That’s a very grand title up there, for what amount to two little hills of beans. But some projects are just such a great idea, it makes you feel big to have had a little bit to do with them.
This is the XO, the $200 computer produced by One Laptop Per Child (www.laptop.org). It’s the little machine designed for distribution to schools around the world where children have the least chance of getting the kind of education that will bring them into the 21st Century of opportunity and imagination. One in three of the 2 billion children in the developing world doesn’t complete 5th grade schooling. The OLPC website says: Any nation’s most precious natural resource is its children. We believe the emerging world must leverage this resource by tapping into the children’s innate capacities to learn, share, and create on their own. Our answer to that challenge is the XO laptop, a children’s machine designed for “learning learning.”
Six months ago, 50 primary school children in Arahuay, Peru received a shipment of XOs.
In a Dec. 22 (today!) article, “MIT spinoff’s little green laptop a hit in remote Peruvian village” by [Frank Bajak] the Chicago Tribune quotes first-grade teacher Erica Velasco, “Some [of the children] tell me that they don’t want to be like their parents, working in the fields.” She had just sent them to the Internet to seek out photos of invertebrates — animals without backbones. According to the article, Alex, 7, aspires to be a lawyer, Kevin, 9, wants to play trumpet, and Saida, 10, is already a promising videographer, who recorded her town’s Fiesta de la Virgen.
OLPC Chairman Nicholas Negroponte says 150,000 more laptops will be shipped to other countries early in 2008, including Rwanda, Mongolia, Haiti, and Afghanistan through “Give One, Get One,” a U.S.-based promotion ending Dec. 31 in which you buy a pair of laptops for $399 and donate one or both.
Here’s where we came in. Under this program, Richard and I each bought 2 XO laptops. One (of each pair) goes somewhere in the world, to a child in a school where learning is precious and resources scarce. One (of each pair) comes here. We get to explore them, play with them, learn what we have given to someone someplace else. Then we can, if we want to, donate these two as well, locally or far away.
These little bitty machines are a treat. The keyboard is sized for little hands. The whole thing is about as big as a primary school paper tablet. It’s designed to withstand a 1-meter fall without damage, is hard-drive free, has no fan, is water and dust resistant, and can be charged with a hand crank, a foot treadle, solar panels, or a conventional electrical connection. It runs on Linux, so all the software is open-sourced. It has books, games, and learning activities on board, and it can switch from Latin-based characters to, say, Hindi or Arabic. And, best of all, it’s a wireless internet receiver. Not only can it connect to the internet, it has a mail handler (gmail from Google), and can network with other copies of itself. It has speakers, a microphone, a camera, game controllers, a mouse, 3 USB jacks for attaching peripherals, and a slot for an SD card. And each kid gets one to own. This is some machine!
That was the product review. Here is the pitch: the Give One, Get One program is good until Dec. 31 this year. You can, of course, give to OLPC any time, but under this program, you can bring an XO home to your own neighborhood as well as send one to the world. If you’re at all interested, go to www.laptop.org to check it out.
It has been suggested to me that we ought to be giving our charitable efforts to people in this country, where there are plenty of needy folks, instead of sending it off to foreign people. My answer is, who says foreign people are separate from us? Who says, if we need to see a local benefit from our giving, that we get that return only from local giving? These kids in under-served schools around the world are the first generation of the new century. They will be the leaders of the world one day. No gift to them now could be greater than a tool to learn with. With any luck, they’ll turn out smarter than the leaders of today’s governments.
As it says on the One Laptop Per Child website, “Standing still is a reliable recipe for going backward.”
And by the way, since this is Christmas, let’s consider these words from the Book of John, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another…” Let’s celebrate a little fellowship.
Merry Christmas, world.