The One Laptop Per Child initiative run by the NGO of the same name has done great work in distributing technology in impoverished areas. They have boosted educational facilities in countries like India, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Peru, Kenya, Haiti and other developing countries.
The organization has recently announced that it will soon begin to air-drop laptops into remote villages to help children in these places to teach themselves to read.
The plan is to remotely introduce these laptops that contain pre-programmed instructions on learning, with the help of the village leaders and then return one year later to see what the children have learned. A preliminary experiment in a slum in Delhi, India was conducted to study the success of such an operation. A computer with internet access was placed randomly with no explanation and within half an hour a group of illiterate children had gathered around it and figured out how to use the internet.
According to OLPC, digital technology is the future, therefore children have to learn to use this medium as soon as possible. The specially designed XO laptops are hardy, low-cost, powerful, rugged, low-power and ecologically-friendly. In the first few years of the program, over two million children have obtained an education. In Latin America alone, OLPC has over 1.7 million children and teachers as part of the project. Another 400,000 in Africa and the rest of the world make up the rest of the number.
So far the organization has sold the laptops directly to governments, who them issued them to children through the school system. To enable broader community participation, about 80,000 laptops were distributed through grassroots donations efforts. In Peru alone, the goal is to have laptops in all of the country’s public primary schools by the end of 2011. There are also plans to build a manufacturing facility locally in order to meet this demand. The newer model will be even more energy efficient and will cost about $35 to build.
Now with the air-drop method, they hope to reach out to more people. However, there is a concern that just air-dropping laptops into remote villages might not serve the purpose of an education. Technology is a wonderful thing and surely children will learn basic skills of reading, arithmetic and problem solving through the help of a laptop. It can be argued however, that bigger skills like cultural systems, systems thinking, communication, leadership and other skills can only be learned in a classroom with a qualified teacher. These skills are very important for community building, development and leadership. Education is probably one of the best resource towards poverty alleviation – however, it must be holistic enough to make every child a fruitful member of their society and a beacon of local knowledge.
Image Credit: OLPC project in Nigeria. Betbuster, Wikimedia Commons