On laptops for children

On laptops for children

You know that something’s really made an impact on you when it lodges in the brain and sticks with you for years, don’t you?  My “brainworm” is about the One Laptop Per Child project and I was delighted to see an update on their progress in the Sunday paper.

In October 2006,  I attended the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society in Deauville,  northern France – a three day conference attended by women from all over the world who come together annually to discuss how to further women’s participation in business and in life.  

One of the (many, many) lunchtime events featured a speaker from OLPC,  then a project in its relative infancy.  Her name was Mary Jo and she talked about the goals of the project – at its core, to create and then provide a basic laptop for under privileged children to use as an educational tool.

(Now further refined as  “… to create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children via a “rugged low-cost, low-power laptop” – “)

As if it were yesterday,  I remember sitting in that conference room, eating rubber chicken (yes, even in France) and listening to Mary Jo tell us  how computer access could transform the lives and the educational prospects of children in developing countries, how the laptop model on which they were working would be super robust, have an extra long battery life, come pre-loaded with all types of educational and games based software;  how it would have a special anti-glare screen (on which this lady had herself been working, with Intel) so that it could be used outside and yet still be visible in bright sunshine, and how it would eventually be part of a giant hub of wireless enabled laptops so that the children could access the internet.

And the price of this bit of kit?

$100, in 2006.

I’ve kept an eye on the One Laptop website since then and watched their evolution,  but Sunday’s Observer article really brought home their three-plus years of progress. Follow the link and see for yourself what a difference it’s making to the children of Rwanda and how 1.4 million laptops (not quite yet at that magical $100 each price point, but they’re getting there) have already been rolled out to children in 35 countries which include Haiti, Afghanistan, Brazil and Uruguay.

One of the best days on my recent trip to Goa was when I took my own laptop out to Rainbow House with me.  One of the other volunteers had shared her photos of the school’s sports day, and I thought the children might like to see some of the pictures.  I set myself and the laptop up on the verandah,  booted up the photos – and within seconds I was completely covered in children,  swarming over me and the computer,  completely fascinated by the screen and the images.  They played with it until the battery died and absolutely loved looking at the photos and playing games – so I can completely see how it, as a piece of technology,  does serve so many purposes for children everywhere: it makes learning fun,  it’s a new gadget and it’s a unifying tool.  As the article suggests:

“…computers can enable children to learn how to learn for themselves through playful problem-solving and that this will lead to their becoming better-rounded human beings.”

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