The $100 Laptop is one of those solutions that might not be so good in the end. We will try to look at the obstacles ahead of this laptop.
Since Negroponte started working at the $100 laptop, the world was split in two. Those who believed that this is a viable solution and those who criticized Negroponte and his idea. Among the ones who blamed his idea was Bill Gates who believed that this project will fail.
Negroponte tried everything to make this solution to be affordable to many. He chose to use Linux instead of Windows, he preferred a dual-color display instead of a normal display and so on.
All this effort was finally rewarded when countries like China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria, and Thailand said that they will order these laptops. OLPC’s original schedule was to deliver machines by the end of 2006, but it will not start production until it has received orders, and payment, for between five and ten million machines.
OLPC comes from One Laptop Per Child and their idea is backed by AMD, Google, MIT, Nortel and Red Hat.
Last week, India said that they will not buy any laptop which gives a blow to OLPC project.
The Indian Ministry of Education dismissed the laptop as “pedagogically suspect”. Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee said: “We cannot visualise a situation for decades when we can go beyond the pilot stage. We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools.” More, Banerjee said if money were available it would be better spent on existing education plans.
When Nigeria ordered 1 million units the project started moving. Of course that buying laptops for the children is a good thing but considering that are a few question that has to be answered we will see how things will evolve.
The important question about the Nigerian order is that Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea are the countries with the biggest corruption in Africa. Considering this, will the laptops reach the children or will they be misused. Considering that these laptops are tools and tools are neutral, they can be used for both good and bad things. For example, a hammer can be used to build a house or to beat someone to death; similarly, a PC can educate and enlighten, or it can give the “Mugu Guymans” – the Nigerian slang for idiot – a cheap means (complete with wireless internet) by which they can perpetuate criminality.
One other problem is the power needed by these laptops. In Africa the power is scarce and it’s expensive. There is no chance of maintenance and schools would not have a connection to the internet.
Regarding the power, Negroponte said that these devices will come with a unit designed to allow students to generate the power they need to run. Special pull string units will allow students to generate electricity and the battery will store it. More, the laptops will also stay on at very low power to create mesh networks. The OLPC initiative is also creating some other support devices to help support the laptops. These will include cheap wireless antennas, storage units, etc.
Ok, let’s say that the children will generate power for their laptops to work. But these kids don’t have toys, they build their toys out of scrap wire; they collect empty cans, plastic bags, and bottles for a living. There are places where sometimes millions of kids don’t get enough to eat for months. And we’re going to give them a laptop. I’m not sure if things will work. Of course that an almost free laptop is a good thing but maybe there are not meant for countries that are only one step to starving.
Maybe these laptops will be for those who start to have a material safety and they need a cheap laptop to progress. To get to know more, to enlarge their universe, their view.
All these being said, we will have to wait and see what future the project will have and whether it will have a chance to come true.