One Laptop Per Child machines for sale this Christmas: buy two, one goes to developing world

The Foundation that manages the One Laptop Per Child Program (which will give one low-cost, Linux-based laptop to every child in the developing world -- eventually) is making their machines available for sale in the developed world this Christmas. The price is $399, and includes two laptops, one of which will be given to a child in the developing world. I've just signed up to get one -- I just wish that this was structured as a donation to the Foundation, since I think they'd sell a ton of these if the purchasers could get a tax-receipt for them just before the tax year closes.

Starting November 12, One Laptop Per Child will be offering a Give 1 Get 1 Program for a brief window of time. For $399, you will be purchasing two XO laptops--one that will be sent to empower a child to learn in a developing nation, and one that will be sent to your child at home. If you're interested in Give 1 Get 1, we'll be happy to send you a reminder email. Just sign up in the box to the left and you'll receive your reminder prior to the November 12 launch date.
Link (via Gizmodo)

See also:
One Laptop Per Child machines for sale this Xmas?
One laptop per child for the developing world
First photos of MIT's $100 laptop for developing world
Screenshots of OS for the $100 laptop
OLPC laptop runs DOOM

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  1. My sister really wants a laptop for writing, and this is a wonderful way to get one. Thanks for the link, I’m bookmarking this right now.

  2. There are probably a lot of people like myself who don’t have kids, but would like to check out the XO and play with it for a while. However, I would like to suggest that after you’ve had your fun with it, donate it to a needy school in America. Plenty of them would love to have one and, let’s be honest here, you only want it because it’s new and different.

  3. Oh, pardon my geocentrism. I should have said a needy school in your own country. My apologies to the many non-American Boing Boing readers.

  4. Be forewarned, those who buy these things for sisters and aunts who only need to type: the keyboard is for small fingers. I highly doubt the asdfghjkl-acquainted are going to get their WPM where they think they want it with such buttons.

  5. Structuring it as a donation would be an extremely effective way of preventing people outside North America from buying any. (I’m not sure how easy it is for Canadians).

    Other countries have charitable donation systems too, but they don’t in general link up with the US one, and generally seem to apply only to charities registered in the particular country concerned.

  6. It’s a great idea, and per the donation, I’m sure something can be worked out. In many European countries, you can donate to NGOs.

    It’s also a good plan for Linux to spread its tentacles worldwide. Get them when they are young. LOL.

  7. If it were structured as a donation, as a U.S. taxpayer, you could only claim a tax deduction on the difference between the amount of your donation and the value of the two laptops received in return.

    So, if the laptops are worth $188 each (or whatever the latest figure is), and your “donation” is $399, then your tax deduction eligibility would be only $23.

    I have no idea how this would carry over to international donations, but I would imagine that most countries would have somewhat comparable rules.

  8. The One Laptop Per Child organization is the perfect example of why the rich west knows f**k-all about the needs of children (and adults) in very poor countries. A 9 year old living in a gheto in Nigeria, or a 11 year old living on a remote village in Peru has absolutely no need for a laptop – any kind of laptop.

    The things which will make a difference are access to *real* education resources (books, a teacher, a room) and to daily sources of comfort (food, potable water, medicines). The whole project is flawed and a way for a small number of individuals to make some $$$.

    It is contemptuous, stupid and wasteful – you should be ashamed.

  9. I don’t believe anyone – certainly including One Laptop Per Child – is saying that food, water, and education are not important. Everyone knows they are important, and billions are already being funneled to support those. More is needed on those fronts of course, but if people want to help in more non-traditional ways (like laptops), I say more power to them. The idea has certainly fired the imaginations of many people, and raised new funds that would not otherwise be available. This is not a zero-sum game, after all.

    Exposure to computers at a young age is often vital to understanding them as an adult – much like exposure to language. I think one of the hopes here is not that these poor children will while away their days playing solitaire and minesweeper, but will gain the cognitive structuring that will enable them to transform and support their national economies as adults. Programs like this could go a long way in giving these kids life-long skills (and perhaps inspiration) that will become more and more necessary in the decades to come.


  10. Exposure to computers at a young age is often vital to understanding them as an adult – much like exposure to language. I think one of the hopes here is not that these poor children will while away their days playing solitaire and minesweeper, but will gain the cognitive structuring that will enable them to transform and support their national economies as adults. Programs like this could go a long way in giving these kids life-long skills (and perhaps inspiration) that will become more and more necessary in the decades to come.

