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Government program distributes laptops to almost 400,000 students

Computer literacy is an important aspect of education, but may seem out of reach for many people around the world due to hardware costs. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project has sought to develop and distribute a low-cost and rugged computer to children around the world in a bid to raise global standards of living. That includes children living in poverty in the United States.

The government of Uruguay was very enthusiastic about the project, and created "Plan Ceibal" (Education Connect) to fund and distribute XO-1 OLPC laptops to every state-funded elementary school in the country.  Uruguay was the first country to place a full order for XO-1 laptops, with an initial 100,000 order in October 2007. It was also the first to deploy them in a non-pilot project just two months later.

Over the last two years, 18,000 teachers have distributed 380,000 laptops to every student between the ages of six and twelve. Approximately 70% of the XO-1 laptops handed out by the government were given to children who did not have computers at home.

The original goal of the OLPC project was to develop a $100 laptop, but that proved out of reach. The government of Uruguay states that it has spent $260 per child, which includes the costs of maintenance, equipment repairs, training for the teachers and internet connections. Annual maintenance costs are around $21 per child.

Uruguay was the first country in Latin America to provide free compulsory schooling for its population, and believes that participation in the OLPC project will help to raise standards of living even more quickly. The total cost so far represents less than 5% of the country's education budget.

"This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education program. It is a program which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge," stated Miguel Brechner, the director of Plan Ceibal.

The laptops in Uruguay use the Linux operating system with a user interface named "Sugar". Detractors have criticized the lack of a Windows operating system, stating that it is needed in order to created marketable computer skills. However, Windows has only been available in XO-1 laptops since late last year.

Insufficient electrical and internet infrastructure are just some of the challenges that Project Ceibal has faced. Some rural areas have required the deployment of solar power generators, while other areas still lack Internet connections. The situation is similar in other countries like Peru, which has deployed almost 300,000 XO-1 laptops.

Those aren't the only problems facing students eager to use their computers. Insufficient teacher education has meant that some students are learning to use computers at the same time as their teachers. The government training program only takes a single day to complete. Some older teachers have shunned the laptops, preferring to stick to older methods of teaching rather than appearing incompetent in front of their pupils.

That may explain why other countries have been hesitant to adopt OLPC laptops in large scale national programs. Only Uruguay, Peru, Columbia, India, and Rwanda have or are planning OLPC adoption programs to more than 100,000 students. However, there are smaller scale or pilot projects in more than two dozen countries.

"It's a culture shock scenario; many countries are simply too scared to put it into practice," explains Brechner.

Since every primary school student now has a laptop, the government of Uruguay is now considering an expansion program to include children in kindergarten and those in secondary schools that do not yet have a laptop.

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People and technology...
By WoWCow on 10/19/2009 12:40:33 PM , Rating: 2
Insufficient teacher education has meant that some students are learning to use computers at the same time as their teachers. The government training program only takes a single day to complete. Some older teachers have shunned the laptops, preferring to stick to older methods of teaching rather than appearing incompetent in front of their pupils.

Don't get me wrong, OLPC has a noble goal of trying to introduce technology to people all over the world. From my perspective however, early adopters are the first to be screwed over hardcore (especially in areas where computers and internet isn't even a regular option of communication). However, this program spurred the development of netbooks, which became a large niche in the PC industry. Sadly, I doubt any sort of more expensive netbooks would make their way into these countries because they are not durable enough nor have the self power capacity.

Also I recall, some school(s) in the US decided Apple iMacs and Mac Pros were a far more better choice in technology education delivery...

This also reminds me of the old scrooge of a professor who abhors computers and DVDs; preferring his notepad and cassette tapes in film classes...

There really needs to be a standard of technology education before delivering the tools of technology.

RE: People and technology...
By ChickenMcTest on 10/19/2009 1:35:52 PM , Rating: 3
This reminds me of a story my uncle told me while he was on a trip to Haiti of all places.

