One Laptop Per Child


Year: 2009

Authors: Sabrina Skau, Juliana Friend, Jenna Harris & Sarah Cocuzzo.

Type: Undergraduate coursework, Brown University, USA.

Availability: in full, below.

Page reference: Skau, S., Friend, J., Harris, J. & Cocuzzo, S. (2009) One Laptop Per Child. followthethings.com [www.followthethings.com/onelaptopperchild.shtml last accessed <insert date here>]

“It’s not a laptop project. It’s an education project.” OLPC Vision Statement
In 2005, MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte launched One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit organization committed to creating "educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning" (OLPC nd a). Aiming to level the educational playing field, the organization believes that a laptop can provide the world's underprivileged children with the tools to explore their own potential and ultimately effect global change.
The thing as a thing
Endowed as it is with such a noble purpose, it is easy to forget that the OLPC XO laptop is still just a thing. A small, textbook-sized computer weighing less than 3.3 pounds, it is a colorful green and white machine with soft, round, and ultimately safe edges (Anon nd a). This is a laptop that is "extremely durable, brilliantly functional, energy-efficient, and fun" (OLPC nd b). It is a gift to the impoverished: the $100 dollar laptop…erm—actually, the $150 dollar laptop…whoops, let's make that the $200 dollar laptop (Vota 2007). It is a $200 dollar laptop with an important mission, but it—just like any other laptop—is a thing that is made, and made up of many component parts in a global chain of production. Even before it is sent out to children in Afghanistan or Peru, Paraguay or Senegal, the XO laptop is an experienced traveler. So where have you been, XO?

This is what is inside an XO laptop:
BYD LiFePO4 rechargeable battery + AMD Geode LX700 MHz CPU + AMD CS5336 south bridge + Marvell 88ALP01 CaFE + Marvell 88W8388 wireless mesh I/F + SLG62102KTR clock generator + HX8837 display control + ISSI IS42R16100C1-7TL SDRAM + HY5DU561622ETP-J-C DDR SDRAM + Samsung K9F4G08U0A-PCB0 flash memory + ENE KB3700 embedded controller + Fujitsu MB39A129 battery charger + ADI SSM2302 audio amplifier + ALPS Electric dual capacitance/resistive touchpad + Omnivision OV7670 camera + … (Sources: Anon nd b & c, OLPC nd c).
This is a partial list (as Internet searches can only go so far) but here we already have 13 different companies, which means thirteen different manufacturers and thirteen global lives. Let's take a look at a few of them.
A battery and a brain
The BYD LiFePO4 rechargeable battery
An improvement over its predecessor, the LiCoO2, it uses lithium iron phosphate as the cathode material, which is "an intrinsically safer cathode material than the LiCoO2" (Camfield 2007). As with all lithium-ion batteries, its key element is lithium. There are over a million of XO laptops equipped with over a million of lithium-ion batteries. So where does all this lithium come from? According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), lithium is mined in the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Portugal, and Zimbabwe (Jaskula 2009). Soon, however, the mines in these countries won't be enough as the demand for lithium-ion batteries (used in cars, iPods, and cell phones among other electronics) continues to increase. Mining companies are searching the globe for new reserves, and the most astoundingly promising of them all is found in Bolivia (McDougall, 2009).

The USGS estimates that Bolivia has a reserve base of 5,400,000 tons, which is over 2,000,000 more than the current leader in lithium production, Chile. If Bolivian president Evo Morales has his way, however, the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni will remain untouched by foreign mining operations. Instead, the state agency that oversees mining operations, Comibol, is investing $6 billion to build its own plant. Says Saúl Villegas, who heads the division of Comibol in charge of lithium extraction, "the imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia. Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners, or better yet, as our clients" (Romera 2009).

But even without foreign companies pushing in for a piece of the pie, lithium mining in Bolivia could have serious environmental consequences. To see what the future of Salar de Uyuni might look like, journalist Dan McDougall travelled to Chile's Atacama Desert. He describes a parched landscape in which the "damage caused by lithium mining is immediately clear." The mine appears to be an "endless ploughed field…there is no sign of animal life anywhere, [and] the scarce water has all been poisoned by leaked chemicals from the mine." The lives of Chileans close the mine have been deeply affected as the "increasing water scarcity…has also accelerated the decline of the region's subsistence agriculture." More and more families are giving up on their subsistence farms and moving to poor working and living conditions in the cities (McDougall, 2009).

