Wednesday, November 23, 2011

One Laptop Per Child: Bridging the Digital Divide

One Laptop Per Child is an extraordinary initiative that is playing an important role in bridging the digital divide. By equipping each child with a low-cost laptop that is inexpensive and easy to use, OLPC is helping developing nations surmount some of the challenges posed by lack of widespread access to digital technology and poor quality education.

The idea behind the "XO" laptop is similar to that behind the recently lauched low-cost 'Aakash' tablet, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, but XO has been out there for quite some time so it is more advanced and comes packed with software to facilitate learning. XO is designed for early education--for kids between 6 to 12 years old--but it has a Linux processing system, word processing, games, and more. Thus it is meant to engage students while inspiring them and helping them learn as well. Moreover, as the video clip above points out, despite its cheap price tag, the laptop is meant to weather tough conditions and is durable enough so the laptop does not need to be replaced often.

Of course, it would be naive to expect these laptops to be substitute for well-trained teachers. And laptops alone are no panacea for school dropouts or bad retention of course material if the environment is not conductive to learning at schools because of, say, corporal punishment. But these potent portable tools can enhance the learning environment at school, making it more fun to discover new things. And because students get to keep their laptops, the learning process continues at home even after the school ends.

That is what is happening in Uruguay, where thanks to OLPC, every single child in elementary school has access to XO laptop! More than 362,000 students and 18,000 teachers have been involved in the "Plan Ceibal" (Education Connect) project; about 70% of  the initial recipients of XO laptops did not have a computer at home. The gulf between the digital haves and have-nots is shrinking indeed and it is happening without significant financial costs. Plan Ceibal project of Uruguay is costing just $260 per child, which includes  maintenance costs, training for teachers and Internet connection. All in all, the project's costs constitute less than 5% of Uruguay's education budget!

More then 2 million XO laptops have been distributed so far world-wide but there is a long way to go. One Laptop Per Child, a Delaware-based non-profit organization that is behind the XO laptop initiative, is the brainchild of faculty members from the Media Lab at MIT. OLPC works directly with governments of  many developing nations like Uruguay, providing them with the laptops that are later distributed in schools. Large orders and large scale operation translate into economies of scale, driving costs down but the organization needs your help. This holiday season, you can spread joy and "change the world" by donating to the organization. By doing so, you can also help One Laptop Per Child achieve its objective of empowering the world's poorest children through the power of education.