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The Commonwealth Bank's chief information officer will visit Darwin tomorrow for meetings with Aboriginal elders to garner additional support for the One Laptop Per Child programme in advance of the roll out of the next version of the machine.

Michael Harte, CBA group executive and CIO has been an enthusiastic supporter of the programme since it kicked off, and he and his IT team have provided support for the initiative which has the ambition to eventually roll out 400,000 XO computers to students in remote Australia.

According to Harte; 'The total cost of the units and all the support infrastructure is $650 per unit - they are a very practical solution and they have an extraordinary array of rich features as well as the software that's for them that runs on the XO platform.' Harte said a handful of Australian universities were now developing content for the platform and that the OLPC programme was leading to significant improvements in terms of educational outcomes in the schools where the machines had been deployed.

Besides providing funding and in-kind support for the programme, the Commonwealth Bank has funded a research study which is being conducted by the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER). An ACER spokeswoman said that although an interim report had been produced, its findings had not been made public.

Further corporate siupport for the initiative is expected to be announced shortly.

The first XO computers were installed last May at three schools, including Shepherdson College on Elcho Island in the Northern Territory. Harte, who attended that launch said that; 'In schools that have been deployed the numeracy and literacy rates rocket. Once the elders back the distribution in their local area, the teachers get access to their devices and the kids get the devices - they take ownership of something for the first time.

'Their learning accelerates. The teachers...in many cases are frustrated that only 40 per cent of kids turn up and 6 per cent of those turn up regularly. There is very very low propensity to turn up.

'This is giving the kids a reason to turn up and a bigger reason for the teachers to stay - there is a lot of extra virtue that we didn't even consider. The noble objective is to give children an education but in fact they have a real strong sense of ownership and pride to turn up.'


The XO computers have been developed to survive harsh environments, have screens which can be read in bright sunlight, and can be powered by just 2Watts - if necessary supplied from a solar panel or hand-cranked generator. Running Linux and preloaded with educational applications the laptops can be connected to the internet where available or connect to one another wirelessly.

Applications available include TamTam Mini, a music synthesis and composition package; Chat which allows users to interact with other laptop users; Memorize, a memory game; The Journal which allows children to collect and edit information; Measure, a measurement and graphing programme; Newsreader, allowing RSS feeds to be explored; art applications Draw and Turtle Art; and a range of other applications and activities including a calculator and word processing system.

 

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