One Laptop Per Child

The BBC “reports”: that the OLPC project could launch by mid 2007, and the _first countries to sign up to buying the machine include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, *Pakistan* and Thailand._ For a nice change, Pakistan is actually doing something right in the field of education. At the moment however, Pakistan has only made “postive noises”: without actually commiting to the project. Another possibility in the works is that the UAE might buy the laptops and donate them to Pakistan – but again the details still need to be ironed out.

“Wikipedia on the OLPC”:

bq. The Children’s Machine, also known as 2B1 or XO-1 and previously as the $100 Laptop, is a proposed inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children around the world, especially to those in poor countries, to provide them with access to knowledge and modern forms of education.

A trial batch of 2500 laptops are “shipping out to eight developing countries”: this month,including Pakistan!

The key part of the whole project is this:

bq.. *”In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint,”* Mr Negroponte said.

*”I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.”*

p. There is much to say about the OLPC project, both positive and negative. but that one statement alone is enough to convince me that they know what they’re doing. Most of the naysayers of the OLPC project completely miss out on the whole point of computing. They have evolved a narrow view of computing consisting solely of using Microsoft Office. As Negroponte points out, there is a much bigger computing world out there, and the OLPC will enable children to access it.

It’s not just elementary school children, but the entire educational chain in Pakistan which could do with a shot of the OLPC “vision of learning”: when it comes to computer education.

For a biased, mostly negative and slightly obsessive overview of the whole project there is “OLPC news”: The company line is at over at “”: and for more on the OLPC, read the entire “wikipedia entry on the OLPC”:

Some people have serious doubts about the OLPC, most of which seem way wrong to me. A few common criticism’s and answers to them:

h4. The laptops are too expensive! The poor developing countries will drown in debt!

This is a common criticism, but countries like Pakistan have billions of dollars which they end up wasting on everything from the “railways”: to useless perks for govt. officials to building roads which no one uses, so a few hundred million dollars for laptops is cheap. That money would have been wasted otherwise, and in any case, a couple of rich Arab countries have offered to buy the laptops for Pakistan.

h4. Not every child will get a laptop! Discrimination!

Some delusional people come up with this ridiculous argument. They have probably never seen a third world country. Life isn’t fair – deal with it. And, if the OLPC project is successful, than there would obviously be a great push to roll out similar tech to other students. This is 2007 – in a couple of years it’s quite possible the 150 dollar laptop will be the 50 dollar laptop and churning out millions of units a month.

h4. What will the kids do with a laptop anyways? It’s not like the teachers will be able to guide them.

What will the kids do? Leave that to the kids, thank you. Most teachers in public schools don’t exist – and many of those that do show up to teach might as well have stayed at home for all the good they do. The OLPC idea is that the laptops enable kids to learn themselves. In a school of a few hundred children, a few are bound to be able to figure it out.

h4. Electronics is neither necessary nor sufficient for education.

Sure, in a ideal world where you have kick ass teachers and good schools. In Pakistan, while the govt. can afford to spend a billion dollars on laptops, it is completely beyond it’s reach to fix the educational system. Enable the children to learn on their own – it might just work. At the worst it’ll be money down the drain, and if you pore over the news, so called poor countries like Pakistan and Nigeria have tons of money to throw around.

h4. Another common argument is that the money would be far better spent on schools and teachers instead of the laptops. After all, what good is a laptop when you can’t read or write?

Again, in a ideal world, this is obvious, and far better to spend money in a way that benefits all students, rather than spending it on laptops for a few students. Back home in Pakistan, we already spend money on education all around the country – building thousands of schools and paying tens of thousands of teachers which don’t exist. All that money just goes to line the pockets of a whole chain of corrupt politicians. That system isn’t working – and a few hundred million dollars can’t even begin to make a dent in it. This is not a zero sum game – buying laptops doesn’t mean that govt. schools stop buying blackboards and chalk.

h4. Laptops aren’t food. Children in third world countries need food & medicine, not laptops