The BYD LiFePO4 rechargeable battery. Its most important element is lithium. Chile is currently the leading producer of lithium, but Bolivia may someday take its place. After extraction, the lithium goes to BYD. BYD Company Limited, "established in 1995, is a Hong Kong listed high-tech private enterprise mainly dealing with two businesses: IT manufacturing and auto manufacturing" (BYD nd). Its primary products include rechargeable batteries, chargers, and electro acoustic components. Call the BYD office at 1440 Howard Str. ELK Grove Village, Illinois and a woman with a thick Chinese accent will greet you. Explain to her that you are trying to find out where the LiFeP04 is manufactured. She won't pass you on to someone else within the company, but will instead tell you that the LiFeP04 is manufactured in Shenzhen province. Okay, great. Thank you. So…you're in Illinois right? "Yes", she'll reply.
The AMD Geode LX700 MHz CPU
The CPU is the central processing unit, the real "brain" of the laptop. It is made mostly of the eminently pure polysilicon. Polysilicon is manufactured using cultured quartz crystal or silica sand, which are made up of silicon (Anon 2009). USGS reported that in 2008 no "U.S. firms reported the production of cultured quartz crystal," so the United States was "100% import reliant," with imported material "thought to be mostly from Asian countries, probably China, Japan, and Russia" (Dolley 2009).

In an August 2009 BBC news article, however, the mountains of Spruce Pine, North Carolina were named the "heart of a global billion-dollar industry," the "only places that [the high-purity quartz] is found on the planet" (Nelson 2009). So from Asia and North Carolina, this quartz goes forth to the polysilicon manufacturers. Currently, there are seven companies that account for about 75% of worldwide polysilicon production. These are Hemlock Semiconductor (USA), Wacker-Chemie AG (Germany), Renewable Energy Corporation (Norway), Tokuyama Corporation (Japan), MEMC (USA), Mitsubishi (Japan & USA), and Sumitomo-Titanium (Japan) ('Dan' 2008). It is highly likely that one of these companies supplies the polysilicon used to make the XO laptop's AMD Geode LX700 MHz CPU.

AMD stands for Advanced Micro Devices. It is "an innovative technology company dedicated to collaborating with customers and partners to ignite the next generation of computing and graphics solutions at work, home, and play" (AMD 2009a). If you call the AMD headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA, and explain to the operator that you need someone who can tell you where the Geode LX700 MHz CPU is manufactured, you will be passed on to a woman in business operations. Explain to her that you are working on a college project, tracking the parts of the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop, which has a CPU designed by AMD, and you would like to find out where exactly that chip was manufactured. This woman will be suspicious of you and ask you to repeat your intent, saying that this is not a question that people often pose to her. So you will have to explain yourself again, adding that you know that AMD has manufacturing operations in Germany, China, Malaysia, and Singapore, but would really appreciate it if she could tell you which one manufactures CPUs (AMD 2009b). There will be a brief moment of silence, and then she will give you her succinct, conversation-ending answer: Dresden.
The VIA C7-M: a snapshot of the future
For the XO Laptop Gen 1.5 (currently in development) OLPC will replace the AMD Geode LX700 MHz with a VIA C7-M processor, which has a clock speed of between 400 MHZ and 1GHz ('John, Ed, and the OLPC Tech team' 2009). VIA, headquartered in Taiwan, is "the foremost fabless supplier of power efficient x86 processor platforms that are driving system innovation in the PC, client, ultra mobile and embedded markets" (VIA 2009). Contact the company through email to ask about manufacturing and within a few days you will get this response:

Thank you for your email. VIA processors are designed in Austin, Texas by our CPU design team subsidiary, Centaur Technology, and are manufactured either by IBM in New York or by Fujitsu in Japan. In particular, the VIA C7-M mobile processor is manufactured at both foundries, depending on product sku and application.

I hope this sufficiently answers your question.
A quick look: a few other parts
Marvell 88ALP01 CaFE & Marvell 88W8388 wireless mesh I/F
The XO laptop features two parts made by Marvell, a "next-generation semiconductor company" (Marvell 2009). Semiconductors, by the way, are made of silicon. Call Marvell U.S. headquarters in Santa Clara, California to ask about the Marvell 88ALP01 CaFE and the Marvell 88W8388 wireless mesh I/F and you will speak to a very nice receptionist who will pass you on to the database administrator at Marvell. If the database administrator is not in, leave a message on her phone with your phone number, email address, and your inquiry. She will reply to you by email within a few hours with this message:

We received your support call. The only thing I can tell you is that we are a fabless semiconductor, which means we don't manufacture our products. We design them and then we have fabs in Asia manufacturer our chips.

I hope this helps.

Reply to her email with a message expressing hopes for a more specific answer and she will respond with:

I don't know all of the IC manufacturers they use, but I am almost positive that one is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. You should bring up our website www.marvell.com and look through the site along with checking on the financial information of the company. They probably have to disclose who they work with on the financial statements. Also, do a search on Google and see what pops up. Query "Who does Marvell Semiconductor work with to manufacture chips". That's all I can help with. Good luck on your project : o)

This will turn out to be good advice—well, except for the Google search part, which is pretty fruitless. In Marvell's latest financial report, filed April 1, 2009, you will find that the company's assembly subcontractors include STATS ChipPAC Ltd. and Global Testing Corporation in Singapore, Siliconware Precision Industries in Taiwan, and ASE Electronics in Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Perusing the Marvell website, you will also find this delightful snippet on the 88ALP01 page:

