Has One Laptop per Child Failed?

I’ve always admired the One Laptop per Child project. I’ve volunteered for them by writing ([1] [2] [3]) and producing a video. I even interviewed with them. Empowering children with technology is a powerful promise. Has that promise been kept?

I asked my friend (and OLPC volunteer) Nancie Severs, has OLPC failed?

Disclaimer: These are the opinions of Nancie Severs.

“I don’t see OLPC as a failure at all. When Nicholas Negropante dreamed up the cute little green machine, no one believed he could get the ‘flash’ technology without a spinning hard drive to break, to market, and especially not at a low price. The XO was the first netbook ever sold and the Asus EEE and other copycats made their own with Nicholas Negropante’s technical brilliance. Thanks to OLPC and competition and collaboration, open source hardware and software, we all have portable personal devices now (that many of us can’t live without.)

The sunlight readable screen on the XO laptop is still unique. A computer that is repairable and lasts 7 years in rugged rural territory is also still unique. A Panasonic Toughbook will work in such environments, but they cost $1,500 to $2,500 and more, not $225 (or less for old models).

For sure, OLPC’s business model had its weaknesses. And strengths also. For example every child in Uruguay has learned on an XO with the plan to sell to governments and Education Ministries. But people who wanted to start small projects or purchase low numbers of XOs had a hard time finding a supply chain. The software and hardware support left lot’s to desire and the business office never seemed to me to be responsible about answering inquiries about their endeavors.

But, there are 3 million XO laptops around the world, many in projects in poor communities, a population that the corporations for the most part, sadly aren’t interested in serving. Not a failure at all.

Now, in 2014, I see OLPC as it was founded, winding up. The Massachusetts office has closed and those employees have moved on to work elsewhere. The Miami office (probably should close also) is running a deficit, to my knowledge. They are trying to support their overhead and salaries with licensing fees, selling the heretofore open name XO in connection with the Walmart/Target XO Tablet made by Vivitar.

I do not like the quality or the learning platform on the tablet. The XO laptops are still better! Inexpensive tablets with long battery lives are available, as are smart phone technology and signals around the world. And OLPC is not in a position to compete in manufacturing, sales and support of today’s technology.

It’s not a bad thing for them to wind up or change their road forward. OLPC made a huge mark. Could it have been done better? Sure in hindsight. But I couldn’t have done it any better.

I continue my volunteer work collecting re-donated XOs, refurbishing and redistributing the XOs to projects with a good likelihood of success through the Contributors Program.

I know for a fact that my own work has impacted many lives. Multiply that by the others who have worked on this project and I can say with confidence, no, not a failure.”


About Nancie Severs:

Retired attorney and OLPC Volunteer, Nancie Severs brought the first XOs to Vietnam. She assists with XO projects in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and mentors new projects and more. Together with Adam Holt, Nancie works with the OLPC Volunteer Contributors Program collecting, refurbishing and redistributing re-donated XOs. She hopes that her blog helps other volunteers doing similar work around the globe. An enthusiastic and creative problem solver, Nancie can teach XO hardware repairs, troubleshoot Sugar software, offer curriculum ideas and engage adults and children alike in the mission to make hands on digital learning a fun and positive experience.


About One Laptop per Child:

We aim to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. To this end, we have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.