Laptops for $150

Two thousand five hundred of the world’s cheapest laptops—retailing for a trifling $150—will be shipped to educational authorities in countries ranging from Pakistan to Brazil this month. We’ve blogged about this initiative previously (on the disparate reactions of India and Libya), but here’s a refresher: The computers are the brainchild of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a ...

604089_180px-Green_and_white_machine_05.jpg
604089_180px-Green_and_white_machine_05.jpg

Two thousand five hundred of the world's cheapest laptops—retailing for a trifling $150—will be shipped to educational authorities in countries ranging from Pakistan to Brazil this month. We've blogged about this initiative previously (on the disparate reactions of India and Libya), but here's a refresher: The computers are the brainchild of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a project of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that aims to use the laptops to enable children in developing countries to learn like their counterparts in the developed world. "It's an education project, not a laptop project," OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte has stressed—but the technological achievement is pretty astounding. Each computer, which can be charged by cranking a handle, boasts a digital video camera, multi-lingual keyboard and wireless internet connectivity. OLPC plans to roll out 50 million of them in the next twelve months, by which time it hopes they will cost barely $100 (the original target price). 

Not everyone is applauding. After all, $150 is still a lot of cash in these countries, and there's no guarantee the scheme will work. Indeed, many feel the only result will be a thriving black market in cutting-edge laptops. For my money, both sides are missing the point. Affordable computers are undoubtedly worthwhile, but it's small businesspeople, not children, who could make best use of them. Cheap laptops will boost their firms' efficiency, and provide long-distance communication at the touch of a button. When funds are scarce, it might be best that the kids stick to pens and paper—it's worked in the past.

Two thousand five hundred of the world’s cheapest laptops—retailing for a trifling $150—will be shipped to educational authorities in countries ranging from Pakistan to Brazil this month. We’ve blogged about this initiative previously (on the disparate reactions of India and Libya), but here’s a refresher: The computers are the brainchild of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a project of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that aims to use the laptops to enable children in developing countries to learn like their counterparts in the developed world. “It’s an education project, not a laptop project,” OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte has stressed—but the technological achievement is pretty astounding. Each computer, which can be charged by cranking a handle, boasts a digital video camera, multi-lingual keyboard and wireless internet connectivity. OLPC plans to roll out 50 million of them in the next twelve months, by which time it hopes they will cost barely $100 (the original target price). 

Not everyone is applauding. After all, $150 is still a lot of cash in these countries, and there’s no guarantee the scheme will work. Indeed, many feel the only result will be a thriving black market in cutting-edge laptops. For my money, both sides are missing the point. Affordable computers are undoubtedly worthwhile, but it’s small businesspeople, not children, who could make best use of them. Cheap laptops will boost their firms’ efficiency, and provide long-distance communication at the touch of a button. When funds are scarce, it might be best that the kids stick to pens and paper—it’s worked in the past.

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