One laptop per child project underway

The One Laptop Per Child project (www.laptop.org) appears to be gathering momentum, with production under way and orders starting to come in. Nicknamed the $100 laptop – at the moment the actual price will be around $175. The hope is, however, that as orders increase, so economies of scale will kick in and the price will come down to the original price of $100.

From all accounts so far the laptop is of unexpected high quality. With 256mb of memory and 1GB of flash memory, the specs are not breath-taking by any means, but if most of us took the music and video junk from our laptops – the amount of productive space we would need for word processing and ebooks is not that much. The screen has a resolution of 1200 × 900, but the piece de resistance of this display is that it is very good in direct sunshine so that the children can read their school work or books in bright conditions. The laptops will also have wifi as well as a camera, mic and speakers built in thus allowing for Skype type telephony – and given a good internet connection could be used for video conferencing.

Having worked in East Africa I think that the communications capabilities will be an important feature for people adopting these laptops. A lot of the nations that these laptops will be going to are very relational cultures, for whom the family and community side of life is vastly more important than it is to the average westerner. So to have the ability to stay in touch with people without the extreme cost of using the national telecommunications infrastructure will potentially be a huge benefit.

For my degree, one aspect I studied was communications in developing nations (and specifically the digital divide). Hopefully this one laptop per child project will seek to lessen that gap. But more importantly I think it could have the potential to empower different people groups to choose how they want to educate themselves. Giving children a laptop and an internet connection is giving them a world of possibilities and potential, more so than has ever been possible before.
However, I wonder if the ethical and moral implications of this new power to all of the children has been looked at. When someone has the internet available to them personally you open, not only a world of knowledge but also you can potentially expose cultures and people groups to things they have never seen before, such as pornography or violent videos etc… Although this project is a great opportunity (and I support it whole heartedly), I think the charities and governments that are taking this on should seriously look at the cultural and ethical effects of this on the children and how they can steer them away from the more unsavoury side of modern communications.

On a technical side I hope some of the power saving innovations from this laptop are seen in more and more ‘normal’ laptops – I mean I would not complain about a screen that I could read outside in sunshine – although here in the UK that is only useful for about 8% of the year!

All specs taken from www.laptop.org

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