    You must be dreaming – of what use can a laptop be when hundreds of million of children reach adulthoot with nothing more but basic literacy skills, barely being able to read or write ? What cognitive structuring ? Have you ever met a child living on US$1.50 per day ? Do you know what concerns these children and parents ? I assure you, it *is not* any cognitive abilities around using computers, but the ability to survive on a day to day basis.

    Do you have any sense of what US$100 can do for a child in Sudan, Ethiopia or Peru ? If you think to use that money in any kind of gizmo is anything but wasteful you must be deluding yourself.

  11. I disagree with your presumption that these are either/or situations: laptop or food; computer skills or literacy. I believe these things complement each other, and are synergistic. Cheap, rugged laptops can help people learn how to prevent HIV (the misinformation is ubiquitous in many nations), learn new farming techniques, and form beneficial networks with others. Instead of supplanting learning to read, this could fuel literacy considerably. Traditional aid (with a focus on “today”) should be increased of course – I spend a lot of time working for Oxfam and raising funds for humanitarian and environmental causes – but this non-traditional funding is a move with a focus on “tomorrow” instead of just the immediate. Together, I think they are greater than the sum of their parts.


  12. Cheap, rugged laptops can help people learn how to prevent HIV (the misinformation is ubiquitous in many nations), learn new farming techniques, and form beneficial networks with others.

    How exactly ? I agree as well that potentially it could, but so could (much more efficiently) the distribution of informative leaflets and books. And how would this information be disseminated to the laptops ? Would a poor family in Uganda just walk to the nearest Wi-Fi enabled Hilton and pay for the internet access rather than buying crops, a water pump and some malaria tablets ?


    Instead of supplanting learning to read, this could fuel literacy considerably.

    Can you explain how ? And please give examples.

    Despite not being the greatest of examples, people should play this simple game: http://www.arcadetown.com/3rdworldfarmer/gameonline.asp to have a better idea of the kinds of decisions which a poor family faces every day. How would a laptop fit into them exactly ?

  13. I totally disagree with the resident naysayer on this topic. If you give a kid the opportunity to reach for something greater than where he/she is at, they’ll take it. You’re wrong to look at the laptop as the solution– this is in the children themselves. The laptop is helping unlock this potential, something your narrowly-focused viewpoint doesn’t seem to recognize.

  14. Davex, I am as much of a naysayer as a realist. You don’t have to agree with me at all, but you should at least be aware of the opinions of much more qualified people than me or you in the topic:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XO-1_(laptop):

    At the UN conference in Tunisia, several African officials, most notably Marthe Dansokho of Cameroon and Mohammed Diop of Mali, were suspicious of the motives of the project and claimed that the project was using an overly American mindset that presented solutions not applicable to specifically African problems. Dansokho said the project demonstrated misplaced priorities, stating that clean water and schools were more important for African women, who, he stated, would not have time to use the computers to research new crops to grow. Diop specifically attacked the project as an attempt to exploit the governments of poor nations by making them pay for hundreds of millions of machines.[51] Additionally, the price of $175/unit does not include the cost of setup, maintenance, training of teachers, or Internet access. Countries adopting the XO-1 must budget for these costs as well.
    One criticism has been that the money for purchasing laptops could be more favorably spent on libraries and schools. John Wood, founder of Room to Read, emphasizes affordability and scalability over high-tech solutions. While in favor of the One Laptop per Child initiative for providing education to children in the developing world at a cheaper rate, he has pointed out that a $2,000 library can serve 400 children, costing just $5 a child to bring access to a wide range of books in the local languages (such as Khmer or Nepali) and English; also, a $10,000 school can serve 400–500 children ($20–$25 a child). According to Wood, these are more appropriate solutions for education in the dense forests of Vietnam or rural Cambodia.[52]

  15. Regarding tax deductions, today’s New York Times article on the laptops claims that “The donated computer is a tax-deductible charitable contribution.” I haven’t seen any official statement on the matter, but it seems likely this could be so.

  16. Splash–

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. These kids would have time to go to a library and read, but not read on a computer? Not sure I see the difference. Books have to be delivered to the area, and go out of date quickly. They’re also not very interactive– a computer might allow inquisitive children to write back, to question, or to find more information on a related topic. The laptop concept seems infinitely more flexible than any brick-and-mortar library besides! Not only can it possibly supply reading material, but current news, communication, and goodness knows what else– anyone who has spent time at some of the links Boing Boing provides to 3rd world folks using technology in startling new ways won’t be terribly surprised if many of these kids find amazing unknown uses for these machines.

