Window to the world

I was reading an article about the One Laptop Per Child project the other day. Have you guys heard of the project? Nicholas Negroponte and a bunch of colleagues decided to come up with a laptop computer that could be produced for around $100 (it's ended up being closer to $200), and that governments of developing countries would buy them for the kids in their countries. By giving them laptops you'd give them a window to the world, and a way to communicate with the world. In the same way that having access to mobile phones increases the economic status of people in developing countries, giving kids laptops would open up a whole world to them that they otherwise would never have access to.

I was looking at the specs of the actual laptop (called the XO laptop) at laptop.org, and it looks amazing. Designed specifically for kids, with hardly any parts to wear out or break, the computer is so energy-efficient that it's going to be able to be recharged by the kids themselves (with a hand-crank or pull-cord). It has wireless range that's better than most laptops on the market, so kids will be able to network with each other and with the internet. It runs on Linux, and the software on it is open-source, so kids can modify as they see fit.

The problem is that a bunch of the countries that committed to buying them have backed out. So the One Laptop Per Child group has decided to run the Give 1 Get 1 promotion. From November 12 through November 26, people in North America can give US$399 (which is pretty much CA$399, as well) and get one XO laptop (otherwise not being released to the US and Canada) and have another one donated to the project.

Great, right? Because a laptop for $399 is still an amazing price, especially one that's going to last for so long and be specifically designed for kids to learn on. But what if we could get organized to do even more good with this project?

There are plenty of schools in underserved and underfunded areas of the US and Canada that have little access to technology, or massively outdated technology. These schools are lucky to have one 8-year-old computer per classroom, with outdated software and spotty internet access. Combine this with the fact that many of these same schools have 20-year-old textbooks, and you can see that these kids are at a distinct disadvantage. (For a well-laid-out argument about why giving students their own laptops instead of spending the same amount of money on notebooks and skinny markers and white-out pens makes a ton of sense, read this article.)

Obviously, the best-case scenario would be for schools/districts/the community to be able to buy each kid their own laptop. But even if that's not possible, what if corporations, religious and civic groups, or community groups could donate or raise the money to put a laptop cart or two in each of these schools? (A laptop cart is a rolling cart containing 30-35 laptops. Teachers can sign out the laptops for certain periods of time, and each kid in the class can have a laptop while doing that activity. It 's a great way to share within a school without forcing kids to share in the classroom during computer-related lessons.) Doing it during the Give 1 Get 1 promotion would cost $12,000-14,000 per cart. That amount of money is easily within the budget of some companies, churches, synagogues, and even private schools who could donate to an underfunded school in their area, and that money could be raised by other groups that don't have it on hand.

The problem is, there isn't much time. The promotion starts November 12, which means we have 40 days to troubleshoot this and get the funding together. Mull it over, post your objections in the comments, try to work out the kinks, and then let's break and go out to our local communities and start asking for money to give some kids the modern equivalent of the printing press.

(And don't forget to go put in your email address over at xogiving.org so they can remind you on November 12 to buy your own Give 1 Get 1 computer for your child.)