One Laptop project: A key breakthrough or just an 'easy fix'?

Christian Science Monitor urges open hearts and minds towards Negroponte's grand scheme, but less ambitious projects have wound up on the scrap heap of development.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

With One Laptop Per Child slated to ship millions of child-friendly computers off to developing countries soon, The Christian Science Monitor questions whether this will be a helping hand out of poverty or another technological boondoggle.

The hallowed halls of USAID are filled with new inventions to help developing countries break the cycle of poverty. Probably none has seen more press and taken on such a huge scope - or hype - as Nicolas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child initiative. If the project fails, it will have plenty of company. Delivering technology to countries that lack the infrastructure to support it has historically been a failed approach.

"For every success story - such as hybrid, easy-to-grow rice and wheat - there are many clunker ideas, such as sending farm tractors to remote villages with no hope of spare parts. In fact, an entire movement, sparked by the late British economist E.F. Schumacher, sprang up in the 1970s to adapt "appropriate" technology to poor lands."

July is the launch date for the project and millions of machines are being shipped off to the eight countries. With $29 million in funding from companies such as Google Inc., Red Hat, and News Corp., it could be corporate philanthropy at its best.

The developers did do their homework to make the computers fit into a third-world environment, where electricity can be spotty at best. The laptop is powered by a hand-pulled mechanism for charging batteries. It runs on Linux so there are no complex licensing issues, and has a wireless Internet connection that can download the latest "textbooks" and curricula, allowing collaborative learning and turning teachers into facilitators.

Easy fixes in education are often alluring. Such projects as the $100 laptop should be treated with both open eyes and open hearts. Global solutions require that an experiment be able to be replicated across many cultures. But even if this laptop project fails, the desire for learning via computers and the Internet will ensure someone else will succeed."
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