According to today’s CNet News report:
Khaled Hassounah, director of Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program in Africa and the Middle East, has spent the last year touring schools in Nigeria. He and his team chose a school 10 miles outside Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, to deploy the company’s first child-friendly laptops in the region.
These 10- and 11-year-old students are lucky to share three books per academic subject, a clock, bell, wall calendar, and science equipment consisting of a lever. Students in less fortunate schools might share three books total. With the XO Children’s Machine, OLPC hopes young students will have the tools to shape their own education.
This idea of cheap computing isn’t completely new. Many have conceived such an idea and I had even presented a similar concept as part of my informatics program about four years ago. My idea varied in that instead of giving full-fledged computers, we’d give out re-purposed computers made into Internet appliances, specific to educational needs.
The idea was shot down by the faculty, citing that technical support would be problematic. I later posted my “Third-World iAppliances” idea in detail on halfbakery.com (5th March 2003), just to see what others thought as well. The responses were interesting and educated, and it eventually got a stale fish rating of -1 there (Haha!)
This sentiment explains why I’m particularly interested in how the OLPC plays out. If you watch the OLPC interface screencast (video), you can apparently see the Linux underpinnings in the OS, which makes me wonder if it’ll still be too complex for the less literate population.
If you’re interested to dig deeper, you can download an OS image of the OLPC and run it on your Mac or Windows PC using a virtual machine emulator (e.g. VMware). You can get the how-to and the downloads via Edgar’s blog.
Finally, recalling my personal experience on this, we’re back to the issue of technical support. Without a doubt, this would form the most laborious part of the whole program. I particularly like how Hassounah shows the students how to boot up their open-source laptops. In the photo slideshow on the CNet News site, you’ll see Hassounah instructing the students on identifying and holding aloft each of the laptop’s components, starting with the power adapter. The step-by-step instruction makes great sense to teach the children on respecting and using what would now be their personal education tool.
The real challenge isn’t the computer, but the human interaction required for the children to gain the computer-literacy they need to fully participate in local and global change.