One Laptop Per Child CEO Responds to Flap: “We Have Achieved Our Goals”

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an example: it is a dual screen (full color back‐lit when working inside a room; monochrome, reflective screen when in full sunlight) combined now with touch‐sensitivity and with dual booting between Linux and Android.

All these complex, heavy-duty tasks are managed by an ARM dual core processor that consumes less than 2 watts of energy. All this keeps all of those commercial companies in awe and on their toes. By adapting to the needs of children in communities where electricity is not so available, where there are even no schools but they learn under a tree, the need for a screen that can be read in full sunlight and with low energy consumption is more important than what commercial companies want to sell. A better example of success is hard to find.

X: The OLPC News post points to a sense among some observers that the project is winding down. “The great excitement, energy, and enthusiasm that brought us together is gone,” the OLPC News writers said. Why do you think Wayan Vota and his colleagues would feel this way?

RA: We never wanted to be a computer project. We are educators, advocates, contrarians, disruptive innovators. We are becoming more hardware agnostic, more operating systems agnostic. We want to concentrate on fostering our philosophy of a Constructionist approach to learning, rather than continuing to perpetuate the Instructionist approach that has been the norm for 150 years. We want to contribute to making Internet access a basic human right. We want every child of 5 years of age and up to learn how to write code.

As to why some people out there attack us? Who knows? The world is full of leaders/creators/doers and of followers. I choose to believe that there are some individual followers who so desperately want OLPC to continue on its path of evolution/revolution, disruption and creation that any course adjustment, reimagining of or impediment to that mission is felt as major blow. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but I understand their desire to see us continue to lead as they watch.

X: The OLPC News report focused heavily on the XO‐1, saying it’s near the end of its product lifetime, with things like tech support and spare parts hard to come by. In your mind, does the success of the overall project hinge on the percentage of XO‐1s still working today? When you started distributing the XO‐1, did you have an idea of how long the devices might last? What is the intended lifetime of the XO‐4 tablet?

RA: You are talking about two different things: the XO‐1 laptop, which now is in the fourth generation, the XO‐4, and the XO‐4 Touch. The only thing common to both is the award-winning clam‐shell. Internally, they are totally different. In the Touch version, we have a complete new dimension of user experience. It is the best hybrid between an iPad and a Kindle, it is the best hybrid between a Linux operating system and Android. Can you imagine a better combination for a child nowadays?

As far as the XO Tablet, this is a Google certified Android 7-inch device, intended for either pre‐kindergarten and kindergarten environments in some countries or to be used in the U.S. and European retail markets, with 200 apps, and 200 classic children’s books, half of them in English, half of them in 5 other languages (Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese). It is to be sold to governments and to the public in general.

We do have XO‐1 and XO‐1.5 working well after 5 years in countries like Rwanda, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Paraguay, to name a few. Nicaragua, especially, has a fantastic way of keeping them in good condition. After the school year ends, they take them back to HQ, clean them, get them repaired, and given back to the same child the day school opens. All of the above at a very low internal cost and at zero cost for the child. We have upgrading kits, so versions 1.5 can be converted to versions 1.75. The extended life of the XO has been a very satisfying experience.

X: In a March 12 post on the OLPC blog, staffers say the organization is “thriving and making more inroads” and cited the Zamora Teran alliance, distributions in Costa Rica and Uruguay, and the Smithsonian partnership. What other examples, data, or plans can you share to illustrate how OLPC is doing?

RA: The Zamora Teran family group of companies and philanthropic foundation (created exclusively for the OLPC Project) is a powerful group of banking, insurance, dairy and cattle processing companies and fast food retail outlets spanning Central America. At their own expense and with some donations, they have delivered more than 30,000 laptops in Nicaragua, and have joint versions of that model in Costa Rica with the Quiroz Tanzi Foundation for several thousand laptops and similar projects in Honduras.

The idea from now on is to promote public‐private partnerships, including NGOs, as the best practice for success. Few governments alone can do it. Private sector entities alone cannot either. The triangle of development is the combination of the three sectors: private, public, NGOs. This is the way we are pushing and in which we are thriving. By being a non‐profit we have a power of convocation and a capacity to call things by their name that no commercial company has. Our constituencies are the children of the world, not any shareholders looking for dividends as is the case otherwise.

X: Looking back on your experiences, what are the key lessons learned? What is the overarching challenge for the world of connected devices and education, especially in emerging countries?

RA: We never foresaw the incredible opposition we would encounter from commercial entities. When a commercial entity acquires 90 percent market share of any product or service, they tend to feel entitled to that position of privilege. They view any opposing idea as a threat to their dominance and hegemony, and they react viciously, mercilessly, with the only intention in mind of crushing any potential future questioning of their privilege. But in the end, they do not hurt a non‐profit foundation like ours, they hurt a generation of children that see their dreams and aspirations delayed.

The challenge is to change the mindset of cultures, bureaucracies. Most of that has to do with the lobbying efforts of commercial entities that whisper into the ears of governments that “size matters,” or “more and bigger is better.” A child in a remote village of sub‐Saharan Africa does not need a 256 GB hard drive, or a heavy, 10-inch screen-size laptop. The readability of the screen and the low energy consumption are more important concepts to apply. This is why we are teaming up with companies like Datawind in order to keep moving prices down, so the base of the pyramid is expanded. This is the way to fulfill our dream of incorporating 1 billion children left in the medieval obscurantism in which generations of their ancestors have lived, into the 21st century as effective members of a global society. What Nicholas announced Monday at TED on the occasion of their 30th anniversary is precisely the type of advocacy we should and can do.

The world needs a group like OLPC to maintain a healthy balance between commercial interests and human interests. Seven years ago, Nicholas proposed at the ITU in Geneva the idea that Internet access in public schools in the world should be free of charge because that could be considered a basic human right of children in today’s digital world. They almost crucified him there. All the telecom companies saw the writing on the wall about their profits plummeting and revolted angrily. Well, today, Facebook is promoting Internet.org (whom we happily have joined). They have 1.3 billion subscribers. We were advocating, from the very beginning, a solution to 1+ billion children. These orders of magnitude make of us ideal advocates. These are worldwide movements. This is the arena where we belong. This is where we thrive and grow.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “One Laptop Per Child CEO: “We Have Achieved Our Goals””

  1. SvenAERTS228 says:

    OLPC is an Open Community project, so if you want to join: http://www.wiki.laptop.org , make a login and soon others will take you up!