors has the same capability.

    As for ASUS Eee PC, its not a direct competitor. They're (ASUS) are aiming for a slightly different market. OLPC is expressly for developing countries. Eee PC is for anyone else who can afford a low cost mobile solution. (Its far more powerful, but less ruggered). So anyone in a developed country can get one. (assuming they can make enough of them!)

    Interesting to see that in both cases, they use Linux as their default OS.
  • Justin Case - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    The summary on the main page says "One Child per Laptop Program". Unless it's some sort of breeding program, I think that's the other way around.
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - link

    Well we will have an article on that next week on our sister site BioTech...

    Anyhow, thanks for the notice. This is why working at night is not always the brightest idea.

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