“One Laptop Per Child” – Now in Uruguay
Thanks to One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit North American association, 380,000 primary school pupils in Uruguay have been issued this year with a free personal laptop.
The XO-1, (previously known as the $100 Laptop), is an inexpensive laptop model that was developed by Quanta Computer Incorporated, a well-known manufacturer of notebook computers. Its customers include ACER, Apple Inc., Cisco, Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony, Toshiba and other major brands. The XO-1 was designed and built especially for children in developing countries, considering everything from extreme environmental conditions to local language support. It is being described by its producers as “extremely durable, brilliantly functional, energy-efficient, and fun”.
It is about the size of a textbook and lighter than a lunchbox. The integrated handle is kid-sized, as is the sealed, rubber keyboard. Extra-wide touchpad supports pointing, as well as drawing and writing. Its LiFePO4 or NiMH extended life battery cells contain no toxic heavy metals. It is also compatible with alternate power sources, such as car chargers. Children may also have a second battery for group charging at school while the laptop is in use. Yet, each machine costs only about $260 (including teacher-training and connection charges) plus annual maintenance of $21.
Their efficiency will be tested for the first time when Uruguayan first year pupils will take online exams later this month. The first country in Latin America to provide free, compulsory schooling, Uruguay will now become the first again to find out whether supplying a whole generation with laptops is a good investment. The government of neighbouring Peru, a bigger, but at the same time poorer country, is currently trying something similar.
But is this program really the best use of money? There have been several voices arguing its success. The first 50,000 laptops arrived in Uruguay with software in English, instead of Spanish. Many of the pupils managed to break their machines, usually by cracking the screen or snapping of the WI-FI antennas. When a poor, rural child wrecks his, he often chooses to keep his new toy rather than risk sending it by post where it could be easily stolen. Every two out of five schools in Uruguayan countryside are located in remote areas with poor internet connectivity. Moreover, many of the teachers in Uruguay are of advanced age and therefore find it difficult to cope with the new technology.
Skeptics would rather prefer the government hiring more teachers instead of introducing new technologies. But the officials’ response is that the laptops are still worth a try.”We shall see a rapid shift away from memorization to critical analysis,” says Edith Moraes, the official in charge of elementary schools. And the “One Laptop per Child” program will certainly conribute to better schooling.