  17. “an attempt to exploit the governments of poor nations by making them pay for hundreds of millions of machines”

    Making them? How?

    ..

    I think the laptops could contribute significantly to the children’s literacy. I learned to read/write both by reading books and by reading computer magazines. I think my reading comprehension skills were aided immeasurably by copying BASIC programs out of magazines. My eyesight, on the other hand, not so much … ;-)

  18. Splash (8, 10, 12, 14), the undeniable fact that many children need food, clean water, and basic medical care does not mean that many children couldn’t benefit from having a computer. It doesn’t mean that no poor child should be given a computer until all poor children have their basic needs met. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that people who come up with schemes to give free computers to poor children should be held in contempt.

    Do you also object to microloan programs? After all, why should we be encouraging people in developing countries to start their own small businesses when there are so many children in need of basic necessities?

  19. @Davex +1

    It is worth stressing (again – because it seems to be chronically ignored) that these laptops do not replace food, water, or malaria tablets. No one suggested that they should. They are supplied on top of those essentials, and it is a straw-man fallacy to imply that the buy one, give one program is somehow taking away books, medicine, or other infrastructure, or that mothers are choosing between laptops and nourishment for their children. These are being paid for by a new stream of donations that would not otherwise exist.

    Splash asks how this information would be disseminated: a fair question. While the Internet is not common in the developing world, I believe it will be much more so within the next decade, much like mobile phones. In the meantime, most medium-sized towns in the developing world have at least some internet access in the form of a phone line to a library, or something similar. This could be a central distribution point, where monthly updates could be distributed to each child’s laptop. If there is no internet connection in a town, the nearest city could mail a single update CDROM to the town school once every month. Facilities like these are already in place in some areas of the developing world. I imagine the laptops would also come pre-loaded with a substantial amount of material on them. These are better than just leaflets and books, because, as Davex mentions, they are dynamic, current, and can be interactive. Splash asks how this could fuel literacy. Here’s how: for mere megabytes, the contents of an entire library could be transferred to a child (and the child’s family) permanently. Free software can teach them to read and write in their own language, as well as other languages, as well as teach numerical literacy. That sure does beat borrowing an out-of date book. For the cost of a few kilobytes, schematics could be distributed for parabolic solar ovens, sediment-based water filters, and electricity-generating wind turbines made of old scrap and bicycle parts. As new low-tech solutions become available, they could be distributed world-wide within weeks, essentially for free. By being exposed to computers, children would gain a modern job skill as they become young adults (think how much India has benefited from its burgeoning computer skills), helping to enable them to support themselves and their families as adults. These have the potential to be more than just laptops, but libraries, schools, job skills, and information infrastructure as well.

  20. Nik@5: Structuring this as a US charitable donation has zero effect on non-US buyers. All it means is that US buyers get a tax-benefit from buying the laptops, but it doesn’t mean that foreigners are penalized for making a donation. I pay taxes in three countries and make donations to charities in about ten countries — I can only write off the donations to charities in the countries where I pay tax, but I’m not prohibited from making donations elsewhere.

  21. The problem I have with the laptop is an assumption of the type made by Davex, above: that any given child will make the most out of the laptop of its own free will. Most children won’t; most don’t have that kind of self-direction. The One Laptop per Child program doesn’t include any kind of teacher training, as far as I know, and that’s where it falls down. You can’t just give kids these laptops and expect them to “reach for something greater” entirely on their own. Similarly, you don’t see very many kids making use of a library to fill their educational needs; kids like that exist, sure, but they’re very rare.

    I think a vastly more useful program would be One Laptop per Teacher.

  22. Amphigorey: Sure, some of the kids will just look at porn or play games. And there are lots of us just sitting around reading blogs and commenting instead of spending every minute, every waking hour, working as hard as we can to save the world and improve the lives of the unfortunate everywhere.

    What I think will happen, though, is that some percentage of the kids who get these kids are going to learn more than we can imagine. One of the things they’re going to learn is what the rest of the world is like, and a lot of them are going to want what we have (in terms of standard of living), and a lot of them are going to be really really hungry for it. Then they might learn to start competing with us, which I think will be a good thing.

  23. “Empowering” others is a nice idea. But how much do replacement batteries cost? Are they going to be available in far-flung places? Or will the “free” computers just be tossed away when the batteries fail?

    I’m not certain that first-world countries exporting the bootstrap of surveillance culture to third-world countries is all that altruistic. Are these the modern equivalent of smallpox blankets?