The 88ALP01 is a featured component in the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) laptop. The OLPC program is designed to enhance primary and secondary education through implementation and delivery of a $100 laptop computer to under-equipped schoolchildren throughout the world.
Samsung K9F4G08U0A-PCB0 flash memory
SAMSUNG, creator of the XO's K9F4G08U0A-PCB0 flash memory card, is a South Korean company that has "been dedicated [for over 70 years] to making a better world through diverse businesses that today span advanced technology, skyscraper and plant construction, petrochemicals, fashion, medicine, finance, hotels and more" (Samsung 2009). You can contact SAMSUNG Electronics America at their Ridgefield Park, NJ office. After navigating through recorded instructions, you will end up speaking to a SAMSUNG representative who will ask for your name, phone number, and email address. In response to your question about the manufacturing location of the flash memory card, you will get a vague response of "Korea or China.
Fujitsu MB39A129 battery charger
The XO's battery charger is a Fujitsu MB39A129. Fujitsu is a Tokyo, Japan-based "leading provider of IT-based business solutions for the global marketplace" (Fujitsu 2009). Call Fujitsu United States on their toll-free number and you will be asked by a customer service representative to give up your name, email address, and shipping address so that he can "create an account" for you. After you explain your mission, he will tell you that he'll speak with his supervisor, but cannot guarantee that he can get you the information. You will listen to upbeat music, interrupted periodically with Fujitsu advertisements, for five minutes until the customer service representative comes back on the line. "Well," he'll say, "I have confirmed that it is not company policy to reveal information about manufacturing…but I can tell you that the chargers are made in Japan."
Come together, right now – in China
From this multitude of origins, the parts for the XO eventually converge in China, where they are assembled by Quanta Computer Incorporated, the largest manufacturer of notebook computers in the world (Quanta 2007). Quanta functions as an original design manufacturer, or ODM, meaning that it designs and assembles products for sale to another company that sells it under its brand name (in this case, OLPC). Its other clients include Apple Inc., Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Sun Microsystems, and Toshiba, among others. While the company is based in Taiwan, and some of the more skilled labor such as chip design will occur in Taiwan, the assembly of the XO will take place at one of its factories in the Jiangsu province of China. Industry sources have cited up to 20% lower labor costs as the reason to select Jiangsu over Shanghai (Lin 2006). According to OLPC News, a blog that aims to make the OLPC process more transparent, a German research institute published a study on computer manufacturers in China: "Though the study finds no sub-standard working conditions in Quanta's factories in China, the mostly young women at the assembly lines have to do hard work for small pay. The study states, that in times of high demand, the workers have to do regular overtime – summing up their work hours to 60 hours a week. Monthly wages are between 65 and 80 US-Dollars, if that" ('Guest writer' 2007).

Unlike OLPC, Quanta will make a small profit on each laptop. A representative from Quanta said that "OLPC is a nonprofit organization, but Quanta is a contract manufacturer, a for-profit business. We can't not charge a fee for making the laptops" (Bennett 2006). The company's expertise is in cutting production costs to a minimum in order to reduce the costs of laptops themselves, making them an ideal candidate for XO manufacturing. Indeed, Taiwan based firms like Quanta, which build 90% of the world's notebook PCs, "are the companies that have the ability, and the economies of scale, to actually make a profit supplying dirt cheap PCs to some of the world's poorest regions" (EnJie 2007). The low cost can also be attributed to certain design choices, notably, the display. According to Mary Lou Jepsen, CTO of OLPC, the cost of a laptop screen – over $100 – was the main obstacle to low production costs. She pointed out that "people who design computers don't know a lot about displays, and in fact by starting with the display and designing the computer kind of backwards, rather than just slapping a display onto a motherboard, we can design a whole new architecture" (Clark 2007).

Yet OLPC is not the only party interested in these low-cost laptops – one tech review website called the XO "a cyber-hippy's dream come true: a simple, practical wireless laptop packed with cool new technologies and stuffed with open-source software" (Harris 2008). The XO itself was made available to consumers through a "Give One, Get One" offer during the 2007 holiday season, but the program was discontinued. While the laptops are currently manufactured expressly for OLPC, Quanta has created a new "emerging PC" business unit to focus on creating a global market for the inexpensive machines. According to Quanta's president, Michael Wang, the concepts developed for the XO – including the fact that the entire platform is available under open source licenses – could easily be used to create commercial products that are still cheaper than anything else available. "We will definitely at the right time launch a commercialized product similar to the OLPC," he disclosed to the Financial Times (Hille 2007). OLPC has, however, criticized Intel for what it perceives as a lack of commitment to the root cause: "We view the children as a mission; Intel views them as a market" (Roush 2008).
The idea of the thing
OLPC's vision statement suggests that these "things" are not just physical objects, but mechanisms of global connection. OLPC hopes that children will become exposed to more aspects of the world system and further inspired to discover new perspectives in their interactions with other cultures and ideas. As emphasized in the OLPC mission statement:

By giving children their very own connected XO laptop, we are giving them a window to the outside world, access to vast amounts of information, a way to connect with each other, and a springboard into their future (OLPC nd d).

