“One Laptop Per Child” Program Visits PA Campus

Many kids around the world today are living in poverty in places lacking electricity and easy access to the outside world, making their education very difficult and often deficient. The non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) hopes to remedy the situation with their $100 laptop, about ten times less than the average laptop. This affordable laptop was created specially to expose disadvantaged children in remote areas to technology and to supplement their education. Faculty members at the MIT Media Lab initiated the movement to bring laptops to children in developing countries. Natasha Sinha ’08, President of the Social Entrepreneurs Club, brought OLPC member Samuel Klein to campus on Wednesday. The organization’s basic principles involve using technology to help children “learn learning” instead of learning about specific topics. The laptops strive to help children learn through their own actions, and thus improve their cognitive skills. “This isn’t a technology project, this is an education project,” Mr. Klein said. OLPC plans to produce 5 to 10 million laptops in the next 18 months, and distribute 50 to 150 million in 2008 to 5 large countries. Brazil and Nigeria are among the countries targeted for the initial launch. According to Mr. Klein, the MIT Media Lab was originally working to create a discount laptop for the general population, but it developed into a media education project. To make such a low-priced functional laptop, the team had to build the technology from the ground up, removing all unnecessary bulk. If no electricity is available, a child can use a foot pedal to power the computer. The laptop can fold up like a “slim lunchbox,” and its LCD display screen, similar to those of portable DVD players, is capable of shifting from full-color to black and white in direct sunlight. It has 1 GB of storage space as well as four USB ports for additional memory or other devices, and runs on an open source Linux platform. “By giving [these disadvantaged children] more possibilities, we can encourage everyone to learn,” Mr. Klein said. He anticipated that the laptops would inspire a new generation of computer and software development. OLPC’s objective was to provide a laptop that these children could use seamlessly in any environment. The developers had to eliminate the hand crank as a power generator in favor of the foot pedal because the hand crank was too breakable. The laptop, with its durable rubber casing, is built to last at least five years without any repairs. Children will also be able to use the computers to communicate with other local users, creating a peer-to-peer network. They can even have video chats through small webcams installed in the top of the laptop. OLPC is also researching a low-cost Internet connection. According to the project’s website (, the laptops “will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data.” Mr. Klein also called for our generation to help develop content. “These are kids who don’t know what a laptop is. To them, the laptop is just a tool,” he said. After they receive access to the Internet and the outside world, they will need someone to help them navigate the deluge of available information. Teachers will also need assistance integrating the laptops into the classroom. Mr. Klein suggested that students help write informational articles or Wikibooks especially for the primary school level, where textbooks are often not available. Sinha said, “I hope that the students will take what they’ve learned from PA [to] do something very simple that [can] make a dramatic impact [on] the world…I hope we can say, ‘look at how many people are able to have a better life because I spent the time to take the situation they’re in and improve it’. That’s what SEC is all about. I think we’re all capable.”