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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC)

OLPCA girl from a small village in Nigeria helps another child in Thailand with algebra.

A boy in Uruguay taps away at a green laptop, explaining why he thinks a certain chemist experiment keeps going wrong, to an online friend in Rwanda.

Despite living in some of the poorest countries on earth these children have the internet – and the wealth of information, educational tools and connectivity that goes with it - at their fingertips.

At least that’s the idea behind One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a two-year-old initiative by a number of high tech companies that is ready to launch.

Once they have been dropped, dirtied and debugged, the initial run of 3,500 laptops will be built and shipped to kids in Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Thailand and Uruguay. Thousands more will be sent to those countries later in the year.

Companies like Google, eBay and Advanced Micro Devices signed onto the educational initiative after it was unveiled in 2005 at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

OLPC keyboard detailMany tech industry veterans were skeptical that a useful and durable laptop could be built for the original goal of $100 each. In fact, the computers, officially called the XO, currently cost closer to $150.

A built-in webcam, open source software, USB ports, and unique wireless network are just some of the features. All of the materials are environmentally friendly and the shell can withstand not only a few hard knocks, but also moisture and dust as well.

Most groundbreaking, however, is the power system. OLPC laptops use just a fraction of energy compared to their consumer counterparts. While a plugged-in charge can last up to 40 hours, there's also an optional pull-string charger that lets kids without access to electricity power up by hand.

The initial shipment to be sent to the seven countries was funded by the non-profit initiative but the countries themselves will pay for future orders.
The XO's software has been designed to work specifically in an educational context. It has built-in wireless networking and video conferencing so that groups of children can work together and Google will help the children publish their work on the web.

Since there will not be enough for every child to have their own laptop yet, the computers will go to school districts in urban and rural areas. OLPC is also working to make sure that the laptops are sent to places with internet access, working with governments to make sure they understand how important connectivity is and donating resources towards that end if need be.

 

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