The general outline of the protocol followed by OLPC to distribute the laptops is as follows:
1. Consultation
  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of the laptop for the community, including its teachers and principal who are directly involved in the targeted school
  • Emphasize the cultural ramifications of using the XO laptop and address any questions or concerns
2. Core Team
  • This group is essentially based on the collaboration of individuals involved in the political educational, logistical and technical field
  • Each lead is responsible for specific aspects of the implementation progra
  • The basic software system, layout of the keyboard and materials circulated along with the laptops are just a few elements that can be reconfigure
  • It is necessary for each country to create a skilled team to satisfy the above roles because OLPC does not possess the resources to participate extensively in deployment
3. Logistics
  • Involves the distribution of the laptops to the teachers and children, including the actual delivery of the machines to the destination country
  • Other crucial decisions and organized plans must be established regarding the application of safety certifications for the laptops, policy about taking the laptops home, the managing of spare parts, handling customs, software and content updates etc.
4. Localization
  • Selecting from a range of customized features available with the production of the laptop in order to make it more harmonious with the specific characteristics of the desired community
  • The basic software system, layout of the keyboard and materials circulated along with the laptops are just a few elements that can be reconfigured
5. Connectivity
  • Initiating a unique plan for each destination country to be connected to the Internet
  • OLPC will provide support for the addition of the laptop network to a national infrastructure
6. Power Infrastructure
  • Ensuring that there is a strategy for sustaining the amount of power required for the optimum performance of the laptops
7. School Server
  • It is intended to construct more access to the Internet because it can support larger networks of laptops, as well as back-up capabilities, a local content storage area, school management etc.
  • This can be modulated to serve the specific needs of each school
8. Teacher Preparation/Student Facilitation
  • OLPC conducts week-long, interactive educational workshops explaining all the elements of the XO laptop
  • Facilitators incorporate examples from previous deployments as ways to instruct teachers and students about their new pieces of technology
9. Support
  • OLPC continues to develop its mechanisms of support through publishing more manuals and guides that can be promptly dispersed as well as strengthening the in-country deployment teams
  • Offering a number of resources, OLPC has created a platform where members of various communities can exchange ideas and experiences concerning the laptops
10. Service/Repairs
  • Laptops are shipped with an overstock of 1% of the order and the additional laptops are used as replacements for any defective products
  • Many of the repairs to the laptops can be completed with a screwdriver and OLPC encourages children to perform these on their own
11. Internet-safety Training
  • This program is developed in order to combat the negative attributes of the Internet
  • The four areas of focus include: technology, policy, education and support
12. End-of-life Planning
  • This preparation is concentrated around uncovering a solution to this crucial question: What do we do with the laptops when they begin to fail after 5 or ore years.
(Source: Anon nd d)
As of September 2009, OLPC has distributed laptops to the following countries:

Afghanistan – Argentina – Austria – Brazil – Cambodia – Canada – Chile – China – Colombia – Ethiopia – Ghana – Greece – Haiti – India – Iraq – Lebanon – Libya – Mali – Malaysia – Mexico – Mongolia – Mozambique – Nepal – Nigeria – Oceania – Palestinian Territories – Paraguay – Peru – Russia – Rwanda – Senegal – South Africa – Thailand – USA – United Kingdom – Uruguay (Source: OLPC nd e).
Senegal: implementation
The OLPC Senegal wiki page suggests that in contexts with limited educational resources, OLPC laptops can lessen the burden on teachers, or even replace teachers altogether if necessary. "The students bring the laptops home and teach their parents!" the page exclaims. "The students don't need adults to understand how they work. They teach each other! In countries too poor to provide teaching instruction, the OLPC is even MORE important because the OLPC = a teacher in a box!" (OLPC nd f).

In June 2008, Jacques Cusin, dean of faculty at the Drew School, a small private high school in San Francisco, spearheaded the "Drew/Lick Summer Cultural Exchange Program" (Anon 2008), which brought a group of students from Drew and Lick-Wilmerding High Schools to Keur Sadaro in Senegal for community service projects in the summers of 2008 and 2009. Following a request for computers by Keur Sadaro's town council, Mr. Cusin contacted Bruce Balkie, CEO of Green WiFi, a for-profit company that provides solar powered wi-fi access to developing countries (Green WiFi 2009). Balkie submitted an application to OLPC to donate a batch of XOs to the San Francisco volunteers. During their first trip, the Drew/Lick group introduced to Keur Sadaro a garden, a new school building, and 25 XO laptops, which volunteers simply referred to as "OLPCs."

The following narratives were generated from phone or email interviews conducted by the authors in October 2009.
Waylin Yu – student volunteer at Lick-Wilmerding High school.
With only two years of French under his belt, Waylin struggled to explain to Keur Sadaro students and teachers what it meant to "click." "Convincing the Keur Sadaro people that computers were efficient when it comes to writing" was also harder than Waylin had expected, he said. "Typing was seen by some of the teachers as more frustrating and difficult than actual writing, which is understandable because typing was such a foreign concept."

