What does it mean to bring education into the digital age, and what would it take to ensure that children worldwide have access to the revolutionary kinds of learning made possible by computer technologies? Since around 2006, the non-profit organization known as One Laptop Per Child has tried to tackle these ambitious questions. In pursuit of its mission, OLPC distributes low-cost, high-durability laptops across the globe, arming each student with their own individual PC in trademark white and lime-green colors.
There’s no denying that OLPC boasts a number of inspiring success stories from Uruguay, Paraguay, and other early adopters of laptops in the classroom. Yet debate continues about the implementation of the project’s goals, especially in impoverished areas with limited electrical infrastructure and other pressing concerns, such as sanitation. To reveal a clearer picture of just what the OLPC project has been able to accomplish to date and how its mission continues to evolve today, we spoke with OLPC’s CFO Robert Hacker as well as OLPC education affiliates from classrooms as far-flung as North Carolina, Rwanda, and Australia.
The educational backbone: XO and Sugar
To provide a little background, OLPC has helped distribute more than 2.4 million XO laptops in more than 40 countries to date. Recently, the organization made waves at CES by unveiling its newest laptop, the hybrid XO 4.0 Touch, which comes equipped with a multi-input Neonode touchscreen and a swiveling hinge that enables both laptop and tablet modes. Each XO laptop comes equipped with a Linux-based OS and a suite of about 300 learning applications known as Sugar, which cater to a variety of visual and interactive learning styles to help students absorb information, even independent of a teacher’s input.