One Laptop per Child: Revolutionizing How the World's Children Engage in Learning

author: Walter Bender, Sugar Labs
published: Oct. 11, 2011,   recorded: January 2007,   views: 146
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In an informal conversation with an MIT Museum audience, Walter Bender describes the mission and progress of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) venture. The brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT Media Lab, this enterprise aims to put low-cost ($100 or less!) laptops into the hands of a billion plus children in the developing world. The mission is not merely to supply inexpensive technology, but to provide a multi-purpose teaching tool, Bender explains, with hardware and software aimed at enabling kids to explore the world and express themselves.

MIT is not a Johnny-come-lately to the area of technology and children. “We’ve been living and breathing this for 40 years,” says Bender. OLPC embraces the beliefs that we all learn and we all teach, and that we’re expressive and social, so the laptop is “designed with a low floor and no ceiling,” as Bender puts it. For instance, a child can access and play instruments, or record her voice. If inclined, a child can compose and record music sequences. Since the laptop functions as part of a local area network, even in the most remote places (by way of a crank-up power charger), children can even make music together. They “can be both consumers and creators of content,” Bender notes. “Real learning happens while they’re being expressive.”

In a map of the world displaying nations that have expressed interest in acquiring MIT’s laptops, pretty much every country is in color. In 2006, Libya signed up for 1.2 million laptops, one for every school-age child in the nation, giving OLPC an Arabic-speaking launch country.

A Cambridge city councilor asks Bender whether One Laptop per Child can bridge the digital divide in the U.S., where there are a lot of kids with no computers at home. Bender replies that while his laptop “is on a trajectory where it should be useful to any kid anywhere,” the immediate issues are supply and need: in the U.S., the average annual expense on education per child is around $7 thousand annually, and in developing countries, it’s at most $200-300 per year. “Where am I going to focus in the short term? It’s Guatemala, not here.”

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