And speaking of laptops…
Actually, it’s $200, and for those of us in rich countries it’s $400. I’m talking of course, about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Get one, Give one deal.
I did a whole analytical post on the design of these tiny laptops last year, so I won’t repeat myself with full details. About their design I will simply say that they are cute, green (in color, not sure about eco) and look like they were made by fisher-price (they’re not). Judging by their appearance they should be pretty durable, a necessity for computers designed for children in any country.
The philosophy behind this computer is that the best way to educate kids in developing countries is to give them super intuitive computers and let them teach themselves. The software is designed to help kids learn as they go, with simple graphics and interface. I believe the operating system is open source, so as the kids grow, learning to program along the way, they can change it to suit their needs. To me, that sounds like a good deal for kids of this country as well.
I haven’t had a chance to play with one, but I ran into a guy in the Chicago train station who had one. He wasn’t at all tecky, and claimed that it was very easy to use and understand (which it would have to be). Basically, these are machines that are meant to be teachers. Learning is mostly self directed, but with ample opportunities for cooperation using the kid friendly graphic network.
As I understand it they aren’t particularly powerful. Since the purpose isn’t to run high quality graphics or store lots of data, it doesn’t need to be. For $400 dollars you can buy a laptop that is much more powerful than this one, but I’m pretty sure you can’t buy a computer that is more suited to a child’s needs for any amount. It was just as cute in person as it is in pictures, but one thing to note for any adults that might want to use them: the keyboards are TINY.
I’m mentioning this deal is because last year, they stopped it immediately after Christmas, with no guarantee that they would bring it back. That meant that while you still had the option of donating a OLPC laptop to a kid in a developing country, you can’t actually get one. With any luck they will bring it back next year, but the guy who runs the program doesn’t seem to like doing that, so who knows? Not sure what he has against people in developed countries having the OLPC computers. I think people who come up with wonderful ideas are not always the best people to sell them.
If I had the cash to spare, I’d buy one just to play with it. I’d like to learn to program, and I figure something that is designed to teach children to program might help me as well. If you are looking for a way to start a child with computers, the OLPC laptop seems like the best choice. I’m pretty sure it’s at least a better investment than an Xbox or a PS3, but that could just be my Nintendo bias sneaking out.