Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One laptop per child’ gaining ground in India

KOCHI: India has ‘just begun’ taking an interest in the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) global initiative that aims at providing poor children with laptops to open up a world of education to them.

“Now a number of stakeholders are beginning to demand OLPC and understand that no other computing device, either as a technology or as an embodiment of appropriate pedagogy may be as appropriate for village India as the OLPC’s XO (laptop). As a result several stakeholders have begun placing orders and budgeting for it,” OLPC India president and Chief Executive Officer Satish Jha told The Hindu when asked about the status of the project in the country.

The OLPC has made headway in other parts of the world. About 1.2 million children are using laptops in some 30 countries, he said. In India, small scale OLPC-based projects are being tried out at a few places.

Mr. Jha disclosed that large-scale initiatives were afoot in India for the distribution of these laptops, ranging from about 50,000 to 1.5 lakh units each. “It is the privilege of the buyers to make announcements as and when they consider appropriate.”

Learning tool

The OLPC is the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, and aims at providing the specially designed and built laptops to children with little or no access to education, as a learning tool and also a means of self expression. The initiative is spearheaded by the OLPC Association, a non-profit organisation that is collaborating with governments, organisations and individuals in several parts of the world to support the distribution and use of the laptops.

These are no typical laptops and, according to Mr. Jha, are now hailed as forerunners of the netbook revolution. They are built to be rugged and energy efficient. That they should be affordable was also a key requirement.

They use flash instead of a hard drive and come with a sealed rubber keyboard. The laptop sports a 7.5-inch TFT screen. XO is “about the size of a textbook and lighter than a lunchbox.”

Minimum power consumption

Flexibility in design has meant that it can be used as a standard laptop, for e-book reading and also gaming. OLPC Laptops are wireless routers and deploy mesh networking to reduce the need for dedicated infrastructure and make wider interlinking possible. Power consumption is minimal. They run on free software.

The XO has to be adapted to local situations and this effort had already been on in the country for some time. “Technology issues are unique to each project and geography and depend on various factors such as the deployment plan, teams, teacher’s and student’s needs, languages, need to tweak content and delivery style. The OLPC already has applications and contents in multiple languages and local technological challenges are handled locally,” Mr. Jha said.


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