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One Laptop Per Child reaches classroom in Uruguay

Posted: 22 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:One Laptop Per Child? OLPC project? Uruguay classroom?

One-hundred-sixty students at a public elementary school in Uruguay have been the latest recipients of the "One Laptop Per Child" (OLPC) project, according to an AP report. Being the only public elementary school in a community of 1,300 people, children who have never used computers are now being exposed to the digital age.

"The power of these machines is impressive," said the school's principal, Marcelo Galain, noting the laptops' promised 12hr battery life. He added that students got their computers a day ahead of a national holiday, but went on their day off to school to start using them.

There were, however, a few technical glitches getting the computers up and running. Though none of the teachers had much experience with computing, they quickly realized that children with a tilde in their names had problems logging on. The bug was quickly fixed, though.

Designed for children, the computers boast extremely low electricity consumption, a pulley for hand-generated power, 1GByte of flash memory, built-in wireless networking and a screen with indoor and outdoor reading modes.

"The laptops all talk to each other automatically, have voice chat, file sharing and all that can be done between laptops without Internet," said Walter Bender, president of software for the OLPC project. "If any laptop has access to the Internet all can share it." Bender added that the machines come loaded with children's books in local languages, along with encyclopedias and other learning tools.

The OLPC project, which hopes to put low-cost portable PCs in the hands of children in developing countries, is still in a pilot phase and has reached one school in Nigeria and another in Thailand. The ambitious non-profit project was launched in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte, then-director of the media lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"There are 1 billion school-age children in the developing world and most don't have an opportunity to learn," said Bender. "We're trying to go where there's an education gap, as technology happens to be a vehicle to bridge that gap."

The laptops currently cost about $175, though the project targets to drop the price to $100 once the machines are mass-manufactured. Bender said he even hopes the price might be driven down "some day" to $50 each.

And while the first computers to Uruguay were donated, the rest will be bought by the government, which has budgeted $15 million for the program. A final agreement, however, is still pending. Other countries that have expressed interest include Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Rwanda and Thailand.

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