Debate among Drew/Lick volunteers about the impact of teaching 'foreign concepts' was "pretty heated," Waylin said. "There was a big argument whether it was right to impose our culture on the Senegalese and introduce them to the benefits as well as the sorrows of the Internet and computers. Some said that it was not okay to introduce something that could possibly destroy the Senegalese culture as we know it. Some said that we have no right to decide what is good or bad for the Senegalese," he said.

But by the end of the three-week session, many of the Keur Sadaro students and teachers had acknowledged the benefits of typing, said Waylin, who evaluated the delivery of 25 OLPC computers to the village as an overwhelming success. For one thing, the OLPC computers "brought joy to the lives of the people of Keur Sadaro," Waylin said, recalling how he and his host family spent an entire day making movies with the computer's video function. Furthermore, adaptation to the 21st century requires computer skills. And in an ever changing world, "the only way to compete is to adapt," he said.
Jacques Cusin – Dean of Faculty, Drew School
While Mr. Balkie underscored that OLPC is above all a technology provider and should not be expected to assist on-the-ground actors, Mr. Cusin disagreed. "OLPC needs to be clearer about their ultimate objectives and they need to support people on the ground," he said. Mr. Cusin described his dealings with OLPC as "labyrinths of miscommunication." When asked what kinds of miscommunication this labyrinth entailed, Mr. Cusin declined to comment. Activities in San Francisco had him "swamped" with work.
Annika Holmlund – translator/student volunteer at Lick-Wilmerding High School
"I don't really see [Keur Sadaro teachers] implementing [the laptops] into their everyday curriculum," said Annika, a volunteer who helped the Lick/Drew teaching team communicate with Keur Sadaro's head teacher, Ousmane. With only three weeks to introduce the technology, Annika and her mentor, Jennifer Nauss, struggled to illustrate ways in which OLPCs could be used in daily lessons. Many students and teachers viewed the machines as toys rather than learning tools. But for Annika, sharing a technology she had taken for granted made the project valuable. If students ever encounter a computer in another context, they will arrive with a basic knowledge, she added. "Personally, I don't really care if they ever use [the OLPC laptops] again."
Bruce Balkie, founder and CEO of Green WiFi
"This has been an unbelievably long story," Mr. Balkie said of his involvement in Keur Sadaro. Two years ago, Balkie made a deal with the local telecommunications company to extend a five-kilometer wi-fi link to the village school. When he returned several months later in June, nothing was in place. By November, still nothing. The following June brought the same old story. "Every year the same promises are made," Mr. Balkie said.

So Mr. Balkie tried a different approach, testing a temporary link from a nearby hotel in June 2009. Ultimately, he needed government authorization to make this solution viable for the long-term. So he submitted an application to the telecommunications minister, and was told a decision would be made in one to two months. "I'm still waiting," he said.

With experience guiding OLPC deployments in other regions in Senegal as well as in Haiti, Balkie identifies Keur Sadaro's continued lack of internet access as "more of a local issue than an OLPC issue." In contrast to the government leadership in Haiti, which has crafted and pursued a realistic action plan, the woman in charge of OLPC projects in Senegal's ministry of education "doesn't know what she's doing," Balkie said.

According to Balkie, challenges to internet connectivity aren't the worst of Keur Sadaro's problems. "The difference is not in the technology but in the implementation in the classroom," he said. For instance, the OLPC deployment in the nearby town of Mboro, Senegal has the advantage of sustained community involvement. In Mboro, OLPC volunteers stayed at the school for three months, as opposed to three weeks. OLPC implementation in Mboro also has "local champions," namely an enthusiastic school principal and a peace corps volunteer.

Keur Sadaro lacks such a local champion, Balkie said. "There are too many people who don't understand what this is really about," he said. Teachers are worried that the laptops will jeopardize their jobs, and they don't know how to integrate them into their lesson plans. In addition, many teachers are reluctant to learn how to use the laptops themselves. The laptops look like kids' toys, and because of that the adults don't want to use them, he said. It's also frustrating for teachers to spend two weeks learning a technology that takes the children two days to master. "It's a cultural thing," Mr. Balkie said.

The laptop project is also embroiled in village politics and "local bickering," Balkie said. School personnel harbored resentment toward Mr. Cusin for paying an outside individual $10 to guard the solar panels instead of one of the school's own personnel. Balkie conjectured that the theft of the solar panels was an inside job: a way for the school to get revenge.

Without someone in Keur Sadaro to sustain the project, the responsibility to "make things happen" falls on Mr. Cusin in San Francisco. Despite Mr. Cusin's weekly phone contact with the village, three weeks of in-person contact per year is not enough, Mr. Balkie said. Ultimately, deployment failed in Keur Sadaro because "there was no support mechanism after the fact."
Andrew Kleindolph – technician/volunteer at Lick-Wilmerding High school
If concrete computing skills were 'foreign concepts' to the people of Keur Sadaro, a sense of computers' value was not, said electronics teacher Andrew Kleindolph. Before the launch of the cultural exchange program, Mr. Kleindolph traveled to Keur Sadaro with a group of teachers from Drew and Lick-Wilmerding High Schools to assess the potential of the village as a community service site. The teachers assisted in forming a village council of ten individuals to help determine the village's needs. Along with electricity and a garden, the council requested an internet café. The council hoped such a resource would make computers accessible to all members of the community.

