July 23, 2024

My partial response to the OLPC discussion on Will Richardson’s Blog

Will Richardson led a discussion of the One Laptop Per Child ($100) initiative, aka: the $100 Laptop, on his blog, http://weblogg-ed.com/2007/one-laptop-per-child14-billion-on-easter/

Here are a few of my thoughts on the thoughts of Will and the people who commented on his blog.


I’ve spent 17 years working with 1:1 schools all over the world and I have an ongoing relationship with many of the leading thinkers behind the OLPC. Therefore, I have a number of perspectives I would like to share.

I think you miss the big idea when you say…

“Let’s hope the pedagogies that these kids are taught help them take full advantage of the awesome connection that they now have.”

This is NOT about teaching. Your young children didn’t need a school curriculum or NETS Standards to use the computer. Neither do children in Nigeria.

See http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/india/thestory.html

The power of OLPC is in placing computational technology in the hands of children. The theoretical basis for the OLPC is Seymour Papert’s work (suggested reading, “The Children’s Machine). Papert’s work concerns students using computers to make things – programs, robots, games, simulations, poems, movies, etc… – that are sharable with others. The ability to connect those computers, no matter how cool Web 2.0 tools are, is secondary to the construction of knowledge through the explicit act of making things. What makes the computer special is its ability to make lots of new things in many ways. Modern knowledge is made accessible not just by asking questions or looking things up, but by using computers to do the work of mathematicians, filmmakers, computer scientists, engineers, writers, composers, scientists, etc…

Papert began writing about the promise of every children having a computer back in the mid 1960s. He was mocked for that position then as many mock OLPC now. Alan Kay visited Seymour Papert’s Logo Lab in 1968, observed young children engaged in sophisticated mathematical thinking and was inspired to sketch the Dynabook on the flight back to Xerox Park. In other words, the laptop (and personal computer – also Kay’s term) was invented as an instrument for children.


With all due respect to Brian, we here in the USA are amateurs at poverty compared to much of the world. Comparing free and reduced school lunch percentages to life in Africa really doesn’t cut it. A billion or two people in the world earn less than $1 per day per family. I am however thrilled that his students are doing great things with personal computers.


Carolyn is correct when she points out the community involvement of OLPC. I asked Negroponte why OLPC was bothering with schools at all, “Why not pass the laptops out on street corners and give each kid a purple thumb to signify that they received their computer?” Negroponte told me that they considered that, but that schools offered a distribution channel.

If the OLPC is about empowering children and the future of learning then it should come as no surprise that schooing is NOT the focus.

That is a message that the edublogger community should applaud. I read a great deal on this site about the decline of schooling and need for a replacement. OLPC represents an investment in R&D when research and development is virtually non-existent in education.

Educators seem genetically predisposed to crave professional development even when NO evidence exists that it works. A quarter century after microcomputers arrived in American schools even the wealthiest schools cannot get teachers to use them. “Lack of professional development” is an addiction. The demand for it is insatiable. Let’s move on.

The most important variable of OLPC is the fact that a million or more laptops will be delivered in one country at one time. I have long known that limited access to computers is a major barrier to use.

We have no idea what might result from giving 1 million or more children PERSONAL computers at the same time. Why not support the lucky kids who receive “The Children’s Machine” and see what we might learn from them. Then and only then are we in a credible position to set policy.

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