Most Governments won’t buy OLPC – will you?

On the 12th November, the One Laptop Per Child initiative will begin a limited “give one get one” programme. For $399, people in the USA can buy an XO1 laptop for themselves, and at the same time have one donated for use in a developing country.

This seems to be because OLPC isn’t going to sell nearly as many units as expected to governments of developing countries. There was lots of nodding and smiling when Nicholas Negroponte talked to the world’s education ministers and heads of state, but not much signing on the dotted line.

Give 1 get 1

A good while back the Indian Ministry Of Human Resource Development rejected the XO1 as “pedagogically suspect.” China also rejected it. For both countries, reasons are more likely to be political than pedagogical – but whatever the reasons, they are big markets to lose.

The Libyan government’s promised order is not materialising.

“I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written,” said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the nonprofit project. “And, yes, it has been a disappointment.

Competitive pressure

The competition aren’t hanging around.

Intel’s Classmate is making headway, and the pricepoint is not far from that of OLPC. Intel doesn’t want to see the global educational computing market dominated by the OLPC’s AMD chips. There are allegations of Nigeria switching allegiance to Intel after some shady dealings.

Microsoft have similar concerns to Intel. They’re working on a version of windows that will install on the XO hardware.

Not that there is much XO hardware yet. Manufacturing has got off to a slow start. There are not going to be enough machines to satisfy Paraguay’s order by Christmas. (Paraguay loves OLPC – and they are putting their money where mouth is).

OLPC supporters called for a change of sales tactics and a new initiative to “get them out in the market.” The belief is that the XO1 laptops will prove themselves once people can see them in action. Hence the “Give 1 Get 1” idea.

I still love this project

I’m a big fan of this project – even though everyone tells me I’m an idealistic fool.

I personally want and XO1. I’m pondering whether to ask my friend in the states to get me one. Why?

  • They are wonderful objects, well designed by committed, talented people
  • They represent a vision for kid-powered education that transcends politics, propaganda, race, class, poverty and geography. There’s power in networks that delivers unexpected, astonishing results. Look at Google, Facebook or the blogsphere. I want to see that happen again. (I think I may be a constructivist).
  • In spite of all the controversy no one is saying that the user experience of the machine itself is anything other than wonderful.

A report from research in India…

“Even when English and Marathi are so different, even when the keyboard is in English, even when the interface is in English, even when we don’t speak each other’s language, and even when they are so new to computers, the XO is so user-friendly that I can manage to get across to them, to show them how to do something with it. And in little time, and having lots of fun, the children of a completely different language are doing this or that on their XOs.”

CHildren in Marathi, India
A headmistress in Nigeria…

“You know education is not static. Education changes, and as it changes the world it self changes. The way I passed through education is not to compare with nowadays education. Also children themselves today are more curious than before.”

Harsh realities

Well, the debate rages on. And I mean rages!

It looks like a very rocky road ahead for the XO1. All the designers I know in Africa say the XO1 doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. Life out here is just too tough, they say.

A sobering example: XO1s can run on Solar power. But the networks that support them can’t. They need generators.

“From the Nigeria Chapter of the Club of Rome, we learn that the generator has to be stored in the principal’s office to prevent theft, requires costly gasoline, and servicing that can take days. Worst of all, the generator broke down, burning out the UPS for the Internet, and its still insufficient for all the power needs of the school.”

Ah well. A man can dream, can’t he?

Little girld usign XO1 klaptop in the car

One thought on “Most Governments won’t buy OLPC – will you?

  • November 13, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Hi, this is a great point of view.
    I also look forward to this XO.
    I’m currently trying to work with a emulator and of course that’s not the way to do it. You need the machine. But Sugar is very refreshing and inspiring.
    This “Fisher Price” computer is currently tested in France and so far they are not impressed. It’s not really surprising but might jeopardize the success of the XO if more people think the same way.
    However the XO do not have to impress. It has to be used.
    And how it’s going to be used – well and with numbers – remain to be seen.

    I’m very pleased they’ve included Logo and you can learn Python on it.
    Maybe “Scratch” will works too.
    When you learn Logo and/or Python you really start to understand mathematics. You really empower yourself. That’s not just like learning Visual Basic macro and/or Microsoft Word/Excel.

    One thing which bother me is developing applications for the XO is somewhat too difficult.
    And it’s something the community should care about because if a teacher cannot program the XO him/herself something will be missing. They will not be able to adapt the tool to their teaching environment. You cannot always rely on third party applications. And if you do, you should be able to modify them in a way or another. In theory you can because you always got the source code. In practice I think it will be too difficult.
    I understand this XO as a learning tool, not a computer.

    The screen seems great. It’s confusing for a developer because of its 3 modes but nonetheless very impressing.
    Being able to read a book on it must be at least doable because of the high resolution (200 dpi).

    Last thing is about the hardware. This machine doesn’t seems to be powerful enough. In computer science history is showing us you need power, full stop.
    They need to put something more powerful inside. I don’t know how they can do it and keeping the price down. But this is not as revolutionary as the MacIntosh 128Ko with 800Ko floppy disk so they don’t have the luxury to be under-powered. It’s just a learning machine which need users (teachers and students). So it needs to go faster. And it needs to be able to store more because you cannot rely on the network all the time yet.

    As a developer I still want one to test with my kids.

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