The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has devised a bizarre plan for deploying its new XO-3 tablet. The organization plans to drop the touchscreen computers from helicopters near remote villages in developing countries.
The XO-3 tablet devices is planned to be dropped, abandoned and left for the villagers to find, distribute, support, and use on their own. The founder is optimistic that the portable devices—which will be stocked with electronic books—will empower children to learn to read without any external support or instruction. The strange scheme reflects the OLPC project’s roots in constructivist education theory, which emphasizes self-directed learning.
The OLPC project was originally founded to produce low-cost education-focused laptops for children. The organization planned to sell the devices in bulk to governments in developing countries, which would then distribute them in classrooms. The plan was to leverage economy of scale in manufacturing to bring the costs down, making the laptop cheap enough that governments would be able to supply one to every child.
The tablets that Negroponte intends to fling from helicopters are based on that Marvell design, but with a few enhancements, such as solar powered batteries that will allow them to be used in regions without access to electricity. It’s not clear yet if the organization was able to successfully meet its target $75 production price.
Negroponte described the helicopter drop plan at the Open Mobile Summit event in San Francisco. According to a PC Magazine report, he compared the project to the classic 1980 film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, which depicted how an isolated tribe in the Kalahari Desert might react to discovering a Coca-Cola bottle that fell from an airplane.
“We’ll take tablets and drop them out of helicopters into villages that have no electricity and school, then go aback a year later and see if the kids can read,” Negroponte told The Register. He reportedly cited Professor Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment as the basis for his belief that dropping the tablets will encourage self-directed literacy.
The obvious downside, however, is the sheer improbability that a majority of the dropped devices will ever serve their intended function. It seems unlikely that Negroponte will find governments that are willing to fund such an odd boondoggle, though Marvell has provided some financial backing.
Doesn’t this project lack common sense? Left for the villagers to decide…