One Laptop Per Child Project Extends to American Students

The One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) plans to launch OLPC America in 2008 to distribute the low-cost laptop computers originally aimed at developing nations to needy students in the United States.

The group, which was formed in the U.S. by teachers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), came under criticism shortly after forming because its original mission did not include the U.S.

Originally, the aim of OLPC was to develop a $100 laptop for kids in poor nations to ensure they don't miss out on the benefits of computing, and to make sure developing countries don't fall further and further behind modern nations due to their inability to buy computers, a conundrum commonly referred to as the digital divide.

OLPC America already has a director and a chairman, and will likely be based in Washington D.C., said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC, in an interview.

"The whole thing is merging right now. It will be state-centric. We're trying to do it through the 50 state governments," he said.

The decision to launch OLPC America came about due to three considerations.

"For one thing, we are doing something patriotic, if you will, after all we are and there are poor children in America. The second thing we're doing is building a critical mass. The numbers are going to go up, people will make more software, it will steer a larger development community," Negroponte said.

The third reason is educational, so that children in the U.S. communicate with kids in developing nations and expand their horizons.

The reason OLPC had not included the U.S. in its low-cost laptop program was because of the huge difference in need, Negroponte said. In the U.S., people spend US$10,000 per year per child in primary education, but in Bangladesh, a developing country, they spend $20. It's a huge difference, and many people in the U.S. can afford more expensive laptop PCs for their kids anyway, he noted.

But although the U.S. was not the focus of OLPC in the beginning, it has always been in the plans.

"To have the United Sates be the only country that's not in the OLPC agenda would be kind of ridiculous," Negroponte said.

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