    Much-less-technologically sophisticated peoples might quickly become prey for spam, scam and spy mentalities. Computers the strengthen oppression are no gift. Consideration of the ramifications of these gifts seems apropos.

  24. I don’t see OLPC addressing what will surely be the biggest problem with this project & all others that involve sending things of value to developing nations namely corruption. Which will ensure that these computers, like so many other good hearted gestures from the West, will go straight into the hands of those who would re-sell them.

    Until we can rid the World of corruption efforts of this nature will be futile.

  25. CORY, according to WP’s “XO-1” article the hand/foot-crank is now “optional”. The power-source is a “NiMH or LiFePO4 battery removable pack.”

  26. @PhilipB This is a valid concern. This is what Negroponte said about it in 2005:

    “The grey market is a very serious issue. I don’t want to be dismissive of it for a moment, and there are three ways of addressing it. Way number one is to have no market at all for it. I mean you can’t sell it, who could buy it, and that isn’t bullet proof. That’s a little bit dreaming, but it’s part of the equation. The second is to put the technologies into the device that help stop that. [The laptops distributed to middle schoolers in Maine are Apple iBooks] so they are not only great stuff to steal and we don’t necessarily have corruption of that kind, but it’s pretty transferable technology. They’ve put little things so the machine disables itself after a while if it hasn’t connected to the school. You can put GPS in it, you can put all sorts of stuff. But then the third one, which I’m doing and I like is to make this machine so distinctive that it is socially a stigma to be carrying one if you are not a child or a teacher. Now you can obviously take it down to your basement, but I hope your spouse will even say: “Oh God! Honey! What did you do?” […] So those three combined will I hope at least limit this to one percent or two percent.”

    I would also point out that these laptops are capable of wireless mesh networking – that means they can connect to other nearby laptops to form an ad hoc network. If one computer in the wireless mesh has internet access, the other computers also have access to this (though at low bandwidth). But this would be sufficient to provide email and other low-bandwidth applications across remote geographic areas. Pretty freakin’ cool if you ask me.

  27. I think they’re fantastic, I I think some of the arguments against these are intellectually dishonest. One computer in the hands of one clever child can bring all sorts of new ideas to the table, and allows good ideas to be shared more easily. It’s not going to make anyone’s life easy, but that’s not the point- I think the idea is to provide a light at the end of the tunnel.

    My own life hardly parallels most of these childrens’ experiences, but I did grow up in poverty. Well meaning donations of clothese, food, etc. certainly helped, but my kids are living an upper-middle-class lifestyle in large part because I was given opportunities to further my education, including computer access and training at a time when a lot of people were still clucking about the ‘computer fad.’

    It is technology, not food aid, that brings countries into prosperity.

  28. dculberson – re: “making” countries pay for hundreds of millions of machines: Countries must commit to buying at least 1 million units, according to this, and are strongly encouraged to buy for all children in the country. At least all of those who actually are able to go to school, since the latest proposals are to disable laptops that are away from the school’s base station for too long (to prevent them from going on the “grey” market). So never mind the millions of girls who are taken out of school to help their mothers get water or food, or the kids who have no school that can have a base station installed in it.

    I learned to read/write both by reading books and by reading computer magazines.

    … And from your parents, presumably, who were both literate and computer-savvy (and if you had computer magazines around your household, they were probably more computer-savvy than most) and had the time to encourage you to be, too. It’s fascinating how popular this “kids learn all by themselves” myth is in the US, and especially in techie circles — everyone seems to have forgotten the role of their parents and teachers in at least getting them going.

    Kudos to splash for the reality checks. Yes, the laptop is very innovative, and it could have some benefit. What I’m most unhappy about regarding OLPC is how little the supposed benefit of the laptops has been tested. The results of the few small-scale trials that have taken place have been used, as far as I’ve seen, entirely for producing sound bytes for publicity; I have yet to see an honest assessment of this program in practice, and an honest assessment of its limitations (such as for the education of girls). Technology itself will not produce change.

    For instance, I agree that information on computers can be kept more up-to-date than that in books (though up-to-dateness is more important for some topics than others) as long as somehow the infrastructure for internet access (or other routes of information dissemination, e.g. CD ROMS) and the ability and resources to keep the machine running are available. (We all may take internet access for granted, but even among the white upper crust of Cape Town, South Africa it is not that common — it’s very expensive and very slow. Christovir: someone has to pay for that infrastructure. Mobile phones are more widespread but even they are unaffordable by many.) It doesn’t sound like splash is really arguing that kids should have all their other needs met first — that’s just not going to happen.

