Home Your IT Home IT War of words between aid organization and OLPC erupts
A war of words has erupted through email channels between Scandinavian-based aid organization FAIR and Dr Nicholas Negroponte of the One Latop Per Child (OLPC) project.

FAIR, which works towards the spread of ICT in developing countries, issued a statement last week, which among other things claimed that OLPC is a risky and expensive program which could mislead poor countries into spending large sums unnecessarily on underpowered laptops. In response, Dr Negroponte fired off an email to Knut Foseide, president of FAIR, refuting the claims and demanding an apology from the organization.

FAIR has dismissed the OLPC concept of a US$100 laptop (in actual fact the laptop costs more like US$200) as non-economic and the technology as unable to meet the needs of students over the age of 12. The aid organization believes a more economical and practical solution would be to build computer labs in schools, preferably using recycled second hand computers from first world countries.

"In OLPC's agreement with Libya, for example, one OLPC with Internet and support costs US$208 per schoolchild. A normal school with 500-1,000 students must thus invest US$100,000 to US$200,000 to join the OLPC programme. This price represents a normal 10 year budget for a school in the world's 50 least developed countries (LDCs). In addition there are the costs of Internet subscription, training, operation, infrastructure and responsible handling of EE waste. A PC-lab of new Pentium 4 computers in each school would cost a tenth of the OLPC-programme and is today the preferred solution in model countries like Norway, Sweden and the USA," stated FAIR in its original public release.

Dr Negroponte, however, in an email to FAIR's president Knut Foseide, refuted the economics of the above example and in turn claimed that the economics of computer labs and recycled computers do not hold up.

"It is not our policy to do anything but support efforts that provide access to children, including yours even though the economics of recycled computers or computer labs just do not hold or scale. If you or your people had looked more carefully you would have found how wrong your remarks were. For example, the amount you quote in Libya includes everything, including access, and has start-up costs that do not
continue. Even at $200, amortize $188 of that over five years. The long term total cost of ownership and connectivity of an XO laptop is $32 per year per child (still too high). Since we are not in the laptop business, as such, if you or anybody has a better solution, we'll adopt it," Negroponte wrote.

Dr Negroponte also refuted claims by FAIR that OLPC laptop, called the XO, is underpowered and therefore of little use to school children over 12. In his email he also made the puzzling assertion that the developed world does not need children learning IT.

"For reasons OLPC cannot understand, your organization has launched a scathing attack, seemingly in support of a very IT-centric view of
school, the developing world and the needs of children. Not only is Microsoft developing Windows for the XO, it already runs Open Office,
though no child should be doing so. The developing world does not need children learning IT. They need children to learn learning itself," Dr Negroponte wrote.

Dr Negroponte concluded his email by demanding a retraction of FAIR's "story" (presumably from its website) and an apology or face an "unecessary battle" .

"It seems to me that there are two choices at this time, to correct a situation of your own making. One is to remove your story and issue an
apology of some sort. The other is enter into an unnecessary battle, where win or lose, the lose-lose people are those in Eritrea and other
places that will learn sooner rather than later that computer labs are like tennis courts. Yes, you should have them. Yet, we do not advocate
one tennis court per child," Dr Negroponte wrote.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.