The “100 $ Laptop” is an educational program that aims to manufacture relatively cheap Laptops in order to allow the children of the developed countries to have access to modern education and technology. This project was initiated by OLPC (One Laptop per Child), a non-profit organization formed by faculty members of the MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
My initial impression about this project is very positive. It appears that such initiative has the ability to reduce the widening educational gap between developed and developing countries. But lets us not fall easily to our hopes and let us closely analyze this project.
The project clearly differentiates itself from other projects which try to recycle part of the 100 millions desktops. The project offers brand new laptops with a combination of modest and cutting edges capabilities. Instead of hard drives, the laptop will have a .5GB flash memory. It will have a wireless connection for peer-to-peer networks in ad-hoc manner as well as couple USB ports and a low cost display. A Linux based operating system will run a 500 MHz processor with 128 MB RAM.
The main goal of the project is to have students experience computers, play with it, write and even learn basic programming. The project hopes that governments will buy these laptops to its citizens.
Aiming to be objectively critical, there are a lot of negative and unconsidered aspects that can hinder the goal of sustainable education. First, many people believe that this project fits only the American and European lifestyles, where the children go to there already computerized school and return to their fully equipped houses, unlike the situation in Africa where children have other worries concerning their basic physical needs such as “seeking clean water and food”. Second, just providing laptops does not ensure that children will actually benefits from them. There is a need of skilled people who can direct the students in their initial explorations, a task usually done by school teachers and family members in the developed countries. Without proper guidance or sufficient learning resources, few will ever benefit and worse, laptops might be discarded due to the slightest software malfunction. Another issue is the fear that corrupted governments might abuse this project and use it to achieve some political ends. By restricting its gift to regional or ethnic or religious groups within the concerned developing country, political mafias destroys thus the concept behind the project, i.e. resulting in a total demolition of its child supportive spirit.
After considering the previous points, my positive impression was deeply shaken. Sure it is much better to light a candle than curse the dark, but in places where the words famine, starvation, child labor, discrimination, water scarcity are daily issues, the winds are still strong enough to shut off this candle.