Forget the sleek and powerful PS3. Designers for the nonprofit project One Laptop Per Child have modified a conventional computer and made it ultra portable, energy efficient, and incredibly cheap. The new $150 laptop will be making its way into the hands of millions of students in developing countries in mid-2007. Seymour Papert, a distinguished computer scientist and adviser to the project, believes that access to these laptops will help kids to "learn how to learn." This is "a more valuable skill than traditional teaching strategies that focus on memorization and testing," he argues. But not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon: both Intel and Microsoft have their doubts (and Intel is pushing its own alternative machine). Larry Cuban, a Stanford University emeritus education professor, is also skeptical. He agrees that access to technology can be a good thing, but the new laptop won't "revolutionize education" in the third world. If the One Laptop Per Child initiative is meant to expose youngsters across the globe to technology and broaden their horizons, fine. We can see it doing much good, especially in rural communities that have trouble sustaining decent schools. But it won't replace sound curricula, high standards, and a host of other education requisites.
"For $150, Third-World Laptop Stirs Big Debate," by John Markoff, New York Times, November 30, 2006