Through a mix of government funding and humanitarian aid this village had a solar powered water pump installed. However, as soon as the pump broke, the only people with the knowledge to fix it lived thousands of miles away. The towns people then had to go back to walking to a local water source and carting jugs of water to the village.

For these children a simple solar powered calculator might be a better choice. It can be quickly and easily applied to simple mathematics.

Just as a simple hand pump would have been much better water source for the people of the village.

RE: People and technology...
By kattanna on 10/19/2009 3:18:17 PM , Rating: 2
Just as a simple hand pump would have been much better water source for the people of the village.

the truth in that is so mind boggling obvious, yet.. it doesnt make for as sexy a headline.

and it gets sadder still when you then realize how many more hand pumps could have been installed in other villages for the price of that one splashy solar install that is now nothing more then junk.

RE: People and technology...
By jdietz on 10/19/09, Rating: 0
RE: People and technology...
By Master Kenobi on 10/20/2009 12:39:31 AM , Rating: 3
I think it's called a book.

RE: People and technology...
By Hotdogah on 10/19/2009 1:38:05 PM , Rating: 2
I will be cool one day when US students have laptops too! I imagine the number is less then 5% in our schools.

RE: People and technology...
By munky on 10/19/09, Rating: -1
RE: People and technology...
By FITCamaro on 10/19/2009 3:46:52 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah cause that'll help kids learn.....

Laptops are a tool, not an instant fix for education. We invented the atom bomb and designed the equipment for Apollo without laptops(and barely even computers). What makes you think kids today need laptops to learn far more basic concepts when clearly those people were capable of gaining the knowledge to do what they did without them?

Laptops in schools are a distraction, nothing more. If you want kids to learn, parents are going to have to step and and make them. No amount of money is going to make up for a parent who isn't around or who doesn't stress the importance of an education.

RE: People and technology...
By ShaolinSoccer on 10/19/2009 5:02:47 PM , Rating: 3
I don't know what is installed on these laptops but if they had an encyclopedia and other basic tools, like a calculator that can convert anything, it would be invaluable. They should also put exercises in it, like math exercises for each grade level. Some kids would go home and never stop learning. They would excel in their classrooms. How can that be a bad thing?

RE: People and technology...
By NA1NSXR on 10/19/2009 10:28:03 PM , Rating: 2
You are in school to learn how to do that stuff by hand. Its so annoying to see kids today so feeble minded that they reach for the calculator every time its time to do math.

RE: People and technology...
By Noya on 10/20/2009 2:09:29 AM , Rating: 1
Some kids would go home and never stop learning. They would excel in their classrooms. How can that be a bad thing?

Exactly. We all know the public school system is a joke and holds MANY children back from getting the education they need.

I recall not being challenged until high school (honors and AP classed) and my niece is the same way.

She's in 2nd grade and her reading/math skills place her at a 6th grade level. There's been talk of some TAG programs but nothing seems to be happening with that do to no funding. She tells me her teach has her helping all the "normal" kids in her class. WTF is that? She's so far ahead of them that she's tutoring them?

She has so much potential (just as many of us did as children) and I hate to see it being wasted by the public school system.

RE: People and technology...
By Hardin on 10/20/2009 8:48:55 AM , Rating: 2
You don't need a calculator in primary school. You're supposed to be able to do math on your own. Laptops are a useless at this level of schooling. Heck I'm a senior in college and laptops have never been anything more than a distraction in any class other than a computer class.

Standard of living
By chmilz on 10/19/2009 6:00:03 PM , Rating: 2
I understand the point, but my gosh, I'm sure a good portion of these kids don't have a decent roof over their head or have a balanced diet.

RE: Standard of living
By koss on 10/19/2009 7:38:56 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah that is true, but...