However, with their "cute software" and tiny keyboards, the OLPC laptops are designed for children, Kleindolph noted. In theory, the children could have taken the laptops home to teach their parents. But because of the risk of damage or theft, the American volunteers ensured (with some exceptions) that the laptops did not leave the school.

"I think the physical object is great," Kleindolph said of the XOs. However, he said the software was clearly designed by engineers, not educators. Despite their kid-friendly appeal, the activities have limited application for long-term classroom use. What's more, it took two high school directors of technology to figure out how to use the laptops, and Kleindolph regarded with skepticism the claim that the laptops could be easily installed anywhere in the developing world. "If we didn't have [OLPCs] donated to us, we probably wouldn't have sought them out," he said.

Though teachers and other adults did not react negatively to the OLPCs, many community members showed "an attitude of 'I don't care'" and seemed to be asking the question, "'If you're going to give us things, why are you giving us these?'" Kleindolph said. Some individuals didn't make the connection between the tiny green laptops and a better future, considering the garden much more valuable to their daily lives, Kleindolph said. Among young people, the OLPCs attracted the kind of "immediate fascination" afforded any piece of technology. "They love to have and mess around with any trinket not in conflict with their religion," he said.

Kleindolph's main task was not teaching the use or imparting the importance of the laptops, but installing solar panels for internet connection. The installation went smoothly. The volunteers even bolted down the panels and hired a guard to protect them. But in the fall of 2009, the teachers at Drew and Lick received bad news: the solar panels had been stolen. And of course, no solar panels meant no internet.

But these solar panels were only "a quick fix" to begin with, Kleindolph clarified. The best (though more costly) solution would have been to hook up electricity using the existing power lines. Even before the theft, such longer term wi-fi attempts had been made without success. For this failure Kleindolph blames Mr. Balkie's company, Green WiFi. "Green WiFi hasn't followed through on their end of the deal," Kleindolph said. "There's always a new excuse and I don't understand why."
Inferring Local Responses
Ousmane, principal of a school within an hour's drive of Keur Sadaro, was the closest thing to a "local champion" for Keur Sadaro. While not a resident of the village, Ousmane agreed to check up on laptops once every two weeks to see that everything was working properly, Mr. Kleindolph said. After the solar panels were stolen, Ms. Nauss said she tried to contact Ousmane to see what actions had been taken, and how residents of Keur Sadaro have reacted to the theft. As of yet, she has received no response.

Without solar panels and without internet access, options for contacting inhabitants of the village directly are limited. For residents, phone calls are exorbitant and connections shaky. Waylin and Annika suggested that residents' testimonies have been best preserved in the laptops themselves. In one in-class writing assignment, a student and teacher alike wrote, "'we thank our American friends for bringing these computers and giving us this opportunity,'" Annika noted. Likewise, when Waylin's host brother, Mamadou Fam, was experimenting with the OLPC "Write" function, he typed a single line: "I'm very happy that I am able to use a computer."

Mr. Kleindolph hopes to one day set up a webcam in Keur Sadaro so that students in Keur Sadaro and San Francisco can regularly communicate. In turn, Drew and Lick could get up-to-date feedback about the impact and effectiveness of laptop use. But after the solar panel "quick fix" fell through, it is unclear when consistent internet access will make this global communication possible.
Other challenges of implementation
Kiko Mayorga lives in Peru and comments on the progress of the OLPC program in May 2009 (Mayorga 2009). She believes that the program is a failure because of the incompetence of the Education Ministry as well as the Peruvian government. Much as Bruce Balkie critiqued the local implementation of the OLPC project in Senegal, Kiko concludes that the method of implementing the laptops in Peru is completely inefficient and disorganized. She is frustrated because she has seen commercials on television and read interviews given by Hérnan Pachas, the head of the Peruvian OLPC initiative, that promote advances in schools as a result of the program. Kiko argues that these fabulous strides do not exist because many of the XO laptops do not even get connected to the Internet. It is also difficult to get in touch with teachers in order to train them to use the laptops. This is problematic because after being distributed, the laptops virtually disappear and can no longer be accounted for. The situation becomes worse if trouble arises with the computers because teachers and students do not have the support needed to assist them with the laptops.
In June of 2009, Wayan Vota posted an article in response to the banning of XO Laptops from schools in Ethiopia (Vota 2009). He states that this action was a result of the fundamental perception of education in Ethiopia and the rigid distinction between the student and the teacher. In Ethiopia, as in many other countries, the learning system is based on memorization. Students are expected to write down the information that the teacher puts on the board and memorize it. A standardized national test is administered to all students and assesses them on their memorization skills. In the Ethiopian educational system, teachers are omniscient and students are perceived to be less intelligent and therefore, are expected to simply listen at school and not ask questions. Vota concludes that the introduction of XO Laptops in Ethiopian schools subverted the fundamental nature of the teacher-student relationship because the students became more advanced than their teachers at using the new technology. The teachers felt threatened by this progression and parents did not view the laptop as a learning tool, but as a toy instead. The reason why the program failed was because the Ethiopian educational system was not prepared to fully integrate the laptops into the school system and alter the way that the students were taught. The learning system is still dependent upon memorization and although the children loved the laptops, this Western model of education, which emphasizes the importance of technology, will not help Ethiopian students to achieve the type of success that is considered culturally acceptable.
How does OLPC promote itself?

