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

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,

Rich




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