These days everything is based around computers. They are barely any jobs available in the NA/EU/JAPAN region that does not require computer skills or at least basic usage. Moreover life becomes more and more virtual... bills, banking, communication, research... you name it.
If any of those countries are moving towards an economic state, close to the one in developed regions, they have to get people educated.
Of course that will mean also cheap and qualified labour for a lot of companies and, I am pretty sure, you can find those names on the list of donations for the program.

all in all - while it has its down sides (as pretty much everything), I find this a rational and savvy solution.
PS: But the program must be very well designed NOT to make the computer a vital part of their lives, rather than an useful tool. I hate kids that cannot do the math or write correctly without the use of a computer. One thing is saving time another thing is being helpless without the damn machines.

RE: Standard of living
By sinful on 10/19/2009 7:44:51 PM , Rating: 1
I understand the point, but my gosh, I'm sure a good portion of these kids don't have a decent roof over their head or have a balanced diet.

No, you missed the point if that's what you're saying.

Have you considered that giving them the TOOLS to get a decent roof over their hand/to get a balanced diet might be the first step?

In other words, a computer properly loaded up is like a book on farming and roof building - and more.

It's like you're saying "Ok, I get the point of giving them a fishing pole, but a lot of these people don't have fish to eat!"

The solution is not to give them a fish. It's to give them the tools & knowledge TO fish, so they can become self sufficient and solve their own problems.

RE: Standard of living
By messyunkempt on 10/20/2009 12:28:28 AM , Rating: 2
Reminds me of something i read once lol,

'Give a man a fish, and he'l eat for a day, but teach him how to use the internet, and he wont bug you for months..'

RE: Standard of living
By GourdFreeMan on 10/19/2009 9:35:03 PM , Rating: 5
While there are countries interested in the OLPC program that might be vulnerable to such concerns, did you ever stop to notice the article was about Uruguay? A visit to Wikipedia, the CIA Factbook, or the UN website would have revealed to you that Uruguay is a major agricultural exporter with a low malnutrition rate compared to other developing countries, and sometimes faces economic challenges and unemployment when there is a worldwide slump in agricultural demand. I think investment in education, even on something as unproven as bringing laptops into the classroom, is the smart move as it can potentially lead to a diversification of a nation's economy.

Not every developing nation faces the same challenges. If you don't bother to do the research first, your aid can be as helpful as a glass full of water to a drowning man.

RE: Standard of living
By CityZen on 10/19/2009 11:37:19 PM , Rating: 2
Finally!!! Someone who takes the time to find out a thing or two (or three :) ) before writing a comment.
Thank you, GourdFreeMan
There is another piece of information that's very relevant but hasn't been mentioned: software exports are becoming increasingly important in Uruguay. The country's software exports reached 100 million $ in 2005, and that's for a country of just 3 million people. Those 100 m $ represented 2% of Uruguay's total exports. To give you some context, the leading countries in the world in that area, Ireland and India, have software exports that account for 8-10% of their total exports.
In short, this investment by Uruguay of $ 98 million in OLPC netbooks for students represents less than a year of software exports of the country. Not bad.

By PrinceGaz on 10/19/09, Rating: 0
RE: Priorities
By Pakman333 on 10/19/2009 8:47:13 PM , Rating: 2
Billions? Try $76 million. Not too bad for whole country.

RE: Priorities
By GourdFreeMan on 10/19/2009 9:56:02 PM , Rating: 3
This UN report:
should allay most of your concerns. Note that in the case of Uruguay the malnutrition rates, availability of sanitation and "improved water sources" are on par with European countries, while infant mortality rates, unemployment, internet access and patents per million people are far worse than European standards.

Without domestic educated workers with training in science and technology, infrastructure ependitures won't have a multiplicative effect on local economies.

By FranksAndBeans on 10/19/2009 4:54:06 PM , Rating: 3
How long until Nigeria does this?

Spam email will go up 100000000000000000%.

