Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know my love for the developing world (particularly East Africa) and my excitement about the $100 laptop. Alan Kay, the man considered to be the father of the Graphical User Interface (the layout of that screen you’re looking at as you read this) recently spoke at the University of Utah on this revolutionary portable computer. Phil Windley blogged Kay’s talk.
The real win is that the $100 laptop is a factor of 20 cheaper than the books that children need. Content is the key. “The music isn’t a piano.” From an educational standpoint, this project could be a colossal flop if the content isn’t right. What’s the right interface for children in an environment where the adults can’t help much. Can you connect children to pen-pal like mentors over the Internet? The logistics are monumentally hard.
But those logistical problems will be overcome.
The $100 laptop is not a panacea. It will not solve all the educational issues in the developing world. In spite of concerns about these units being diverted from children and ending up on the grey market – the potential for positive impact is worth every risk. And better minds than mine are working on solutions to thwart the evil intent of certain numbers of our fellow humans. (I once worked with a team who brought 100 sewing machines to a town in East Africa to provide work for women who until then could only earn a living as prostitutes. Authorities in the port attempted to take half the machines as “tax”. They didn’t succeed. All 100 sewing machines reached their intended users. Obstacles can be overcome.)
With the January signing of an agreement between the United Nations Development Programme and One Laptop Per Child, this project moves another step forward towards actually impacting kids. (And no, I’m not suggesting that the UNDP is a perfect partner – but at least they’re onboard.) Nicholas Negroponte is now completely focused on this project that had its birth in the MIT Media Labs he formerly led. And the team that he has assembled (including Alan Kay) are some of the finest computing minds in the known universe.
These are exciting times.