Big changes are apparently underway at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation (referred to by many as the '$100 laptop project'). The organization has announced it is laying off about half of its staff and refocusing its mission. Included in its new intentions is that "Sub-Saharan Africa will become a major learning hub".
You can read the official announcement over at the OLPC blog, which goes into much more detail.
What this may mean for the fate of perhaps the most famous "low-cost laptop" remains to be seen, but a few things *are* clear: Since the idea for a $100 laptop gained wide currency in the aftermath of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos in early 2005, and its first unveiling (of a sort) at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis later that year, the landscape for 'low-cost computing', and the recognition that there are emerging markets in developing countries for such appliances right now, if the price is right, has changed radically. infoDev used to track about 50 'Low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world', but gave up at the end of 2007, when the explosion of activity in this area made the maintenance of such a list increasingly unfeasible (and, given that one of the rationales for such a list was to highlight that there was a lot of burgeoning activity in this area that people didn't know about, increasingly unnecessary). While many of the highly-publicized commitments to buy the OLPC XO laptop for use by students in developing countries have not (yet) materialized, it is a testament to the attractiveness in many quarters of the vision (if not its implementation) of the 'one laptop per child' idea that the of the relevance of computer use in schools continues to gain traction in many ministries of education and parliaments around the world.
In the popular imagination, the little green OLPC XO laptop is what many people associate with the use of computers by students in developing countries, and there is little doubt that it will continue to incite passionate debate, by both its critics and its supporters, for the forseeable future. As the marketplace becomes increasingly crowded with low-cost ICT products geared toward use in education in developing countries, one expects that this debate will move beyond the comparisons of the technical merits of one device or another currents occurring within silos in many ministries of education to a richer, more holistic discussion of the relevance of technology use within a broader vision for education and development. At least one hopes this will be the case. Stay tuned.
Some related resources that you may not have seen (or visited recently):
- OLPC wiki
- Video of talk at the World Bank about the OLPC by Nicholas Negroponte and Walter Bender
- Communication Breakdown (Negroponte vs. Quadir, phones versus laptops)
- Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi
- OLPC News (impassioned debate about the OLPC project, from critics and supporters, on a site unaffiliated with the OLPC project itself)
- Use of the OLPC as part of a World Bank education project in Mongolia
Note: Image at the top of this blog post from toto-artist via Wikimedia Commons used according to the terms of its GNU Free Documentation License.