lukanyiso (2009) One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Skills Commercial. YouTube.com 3 March (www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBiSUYzOLrE last accessed 10 July 2011)

OLPC Foundation (2007) One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Give One Get One. YouTube.com 9 November (www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQbtebeftyA last accessed 10 July 2011.
How does a government promote the OLPC project?

cscottdotnet (2008) OLPC Peru: Children's Song. YouTube.com 3 December (www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQiA5F6AJcQ last accessed 10 July 2011)
Is OLPC a research organization or XO supplier?

' Guest writer' (2009) Evaluation & recommendations for OLPC organization. OLPC News 27 January (http://www.olpcnews.com/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
What do academics say about OLPC?

Fife, E. & Hosman, L. (2007) Public private partnerships and the prospects for sustainable ICT projects in the developing world. Journal of Business Systems Governance and Ethics. 2(3), 53-66 [download]

Hourcade, J.P., Beitler, D., Cormenzana, F. and Flores, P. (2008). Reflections on a pilot OLPC experience in Uruguay . CHI Workshop on HCI for Community and International Development. [download]
How is OLPC discussed in the mainstream media?

Charbax (2007) Preview: next sunday 60 minutes is about the OLPC. YouTube.com 18 May (www.youtube.com/watch?v=70lBCb3ET4Y last accessed 10 July 2011)

vishots (2008) Justin reviews the OLPC and reveals some neat applications. YouTube.com 18 May (www.youtube.com/wah?v=38UWBiRgOr4 last accessed 10 July 2011)
Is the XO laptop a commodity?

EnJie, L. (2007) Non-profit OLPC 'will be profitable for some'. Texyt.com 6 March (http://texyt.com/OLPC+profit last accessed 16 February 2011)

Roush, W. (2008) One Laptop Foundation blasts Intel, says world's children are mission, not market. Xconomy.com 4 January (http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2008/01/04/one-laptop-foundation-blasts-intel-says-worlds-children-are-mission-not-market/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
Does the production of the XO involve fair labor practices?

'Guest writer' (2007) Will Quanta produce 10 million fair labor OLPC XO's in 2007? OLPC News 5 February (/www.olpcnews.com/hardware/production/quanta_olpc_xo_2007.html last accessed 16 February 2011)
How has the XO laptop been received by technology enthusiasts?

Harris, M. (2008) OLPC XO-1 (One Laptop Per Child) Review. CNet.co.uk 7 January (http://reviews.cnet.co.uk/netbooks/olpc-xo-1-one-laptop-per-child-review-49294941/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
Wayan Vota interview
This brief interview between Wayan Vota, publisher of OLPC News and Jenna Harris took place in October 2009 by telephone.

Jenna Harris: What is your personal experience with OLPC?

Wayan Vota: I became interested in the organization after being introduced to it by a friend. I have always been an active blogger and after doing a little research about OLPC, I realized that there was some misinformation about the organization online. I decided to create a space where people could have open discussions about OLPC, including positive and negative aspects.

JH: What are some of the present reactions to OLPC?

WV: People think that it is a great idea that employs revolutionary technology. But the problem is that OLPC still has not figured out how to fully adapt the program for developing countries. The idea is to target an entire country at once because OLPC has the opinion that countries should spend their resources on children and not on guns. These countries are still required to pay $200 per laptop for each child, except they do not have this type of funding.

JH: Why has there been a great deal of controversy surrounding the implementation of the program in the US?

WV: Originally, OLPC did not distribute laptops to areas in the United States. The XO model is designed specifically for primary school age children in the developing world. It would not be as beneficial for primary school children in the US or even secondary school children because it is a specialized tool with a specific usage. In the US, parents and children hear the term "$100 laptop" and instantly visualize a Mac, creating a different expectation. Children in the United States will see the XO as a toy, rather than as a learning tool because they have been exposed to more powerful computers. There is a cultural difference there.

JH: What has been the difference between the communities where the implementation of the XO laptops have been successful and those that have been hindered by other obstacles?

WV: The communities were the XO has been the most beneficial have been those where the laptop was just one aspect of the overall investment in education. It was part of a new effort to change the way that education was taught in the community.