  29. Interesting. On the subjet of this project – given that a number of the African tech blogs have been covering the innovative uses of mobile phones on the continent, and saying “the cel phone is the PC of Africa,” I have been wondering whether a better plan – or perhaps an addditional plan – should be to create versions of the more useful apps scaled down for mobile handsets. As a computer non-expert, I don’t know how feasible that is.

  30. From my understanding it is a charitable donation. At least the $200 towards the laptop that goes to the child in the developing world…That means only $200 in the end…

  31. Honestly, there is zero reason to throw the OLPC project so much shade. It’s an entirely voluntary project with clear goals and an entrepreneurial, self-sustaining model. This thing isn’t The Heifer Project- it’s goal isn’t to alleviate desperate poverty. Programs like Big Brothers / Big Sisters or microlending banks isn’t there to do that either. These projects are intended instead to help people from poor, but not dire circumstances, get a leg up in the world.

    I just came back from China, a country where up to 60% of the populace could be described as just that- poor, but not starving. Getting by, but not thriving. (This is the RURAL population, of course- China’s city dwellers are zooming along pretty well, thank you very much.) They don’t just need education, they need educational resources, especially books. In many parts of China, literacy is marginal and education in many aspects of “modern” life, like sanitation, health care, and basic business skills are poor. But these places already have computers, cell-phones, and net access. After all, how many email scams do you get from Nigeria a year? What the OLPC represents isn’t a “wellspring of technology”, it’s simply a way to make an end-run around educational resource distribution.

    The OLPC educational model is one where textbooks, books and other information are electronically distributed and updated, and where custom programs can be tailored to the needs of struggling communities, ideally by the communities themselves. This is a great idea- books, which incur print, transportation and distribution costs, can be partly supplanted by the laptops, which need only be delivered once. Countries can distribute and update their own educational materials electronically, or students can seek out online materials produced in other countries, if permitted. Paper, pencils and other teaching materials can also be partly replaced by the laptops.

    Now, whether the overall cost of maintaining the laptops actually offsets the cost of not needing to move around so much paper is very much up in the air right now, but we’ll never know unless we try. Other real problems are, “Do we have free, age appropriate, quality texts and programs in the proper language?” “How well are we planning our teacher training?” “How realistic is it to expect regular Internet connections for the computers (vs. mesh-network connections)?” “How do we ensure fair distribution of the machines?”

    We’d never have gotten to this point without the amazing efforts of the OLPC group. These are real challenges they’ve got to sort out, but strawmen like “OMFG COMPUTERS? PEOPLE ARE DYING!!!” are entirely beside the point. These are computer guys, doing a lot of very smart thinking about how computers can help kids who currently don’t have them. To a guy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But the nail, in this case, is access to educational materials, NOT clean drinking water or other basic human needs.

    Big companies like Microsoft hate it because it’s creating a whole new class of commodity Linux hardware, and Intel opposed it for several years only because it wasn’t getting a slice of the action. They’ve spread their fair share of FUD, and probably someone who’s posted on this board is their shill, willful or not. But don’t distract yourself from the real issues, and don’t mistake the poor for the desperate.

    As for me, I’m going down the list of small-fingered girls I can impress this Christmas with my selfless generosity.

  32. Of course children can teach themselves. It’s better to have an intelligent and sympathetic teacher, or any teacher at all; but if you want to learn, and there are resources you can search out (computers are good for that), you can go a long way on just a few crumbs of help.

    Also, computers are good for finding the resources you need right now. Hardcopy My First Readers are all very well, but after that you need something to read, and everyone wants something different.

    Let’s scale back the self-righteousness a fraction, admit that the program will do no harm, give them the computers, and see what happens. Because if personal computing has taught us anything, it’s that we can never quite predict what other people will do with them.

  33. If you visit the OLPC wiki (http://wiki.laptop.org/), and read through the pages about the pilot projects, you can find out that:

    1) The laptops go to children who are poor but not *starving*. They already have food, water and shelter; they’re just *poor*, and what they need is all the education resources they can get.

    2) These children go to school. The laptops are not just thrown at random children, who are left to fend for themselves; the programs are structured around schools. Teachers are involved in the program. Facilities that assist with use of the laptops are set up at schools — places where the children can recharge their batteries, and get internet access through a server.

    Before you accuse others of having a first-world-centric approach to helping the developing world, please re-examine your own preconceptions. The developing world is not a uniform mass of helpless misery, and its needs go beyond food packages and medicine.

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