The past two-to-three years has seen the advent of a number of efforts to bring about a global transformation of education through the provision of connected “ultra-low-cost” laptop computers, notably the OLPC XO-1 laptop, the Intel Classmate, the ASUS EEE; the One2OneMate StudentMate, and, most recently, the HP Mini-Note and Elonex ONE. While there are distinctions between these various hardware offerings in terms of display quality, MIPS, power consumption, etc., each provides an agency through which positively impact learning, and consequently, everything that learning impacts, in particular, economic development.
These efforts, by both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, are ultimately about giving children who don't have the opportunity for learning that opportunity: it's about access; it's about equity; and it's about giving the next generation of children in the developing world a bright and open future.
These efforts are predicated on the fact that children lack opportunity, not capability:
- High-quality education for every child is essential to provide an equitable and viable society;
- A connected laptop computer is the most powerful tool for knowledge creation;
- Access on a sufficient scale provides real benefits for learning because critical mass is necessary to establish a sustainable community.
A connected laptop is not in itself a cure to the problems of poverty and ignorance, but it is an agency through which children, their teachers, their families, and their communities can manufacture a cure. Computers are tools with which to think, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing, measuring, composing, editing, mathematical thinking, programming, communication, and sustainable economic development.
How big an opportunity is this? In just its first six months of mass production, One Laptop per Child Association shipped 0.5 million laptops. Other vendors are claiming sales at a similar volume. Unequivocally, a market for an ultra-low-cost laptop computer is only just emerging and with it comes an opportunity to impact learning. The challenge now is to engage more people in participating in this global learning initiative and to shape the initiative such that it has not just maximum reach, but also maximum impact.