Computers in Haiti and Afghanistan: One Laptop per Child expands its reach

Matt Keller of One Laptop per Child talks about the program's growing reach around the globe.

To promote learning in the poorest corners of the globe, the One Laptop per Child campaign provides children there with low-cost, low-power laptops. Since mass production of the computers began in 2007, more than 1.5 million have landed in 30 countries worldwide.

Last week, I spoke with Matt Keller, the organization's director for global advocacy, about what's next.

Is One Laptop per Child involved in the Haiti relief effort?

We've been approached by some relief organizations to use the XO [laptop] as a communications tool. But what we're thinking is that suddenly these kids no longer have any schools. If they get any instruction at all in the next year or so, it's not going to be very much. So we sent out an appeal to people in U.S. and elsewhere who bought XOs through the Give One Get One program two years ago to send us their XOs, so we can implement them in some of these camps in Haiti. I know [One Laptop per Child founder] Nicholas Negroponte is meeting with former President Clinton on ramping up distribution of laptops to kids in Haiti over the next six months to a year. So we're focusing on it, but it's not in the immediate aftermath. We're going to take a little bit of time and make sure we do this right.

In December, you announced the new XO-3 computer, which will be released in 2012. Talk about that.

Most of the kids we serve are off the grid. There's no access to electricity and there's not going to be access to electricity in my lifetime. Beginning with the X0-1.75, which will be out probably in February 2011, that laptop will consume less than two watts of power. Once you hit that low, a child will be able to crank the laptop for a minute and produce 10 minutes of energy. The XO-1.75 and the XO-3 are really focused on getting that power consumption down to the minimum level possible. The XO-3 is a tablet, it's touch screen. If you look at the iPad, it's not that dissimilar. But for our purposes, it's power. It's all about consumption of power.

Have any new software applications for the laptops been developed recently?

Some of the more interesting applications are being developed on the ground where the XO is deployed. You'll see some new applications coming out of Uruguay in the next six months, Peru, Rwanda, Ethiopia. Part of our objective is to get people in these countries to begin to design things.

Critics have said that the laptops are used more as playthings than educational tools. How do you respond to that?

In our opinion, play is education. That intense interaction between the child and the object with which that child plays, it's a learning experience.  That mindset of, "Well, the child is playing," comes from a mindset that thinks standardized tests and rote memorization is learning itself, which we contend it's not. When you talk about playing on the laptop, what children learn to do is to begin to program their own characters on games. Children make up a storyline and they get characters to move. That's mathematical, analytical thinking. If that's what people mean by play, then we're all for it, because that's certainly what we mean by play.

How do you measure the program's success?

Success for us is transforming education around the world. It's getting children excited about school. It's getting attendance to increase by 100 percent, which it does in most places where we have laptops, where more girls go to school, where the truancy drops to zero, where children take laptops home and teach their parents how to use them. When we hear back from countries that these things actually happen, we think that we've been successful.

What's next? Are there specific countries that you're looking to expand the program to now?

It looks like we're going to be in Mali, in Cameroon. Uganda, Zanzibar and Sierra Leone have all expressed strong desire to purchase laptops. What I'm very excited about is the very high interest of the United States in deploying laptops in Afghanistan. Connected laptops filled with rich and dynamic educational content that gets children to think critically is actually what the U.S. should be doing as a matter of course in its foreign policy in places like Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan. I think there's a real chance that we will do One Laptop per Child in Afghanistan -- literally every child in Afghanistan -- in the next two years.

Photo 1: Courtesy of Matt Keller

Photo 2: Girls with XO laptops/Courtesy of One Laptop per Child

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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