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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

Every now and then, I come across a news item that gives me pause...and takes my breath away. I experienced such a moment when I chanced upon news of the One Laptop Per Child Project.

* * *

It’s 1971, and I’m applying myself in solving physics problems on a final exam, using...wait for it...a slide rule. Yep. I’m THAT old.

Over the course of my life, I bore witness to the birth and explosive growth of the “computer revolution.” I’ve seen, and experienced first-hand, the changes wrought in the workplace and the home by these wild and crazy things we call computers. I remember my first PC. I marveled at its capabilities although (in hindsight) they were laughably meager. I pondered then, and ponder today, the changes that computing brought to my world, our planet. I always assumed that computers will dramatically change the course of human events. They already have, in ways both positive and negative.

Computers are powerful tools indeed.

* * *

Have you heard of Nicholas Negroponte? Until this past week, I had not. He co-founded and chaired MIT’s Media Lab. He became inspired.

I want to hug this man.

Nicholas Negroponte had a vision. He envisioned the use of personal computers to educate the uneducated. Big deal, you say? Yes. His vision is a VERY big deal. Mr. Negroponte became aware that 70 percent (!) of our world’s children receive NO formal education. None. Zip. Nada. He didn’t dream of harnessing personal computers to educate the children in developed countries. Many others have applied themselves (haphazardly) to that task. No, he dreamed of placing a laptop computer in the hands of every child in every god-forsaken, exploited, impoverished corner of the globe. Well, if one is to dream, it’s best to dream BIG. Oh my...a laptop for EVERY child...imagine THAT!

The amazing thing is that his dream may very well become reality...and soon. The necessary instrument is a laptop costing about $100 to manufacture. Not some cheap toy, mind you, but a full-blown, fully capable (more than capable) laptop that is self-powered, dust proof, waterproof, and loaded with the best educational tools that modern man can provide. A laptop that can connect wirelessly to the world, a computer that can serve its owners capably and well in far-flung villages bereft of electricity or phone lines, school houses or teachers. A laptop you and I would love to own.

Is this possible?

Yes. It already exists. You see, Mr. Negroponte marshaled the resources of bright minds and generous hearts to do the impossible, proving, yet again, that “where there’s a will there’s a way.” It’s a breathtaking accomplishment. Don’t believe me? Simply Google “one laptop per child” and you will find a wealth of information about the dream, its technological manifestation, and its deployment.

Go ahead, do it now...I’ll wait.

* * *

I take a deep, long breath and imagine a world in which every child...every child...can access boundless knowledge, for the very first time in human history. I dream of a child who may come to study the Cosmos and become inspired to...achieve greatness. I dream of children whose once-blind eyes are finally opened to the world as it is...and as it may be. I dream of dreaming children...everywhere.

Who can predict what all this may mean for humanity? These laptops could be the modern-day equivalent of Pandora’s Box, revealing to all too many the disparity between the have’s and the have not’s. Maybe. Maybe knowledge and awareness will lead to envy...anger...
disgust...revolution. Maybe. Maybe knowledge will lead to further exploitation; maybe the laptops will serve as conduits for lies and more lies. Maybe...maybe...maybe. So many maybe’s.

But I truly believe in the innate goodness of the human heart.
I believe in the genius residing within each of us.

I believe in possibilities.

Each child is a boundless treasure trove of possibilities. How many scientists, engineers, healers, scholars, teachers, composers, entrepreneurs, visionaries, philosophers, mystics, poets and creators will be unleashed?

Excuse me while I catch my breath.

* * *

* * *

Imagine the possibilities!

* * *


Blogger flutter said...

This is pretty powerful, indeed

Wed Aug 29, 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Frasnotic said...

Each and every day when I walk into a classroom, I realise how licky those on front of me are...not necessarily to have me as their teacher, but the fact that they are able to go to school and not have to be out at work to support a family. As I wander the poor streets of Indonesia, I am ever mindful of the inequality that all its forms.

Thu Aug 30, 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Frasnotic said...

...sorry about the typos in the above post...woops! Put it down to tiredness. Maybe the students will be licky as well as lucky *chortle*.

Thu Aug 30, 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger mist1 said...

I'm shallow...but, you know that already.

