One laptop per child

For some time, I’ve been aware of online discussions going on about an innovative project to build cheap laptop computers to be given to kids in developing countries.

The goal was to build a sub-$100 laptop computer which could not only be used by children to learn computing skills, but to assist them with completing their other schoolwork as well.

I reserved judgement on the idea but it now seems as if it really is going to fly, with numbers of test machines having been delivered to communities around the world and large scale production due to start later in the year.

Now dubbed the XO, the machines have a rather fetching bright green and white colour scheme, and are 193mm x 229mm x 64mm in size, with a 152.4 mm x 114.3 mm screen which can work in colour and monochrome mode.

The screen can be swivelled so that the display is on the outside making it easy to use the unit as an electronic text reader. The XO has 128Mb of RAM and, instead of a hard drive, 512Mb of built-in flash RAM; extra flash RAM modules can be plugged into its USB ports.

Another remarkable thing about the XO is that is equipped with wireless networking, which will allow the kids to collaborate with teachers and each other and, even, connect to the Internet if its available.

It will also have speakers and a video camera and a full suite of free Open Source software for the kids to use. The programs that’ll be available include the operating system, which is a version of Red Hat Linux, a word processor, a browser, e-mail, a chat program, games, multimedia authoring, music composition and programming.

By now you’re probably thinking that the XO is pretty cool but you’re wondering how it’s going do in areas far from the electricity grid. The answer is simple because the kids are going to generate the power themselves by winding a built-in handle or pulling a cord.

The XO is now being sold for $150, which is expected to drop soon to $100, but I was still thinking that it sounded a bit pricey for the developing world. I saw a comment online to the effect that it isn’t much at all, when you consider that you’re not going to have to print expensive text books for the machine’s young owners.

Instead, the materials the children need can be cheaply loaded onto their laptops and written work can be transmitted to the teacher for marking, without the need for any paper. Makes sense to me.

I want an XO! More info on www.laptop.org.

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