One laptop at a time?

A prominent group of US computer developers claims it can close the ‘digital gap’ between the children of rich and poor countries. The way to do it, declares the project director for One Laptop per Child, is with a small but powerful $100 machine designed for school children in the Majority World.

The device – due out in 2007 – will allow users, even without electricity, to communicate with their schoolmates and anyone else around the world via wireless internet. The plan, with support from Kofi Annan, is to get many countries to purchase in bulk, followed by free distribution to children. So far, Brazil, Egypt, India, and several others have expressed interest.

Praise and criticism for the project have been loudly proclaimed in equal doses. Is this appropriate technology or a simplistic transfer of Western hi-tech? Is it merely a Trojan Horse designed to sweep poor children into the claws of Western consumerism? Regardless of its developers’ motives, does the little device really have clear benefits as an educational tool? A key decision in the design has been to use non-commercial software rather than Microsoft Windows. Bill Gates, true to form, has openly attacked the project.

*Peter Steven*
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mag cover This article is from the August 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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