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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Computers to Children in Developing Countries

The non-profit group "One-Laptop per Child" has announced a program to sell its durable laptop computers to American and Canadian residents for $399. The profit from the sale of each computer will allow the program to donate another computer to a child in a developing country. The "Give One, Get One" plan aims to put the child-friendly laptops into the hands of children across the globe, as VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

The low-cost green and white plastic computer is built to withstand high and icy cold temperatures, as well as impacts from being dropped and spilled milk. In short, it is made for kids. It is lightweight and can be used outdoors in bright sunlight and can be charged with a solar panel or hand crank. It offers built-in wireless networking, video, a music synthesizer and games children like to play.

The "Give One, Get One" program is the realization of a dream for Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory. "It was a pipedream in the beginning, and it now actually exists and that's really pretty cool," he said.

Since 2005, when Negroponte came up with the "One Laptop Per Child" idea, he has criss-crossed the globe, trying to convince leaders of developing countries to buy the inexpensive laptops. Many countries are participating, including Brazil, Uruguay, Libya, Rwanda and Thailand. But a number of poorer countries have been slow to commit to buying them.

Negroponte says he is hoping the "Give One, Get One" promotion will help kick-start the program. It will run for two weeks, beginning November 12. Negroponte says his goal is simple. "For every single child in the world to have the opportunity to learn," he said.

So far, focus groups of American children who have tested the "green machines" have responded enthusiastically, saying the computers definitely pass the "fun test." Negroponte says this is important.

"It's about fun because when you have fun doing things you learn a great deal more," he said.

Each laptop is programmed in the target country's language, with 1,000 books and other educational software. The computers are intended to belong to individual children, who can take them to school and bring them back home in the evening. Negroponte says he hopes to eventually distribute 100 million laptops a year, saying that would take us to a very different planet.

Computer enthusiasts in the developed world will soon be able to get their hands on the so-called "$100 laptop".
The organisation behind the project has launched the "give one, get one" scheme that will allow US residents to purchase two laptops for $399 (£198).

One laptop will be sent to the buyer whilst a child in the developing world will receive the second machine

The G1G1 scheme, as it is known, will offer the laptops for just two weeks, starting on the 12 November.

The offer to the general public comes after the project's founder admitted that concrete orders from the governments of developing nations had not always followed verbal agreements.

Nicholas Negroponte told the New York Times: "I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a cheque written.

"And yes, it has been a disappointment."

Walter Bender, head of software development at One Laptop per Child (OLPC), told the BBC News website: "From day one there's been a lot of interest expressed in having some way of people in the developed world participate in the programme."

Price hike

The XO laptop has been developed to be used by children and is as low cost, durable and simple to use as possible.

It packs several innovations including a sunlight readable display so that it can be used outside. It has no moving parts, can be powered by solar, foot-pump or pull-string powered chargers and is housed in a waterproof case.

The machine's price has recently increased from $176 (£88) to $188 (£93) although the eventual aim is to sell the machines for $100 (£50).

Governments can buy the green and white machines in lots of 250,000.

In July, hardware suppliers were given the green light to ramp-up production of all of the components needed to build the low-cost machines.

The decision suggested that the organisation had met or surpassed the three million orders it need to make production viable.

The names of the governments that have purchased the first lots of machines have not been released.

Developing whirl

But, according to OLPC, there has also been huge interest in the XO laptop from individuals in the developed world.

"I don't know how many times people have added an entry in our wiki saying 'how do I get one?' or 'I'd gladly pay one for a child if I could get one'," said Mr Bender.

The laptop was designed to be used in developing countries
The organisation has previously hinted that they were considering selling the laptop on a give one get one basis, but not this early.

In January this year, Michalis Bletsas, chief connectivity officer for the project, told the BBC news website that OLPC was hoping to sell the laptop to the public "next year".

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of OLPC, has also previously said: "Many commercial schemes have been considered and proposed that may surface in 2008 or beyond, one of which is 'buy 2 and get 1'."

According to Mr Bender, OLPC see several advantages to offering laptops to the developed world.

"There's going to be a lot more people able to contribute content, software development and support," said Mr Bender.

But primarily, he said, it was a way of extending the laptop project to countries that cannot afford to participate.

"We see it as a way of kick-starting the programme in the least developed countries."

Early adopter

The first countries to receive the donated laptops will be Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti.

Other least developed countries (LDC), as defined by the UN, will be able to bid to join the scheme.

The laptops will go on sale for two weeks through the website.

They will only be available for two weeks to ensure OLPC can meet demand and so that machines are not diverted away from countries that have already placed orders.

Although the exact number of laptops available through the G1G1 scheme has not been revealed, Mr Bender said that the "first 25,000" people that purchase one should receive it before the end of the year.

Others will receive their machines in the first quarter of 2008.

Mr Bender said that if it proves successful, the organisation would consider extending the scheme.

"Our motivation is helping kids learn and giving them an opportunity to participate in the laptop programme so whatever will advance that cause we will do," he said.

"This is something we are going to try and if it looks like it is an effective tool we will do more of it."

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