Sugar is sweet
By liam on 10/19/2009 5:38:50 PM , Rating: 2
People may detract from the Sugar interface but the truth is most of those people have never even seen it. I got to use Sugar in a group network situation and was amazed at how intuitive and powerful it was. The group networking from one OLPC to the next was really great. It is a great system to learn basic computer skills on. It also allows for getting on the internet where it is available. AND contrary to windows systems these machines do not crash. They also remain virus free. One also needs to realize that in other parts of the world windows is not the only OS used. $21. maintenance cost per unit is extremely small compared to the average TCO for a Windows machine. In twenty years your kids will be asking these kids if they want fries with that because of our lack of building blocks of education in the states. The OLPC with Sugar is a good solid building block.

By chunkymonster on 10/20/2009 11:38:01 AM , Rating: 2
It seems to me that from reading a number of these posts that folks are largely unfamiliar with the OLPC project and therefore have missed the point of why Uruguay is making news with distributing these laptops. Cheers to Uruguay and the OLPC project!

I still cringe at the fact that Intel tried to bankrupt the entire OLPC project (a non-profit organization nonetheless) with their own low-cost laptop. As if the OLPC was actually competing with Intel...puh-leez...

OLPC Fan Writing In
By OLPCXOMAN on 11/1/2009 4:02:50 PM , Rating: 2

We bought an OLPC XO for our daughter through the G1G1 program. We purchased the computer for XMAS 2007.

After witnessing her develop her computer literacy through using the machine, I would personally vouch for it's value any day.

Despite the typical challenges of giving a child a fragile device (we did replace the screen once - $40, I installed the new one) the XO is awesome!!! We did also discover that the unit works best with an external mouse rather than the touchpad. Beyond that the hardware as well as the sugar OS are great.

Learning sugar was essentially the same as learning any OS that i am familiar with. I grew up with DOS and have since been a Windows user. Applications for the XO are open source and are easy to download through the programs wiki (as are OS updates) children like them, and the love the design of the machine. All software is free.

In terms of connectivity, the ability of the machines to join a mesh network (something our daughter has yet to do, as she is not a part of a large deployment of machines) is potentially awesome as well. Communication in the future is clearly going to rely on cloud computing - which these children are all learning through OLPC.

In response to the OLPC detractors who have written in, i would say that you underestimate the benefit to development in rural areas that the computers will provide. I have lived overseas in rural ares doing development work, and in my experience the lack of literature, communication, lighting, and teachers, that some smaller communities fight would be greatly offset by a deployment of OLPC XO's. In my humble opinion, it is a tragedy that more people (((and governments))) have not supported Nicholas Negroponte in delivering this amazing, inexpensive, and fairly indestructible PC to more children in more places.

Please write me back, as i am curious to hear any others involved in the G1G1 program or the overseas deployments.

Take care,


By bradmshannon on 10/19/09, Rating: -1
RE: Terrorists
By IcePickFreak on 10/19/2009 7:54:38 PM , Rating: 3
Terrorist Check List
AK-47 Kalashnikov - Check
500rnds. 7.62mm FMJ - Check
Suicide Vest - Check
Neon Green & White OLPC complete w/cute bunny ears on monitor - Check

WHY do they need notebooks?
By icanhascpu on 10/19/09, Rating: -1
RE: WHY do they need notebooks?
By Pakman333 on 10/19/2009 8:47:48 PM , Rating: 2
They already have them for two years.

RE: WHY do they need notebooks?
By GreenEnvt on 10/19/2009 10:12:35 PM , Rating: 2
that and the fact that maintenance is included anyway.
Some people read the article title and go off on a rant without reading the whole thing.

RE: WHY do they need notebooks?
By Amiga500 on 10/20/2009 4:22:47 AM , Rating: 1
You could of set up a powerful i7 server system and a bunch of terminals and had a not-retarded-os running with much better flexibility on the software and hardware end.

Then you have to buy and install the network...

By that I mean power lines, network cables, switches... everything needed for a modern network. You also have to do this in buildings plainly unsuited for the task, making reliability an additional large problem.

"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot

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