I read with sadness the article, It’s Time To Call One Laptop Per Child A Failure, by Bruce Nussbaum in BusinessWeek the other day. The One Laptop Per Child program was initiated by Nicholas Negroponte (ex- MIT Media Lab) with the vision of creating a one hundred dollar laptop for children in the developing world.
Wikipedia explains the program best:
“The XO-1, previously known as the $100 Laptop or Children’s Machine, is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children around the world, especially to those in developing countries, to provide them with access to knowledge. The laptop is developed by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) social welfare organization. OLPC is a U.S. based, non-profit organization, 501(c)(4) created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab to design, manufacture, and distribute the laptop and its software.”
So why is Nussbaum (and others) calling it a failure? This week it was announced that the One Laptop Per Child Foundation was offering a two-for-one deal in which you can buy one for a child who needs it in a developing country, and they’ll also ship one to your home. It is being reported that this change in the program is due to slow sales.
Here’s a clip from the BusinessWeek article, It’s Time To Call One Laptop Per Child A Failure:
“Design from the bottom up, not top down. This was, almost in every way, a traditional top down product development, that involved the rural children in India, Africa and China only in the late stages. Near-finished prototypes were tested out late in development, brought to village kids as a ‘gift.’ It would have been far better to begin in the villages, spend time there and build from the bottom up. Negroponte might have discovered there was little need for this kind of machine. Cell phones are far more popular as the means to connect to the net in much of the Third World and cell-phone type devices rather than cute little laptops might have made much more sense. Tons of research show this to be true.”
I can understand those (with way more insight than me) taking issue with how it was developed and the distribution strategy, but I don’t think this is enough reason to abandon ship. Being connected and enabling young people to have an education is a worthy pursuit. We have seen statistics – again and again – that validate how an improved quality of life is directly related to an individual’s education.
Ultimately, it’s easy to sit back and be the armchair quarterback. In looking at the One Laptop Per Child project, Negroponte’s experience and network, and the power of us already connected in channel likes this, I’d much prefer to see all of us working together to formulate the next steps.
One Laptop Per Child’s success may serve a purpose for Nicholas Negroponte, but I think it still serves a much greater purpose in what it can do to shorten the Digital Divide and bring the world a little closer together.
That might sound a little too Pollyanna for you, but it is how I feel.