December 6, 2006 4:19 AM PST

Negroponte: Rich countries to buy laptops for poor

HONG KONG--Professor Nicholas Negroponte, head of the project responsible for the $100 laptop, has revealed that One Laptop Per Child is in discussions with a number of wealthy countries about orders for the low-cost devices--though they will be buying them for poorer economies, not themselves.

At the ITU Telecom World conference here, Negroponte said the OLPC is in discussions with Finland, which may order laptops for Namibia; with the United Arab Emirates over purchasing some for Pakistan; and with France to sponsor laptop buying for French-speaking African countries.

Nicholas Negroponte Nicholas Negroponte

However, Negroponte said he won't be seeking to take the laptop to poorer countries in Europe. "The only reason to talk to Europe, the U.S., Japan...is to finance other children (in developing economies)," he said.

He added that the OLPC is now in discussions with Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and a group of eight Central American countries that will be seeking financing and placing an order as a single unit.

Negroponte, founding director of the MIT Media Laboratory, said that contrary to press reports, he has not heard that the Thai government has abandoned its order following the country's peaceful coup in September.

"They haven't told us that," he said. "We were very aligned with the previous government, and when that changed, that hurt us." Negroponte plans fly to Thailand soon to meet with the country's royal family and new government to learn if the plans to introduce the $100 laptop remain intact.

Some critics of the project, including the Indian education secretary, believe that the money invested in the $100 pieces of hardware would be better spent on more traditional education materials. It's an idea Negroponte rejects. "People (ask) if a child is malnourished--he doesn't have drinking water, he's sick--why do you want to give him a laptop? Substitute the word education for laptop, and you'll never ask that question again."

According to the head of the OLPC, too many people are focused on the technological aspect of the device--it has made headlines for its open-source software, its price, its mesh-networking properties and its battery--rather than its pedagogical aims.

"It's an education project, not a laptop project," he said. "For people, it's like the hazard of being a beautiful blonde--people pay attention to the wrong thing. It's almost an attractive nuisance. We were driven by the elimination of poverty. With building more schools, it would take forever and ever. What we're trying to do in the meantime is get more children to do more on their own."

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from Hong Kong.

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11 comments

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Why should we?
I believe in philanthropy, but it's not the job of a country to purchase laptops for other countries. The idea that a laptop should be given to many countries around the world, but not to poorer European countries is a double standard. If you're giving them to the poor, then give them to all the poor, not just to the people in countries who are already world charity cases.

The U.S. especially shouldn't give to this, we're looking at becoming a charity case as it is with the trillions of dollars in debt.
Posted by ron williams (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Or better yet...
Offer bulk discounts to churches, mosques, synagogues, and community outreaches. If the purpose of the laptop is truly to serve those who are less privileged, you'll find no greater outpouring of unconditional support than the front-line religious gatherings. Nothing is closer to the needs of the people than the people themselves. The added benefit of using local religious institutions is that many of them also have international ties to relief organizations. Some of them even sponsor their own international missions, which leads me to believe that their potential for good, if tapped, would be tremendous.

Going through governments is a mistake I sincerely hope they reconsider.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Laptops Alone Aren't Enough!
Think about the internet - it's a giant collection of encyclopedic information. Thumbing through an encyclopedia has never been the standard for education in the USA, so why do people think it's going to work in LDCs? Before the OLPC gets traction, there needs to be more thought placed into internet-based EDUCATION such as GiveThought.com.
Posted by jschafler (1 comment )
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Not to mention everything is in English
The contents aren't going to magically translate themselves into the local language. That's assuming the box is capable of showing the script.
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Link Flag
It is enough
I don't care if its supposed to be about 'education'...presumably to get people to wave at the flag, just say no to meth, and ponder about our monkey origins....

no, its about real education, i.e. you have a computer, you will learn how to use a computer. If someone can pay you for the work you do on that computer, then you will get money.

Don't say it doesn't work. It worked for me. With no formal education I am a computer programmer now, self taught, because I had access to a computer.

In my mind, this is about plugging a large pool of minds, fresh talent, into the connected world...and the real opportunity is in paying people to do contract work...both for them, and those that need the work done.

Probably negraponte will try to figure out how to stop that...but he won't be successful, and its the unintended consequence that makes this idea so brilliant.
Posted by Dmitry1969 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mr. Bill Gates...
... may have had a point when he said - "GEEZ, Give the children" decent computing gizmos like (hand held devices) - cell phones by which they can access the information they need due to the pervasiveness of these devices and internet connectivity.
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Harnass Consumerism to Buy these for the poor
Sell the laptops in affluent nations (or to anyone interested) for $150-$200 each. Use the "profit" to buy laptops to distribute freely on a need basis in developing countries. Harness the power of consumers. I know quite a few folks that would buy one of these as a "tech toy" so why not use that economic divide to get some good done?
Posted by Mystech (1 comment )
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In the Future
Theirs not a big call for text books at walmart. The first genration of this products is not going to have much consumer demand. This will not be a replacment for a Dell. However theirs a vary good reason their not going to do it and that is politics.
Posted by mshidden (42 comments )
Link Flag
What about US?
Just for the record, I don't own a laptop because I can't afford one. Does that mean I can get a $100 laptop too?

When are we going to start investing in our own country?
Posted by perfecttension (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
try your local pawnshop
You nor any other American would accept the $100.00 laptop. It will not be the next ipod or the latest fashion in electronics. you can probably buy a more technically advantaged childs computer at toys R'us for less sans a internet conection. These are small,very basic, all on-board integrated systems running linux.
Posted by aqvarivs (38 comments )
Link Flag
Great Idea
It's not a final solution but rather an instigator of self-fulfillment. The mans smart enought to realize that no one is going to solve this problem alone and his $100.00 laptop will augment whatever else is being done.
Posted by aqvarivs (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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