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One Laptop Per Child Gets The Green Light in India



December 4, 2007 By

India may have been a late starter in adopting the powerful computer-based education program One Laptop Per Child (popularly known as OLPC), a brainchild of MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte to bridge the technology divide between rich and the poor children in the developing world. But with the formation of an Indian edition -- called OLPC India -- the program, which aims to equip millions of world's school children with cheap laptops, is not only set to make an entry into India but also promises to do it with a bang.

According to Sumit Chowdhury and Bhalchandra Joshi, the two co-founders of OLPC India, this "movement" first introduced in the country as a pilot project in October. The this pilot ran in a tribal school in a village in Khairat, located in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Now the self-described movement is gaining momentum and in the next few months, OLPC India hopes to import at least 20,000 laptops.

"We have received excellent response from at least a dozen state governments in India and we expect that large scale implementation will start from March or April next year, with an initial import of 20,000 to 25,000 laptops. And after that, subsequent imports could far exceed that number" said Joshi.

Backing OLPC India is one of India's largest mobile telecom companies Reliance Communications (RCOM) which has tied up with the global OLPC alliance, the OLPC Foundation, to promote e-learning for children. According to RCOM, along with OLPC Foundation, it has assumed the task of evangelizing the concept in the country by working with government agencies, non-government organization (NGOs), content developers, translators, teaching communities and project managers to create a successful ecosystems, and help proliferation of OLPC in India.

OLPC India will also fund the initial imports of laptops drawing upon multiple funding sources, including RCOM's own contribution, grants from the governments, NGOs and even some willing donors from the corporate sector.

However, against Negroponte's wish of making the laptops available as cheap as $100 each, the India imports could cost around $190 a piece. Branded as XO, mass manufacturing of these laptops under a mandate from the OLPC Foundation has already started by Taiwan-based Quanta Computers, the world's largest laptop manufacturing firm. According to reports, the laptop will come with a 7.5-inch TFT screen, video camera, a microphone, long-range Wi-Fi and Linux as the operating system.

But although the "Initial cost is much higher than the $100-target, given India's potential, we are sure that the price could go down even below $100 as import volumes increase with the proliferation of OLPC in the country," said Sumit Chowdhury, the other co-founder of OLPC India.

The brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, also the founder of MIT Media Lab, the One Laptop Per Child project is an initiative launched in January 2005 to provide inexpensive laptop computers to children in the developing world as a means of bridging the digital divide. The main driver behind this project is the thought that just as a kid needs to own a pencil and a slate -- a kid cannot really function if those were owned by a community -- it is also important to own a computer to be able to experiment and explore the new opportunities in today's digital world.

According to Negroponte, like pencils and slates, "a computer too can be a powerful tool" with which one can think, work, play, and learn. "Furthermore, there are many reasons it is important for a child to own something -- like a football, doll, or book -- not the least of which being that these belongings will be well-maintained through love and care," he says.

The concept, as some say "was captivating in its utter simplicity." Consequently it found support from many, including world leaders like the former UN secretary General Kofi Anan and global companies that include


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