This is a commonly stated argument, and is so childishly wrong that the proponents need their own 100 dollar laptops to learn some of the facts of life. Most children in third world countries aren’t starving, and while they sure could do with better food and medicine, the old adage comes to mind: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Most Pakistani children aren’t starving, and there are already a thousand odd NGO’s and charities thinking about how to help those who are, and yet more working on medical aid. Heck, even the Pakistan govt. is making noises about food and medicine. What we don’t have, and desperately need, is a way to empower power to rise out of their poverty. I think the OLPC project provides children a chance to do that – not all, perhaps not even 10 percent of the recipients will use the laptops, but that’s where future solutions will come from – not the thousands of NGO’s shoveling aid every which way. Africa is a prime example – the continent has more food than it needs, yet people still starve. The massive quantities of foreign food aid have undermined local agriculture and wrecked their markets, with countries like Ethiopia locked into a vicious downward spiral of food aid dependency. Even than, countries like Ethiopia already have more food aid than they need, so this argument is just plain nonsense from armchair aid warriors. Countries like Brazil, another participant in the OLPC program, certainly doesn’t need any food aid, and for that matter, even Pakistan suffices without any. The OLPC wiki says on this:

bq. While it is true there are many people in the world who definitely need food and shelter, there are multitudes of people who live in rural or sub-urban areas and have plenty to eat and reasonable accommodations. What these people don’t have is a decent shot at a good education.

The bottom line is, even if only a small percentage of the initial million odd children benefit from the OLPC project, it is money well spent. Those few students otherwise would have no chance to have access to any form of tech or education otherwise. The project is a gamble, and like all gambles there’s a chance it might not work out, but thats a chance worth taking. The “OLPC Myths FAQ”:

bq.. ..I’m counting on the brainpower and energy of a few hundred million hungry children. You and I can’t outthink them, especially not in advance.

So are you going to stand there cursing the darkness, or teach people to make candles?

h3. more reading

* “A Close Look at the OLPC”:

* ” 1 Million OLPCs Already On Order”:

* “Atanu Dey on the OLPC”: :: He doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

12 thoughts on “One Laptop Per Child”

  1. I have seen the OLPC in real. Some time back they visited the AT&T Labs in Florham Park, New Jersey where they showed these devices.

    There is one important thing that I want to point out at this time, first the guy showing the devices told in public (infront of many AT&T Employees) that some officers in Ministiry of Education are undecied about what to go with English or Urdu based interface, i can not say how much humuliated i was feeling what i had listened to that.

    2ndly, the discussion is right, why should the IT people would be deciding about the OLPC project, that device is already engineered, and assembeled handed to children, there is no need to involve IT people, unless to make software needed for the OLPC device.

    3rd if any one thinks that they can use this 100$ device as a Laptop for his personal use, i can assure him that this is as 100% as useless for any other needs expect the child who is going to use it.

  2. The only way for this to work in Pakistan is for those of us who have some extra money to buy and donate these to kids we know of in need.

    We all know Pakistans public education system is 95% useless our students are simply being baby-sat.

    I have a small IT shop in Karachi…my small contribution is that I have hired a street kid (he is 15) and have him learn basic computer and english skills.

    So far the kid has gone from never being able to use a computer to basic English understanding, basic computer use(web, cd burning, etc).

    When this $100 laptop is available to the general public ill get 2 for his house and 1 he can use at work…that is the only way forward.

    If you want to do something…dont rely on the government go out and do it yourself.

  3. I am a boy age 11 in Pakistan, and i want to know how can i get this $100 laptop? I am afraid the rich will get them to use as toys, and they will use them for a week only before breaking them. There is no word about these laptops from the government.

  4. @ali: ditto is my concern. I hope the Pakistani Government simply doesn’t take the loot and disappear.

    Though, I must say, this will really improve our crap education system.

  5. “3rd if any one thinks that they can use this 100$ device as a Laptop for his personal use, i can assure him that this is as 100% as useless for any other needs expect the child who is going to use it.”

    #2: the OLPC may be used as an ebook or a news reader or to consult gov documents or weather. No need to be a kid to use it.

    As to public availibility, it is planned to be sold via ebay on a pay 2, get 1 and one go to a child basis ( Even if it’s 300$, for an European, it’s still cheap. I’ll buy several as soon as it’s on ebay, not because it’s powerfull, but because the product is cute and it is a type of donation like many others.

  6. Dear sir i am a Government Sertvnat and performing my Duties in I.G. Prisons office as a Junior Clerk. My monthly salary is appromiately 75 US dollar Per month. i cannot offered a Laptop please donate me a P-4 Laptop I shal;l be thanks and pray for your long life.

    Mueed Rashid Junior Clerk Office of The I.G. Prisons NWFP Peshawar Paksitan

  7. the scheme sounds good but the reality is that the persons in need of laptops in pakistan are the postgraduate students and researchers rather than the children. there should be a scheme to provide the laptops directly to these needy students/researchers who can really work with these machines positively.

  8. Our school require 25 computers for our students & school has no sufficient funds for this project. So we are looking for donation from well parties or person for promotion of education in Karachi-Pakistan

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