I find it hard to read the name Negroponte without giggling a little bit.

Thu Aug 30, 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Gigi said...

You're right about the maybes though, Jonas. I think computers are wonderful things and I don't know what I'd do without mine...well, yes I do, actually. I would read more, get out more, see more friends...probably lose some of this weight too :-)

I know there are sensible, disciplined, discerning people out there but I'm not one of them. I am a slave to this cursed machine!!

I can easily imagine a world where nobody would need to go anywhere or see anyone anymore because everything you needed would be right there in front of you, on that flickering screen...It frightens me a little.

On the other hand, the idea that children all over the world could have access to knowledge is very exciting - as long as that knowledge culd be trusted.

Aye. There's the rub...

Fri Aug 31, 03:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gigi said...

...could, not culd :-)

Fri Aug 31, 03:38:00 AM  
Blogger anna said...

What an exciting concept! I hope thay can make it happen.

Fri Aug 31, 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brenda Starr said...

Gigi, well said.

Fri Aug 31, 11:58:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Ah, yes, a powerful dream...and interesting comments.

Thanks for commenting, Ms. Flutter.

Ah, Your Highness, I bet you'll have many insights to share about life on this planet of our.

I suspect it takes very little to elicit a laugh from you, Mist1.

Hello and WELCOME, Gigi! I'm delighted you ventured into my little corner of the blogosphere.

I'm sure we're all aware of the power, pleasures and perils of personal computers. They're only a tool. It is up to us to put the tool to good use. Some will. Some won't. I'm cheering for those who will.

One can never have too much optimism, right, Anna?

Just think, Laurie...someday, a child in Africa may read your words and be inspired to become a writer herself...A savory thought, no?

Sun Sep 02, 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Ms. Skywalker said...

I, too, believe in possibilities.

And the power of good.

And making a difference, one day, one word, one dream at a time.

Mon Sep 03, 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Ah, Jenn. You're about to test those dreams and possibilities, no?

I wish you much happiness!

Tue Sep 04, 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger Green-Eyed Girl said...

I've been following this story for years, because of my work. Unfortunately, the story is tinged with my knowledge that NN is a total ass, an egomaniac who wants glory more than he wants this educational opportunity for children. Similar projects funded by Intel and others will probably end up being the ones that provide the computers (because they're more powerful and produced more cheaply), which seems like it would fulfill the dream, but NN is up in arms about it. Also, I would like for those children to be taught how to read first -- and they'll need to be able to to do anything more than click on pictures.

Wed Sep 05, 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Jonas. It's so intriguing and encouraging.

Ever since I returned from Africa recently, I've been looking for that spark - because there are just so many problems. So much to do. So difficult to begin.

The first priority for these people is surely food and running water.

And yet, like you, I'm a believer in the power of education. Knowledge can change the world.

To be fair, though, those who need the education are all of us in the US and Europe. We go about our daily lives, oh so easily, all too often without giving our less fortunate fellow man a second thought.

But what this shows to me is that at least the issues are rising to the surface in the world of business, and not just within our charitable organisations.

I don't know if philanthropy has the scope to found the next great revolution. But I'd be delighted to see it try.

Thu Sep 06, 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

MUST you rain on my parade, Ms. Green-Eyes? (I'm smiling)

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Mr. Negroponte has a powerful ego. Big dreamers usually do. Mr. Negroponte's flaws don't mean much to me. If he were to actually change the world, then I will honor him for that. It's far more than anything I have accomplished.

(By the way, it's my understanding that Intel just joined forces with the Laptop effort)

* * *
It IS intriguing, isn't it, Roads? I find myself pondering. more and more, how to undo the injustice, ameliorate the relentless exploitation. I find more and more avenues to help nudge the scales just a little bit. When the need is SO great, even meager efforts are appreciated...they may even be life-saving.

What is the point of living in a technologically sophisticated society, when our fellow human beings are suffering?

Thu Sep 06, 08:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in this update.

I liked the line about the difference between shaking the hand of a Head of State and seeing them actually write a cheque.

And I seem to remember that Bono and Bob Geldof have commented on that particular paradox a couple of times before ...

Tue Sep 25, 03:33:00 AM  

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