Sources and further reading

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AMD (2009b) Contact Us. amd.com (www.amd.com/us-en/Corporate/AboutAMD/0,,51_52_3592,00.html last accesed 14 November 2009)

Anon (2008) Summer/cultural exchange – Senegal. drewschool.org (www.drewschool.org/drew_life/summercultural08.aspx last accessed 14 November 2009)

Anon (2009) Polysilicon FAQ. hokuscientific.com (www.hokuscientific.com/polysilicon_faq.php last accessed 16 February 2011, link now dead)

Anon (nd a) Hardware uniqueness. wiki.laptop.org (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Hardware_uniqueness last accessed 16 February 2011)

Anon (nd b) Hardware specification – OLPC. wiki.laptop.org (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Hardware_specification last accessed 16 February 2011)

Anon (nd c) Quanta CLI Series Test Report. wiki.laptop.org (http://wiki.laptop.org/images/3/36/Packagedrop.pdf last accessed 16 February 2011)

Anon (nd d) Deployment Guide. wiki.laptop.org (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Deployment_Guide last accessed 16 February 2011)

Bennett, A. (2008) One Million OLPC Laptops Confirmed. ITWorld.com (www.itworld.com/070215olpc last accessed 16 February 2011)

BYD (nd) Welcome to BYD. bydit.com (http://bydit.com/ last accessed 14 November 2009)

Camfield, J. (2007) OLPC Power Boost: LiFePO4 Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery. OLPC News 26 March (http://www.olpcnews.com/hardware/power_supply/olpc_power_boost_lifepo4.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Clark, L. (2007) A Conversation with Mary Lou Jepsen. ACM Queue November/December  (http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1331291 last accessed 16 February 2011) [download]

‘Dan’ (2008) Polysilicon Producers at a Glance. solar.calfinder.com 23 April (http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/products/polysilicon-producers-at-a-glance/ last accessed 16 February 2011)

Dolley, T. (2009) Mineral commodity summary: Quartz Crystal (industrial). Washington DC: US Geological survey (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/silica/mcs-2009-quart.pdf last accessed 16 February 2011) [click for other USGS commodity statistics and information].

EnJie, L. (2007) Non-profit OLPC ‘will be profitable for some’. Texyt.com 6 March (http://texyt.com/OLPC+profit+$100+laptop+manufacturing+notebook+developing+world+negroponte last accessed 16 February 2011)

Fujitsu (2009) Fujitsu at a Glance. fujitsu.com (www.fujitsu.com/global/about/profile/info/ last accessed 14 November 2009)

Green WiFi (2009) Home page. green-wifi.org (www.green-wifi.org/ last accessed 14 November 2009)

‘Guest writer’ (2007) Will Quanta Produce 10 Million Fair Labor OLPC XO’s in 2007? OLPC News 5 February (www.olpcnews.com/hardware/production/quanta_olpc_xo_2007.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Harris, M. (2008) OLPC XO-1 (One Laptop Per Child) Review. CNet.co.uk 7 January (http://reviews.cnet.co.uk/laptops/0,39030092,49294941,00.htm last accessed 16 February 2011)

Hille, K. (2007) Quanta launches ultra-low-cost PCs. Financial Times (UK) 28 March (www.ft.com/cms/s/2/6d086a62-dcb3-11db-a21d-000b5df10621.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Jaskula, B. (2009) Mineral commodity summary: Lithium. Washington DC: US Geological survey (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/lithium/mcs-2009-lithi.pdf last accessed 16 February 2011) [click for other USGS commodity statistics and information]

‘John, Ed, and the OLPC Tech team’ (2009) XO Laptop Gen 1.5: with VIA C7-M 1GHz Performance! OLPC News 17 April (www.olpcnews.com/laptops/xo15/xo_laptop_gen_15_with_via_c7-m.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Lin, C. (2006) Quanta to produce US$100 laptops in Jiangsu. DigiTimes 24 August (www.emsnow.com/newsarchives/archivedetails.cfm?ID=14065 last accessed 16 February 2011)

Marvell (2009) Marvell: Company Overview. marvell.com (www.marvell.com/ last accessed 14 November 2009)

Mayorga, K. (2009) OLPC Peru is Still Far from Our Goals. OLPC News 8 May (www.olpcnews.com/countries/peru/olpc_peru_far_from_goals.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

McDougall, D. (2009) In search of Lithium: The battle for the Third Element. Daily Mail (UK) 5 April (www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1166387/In-search-Lithium-The-battle-3rd-element.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Nelson, S. (2009) Silicon Valley’s secret recipe. BBC News 2 August (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8178580.stm last accessed 16 February 2011)

Oates, J. (2006) India rejects One Laptop Per Child. The Register 26 July (www.theregister.co.uk/2006/07/26/india_says_no_to_olpc/ last accessed 2 September 2011)

OLPC (nd a) Vision. laptop.org (http://laptop.org/en/vision/index.shtml last accessed 16 February 2011)

OLPC (nd b) Laptop. laptop.org (http://laptop.org/en/laptop/index.shtml last accessed 16 February 2011)

OLPC (nd c) Laptop Hardware > Specs. laptop.org (http://laptop.org/en/laptop/hardware/specs.shtml last accessed 16 February 2011)

OLPC (nd d) Mission. laptop.org (http://laptop.org/en/vision/mission/index.shtml last accessed 16 February 2011)

OLPC (nd e) Children > Countries. laptop.org (http://laptop.org/en/children/countries/index.shtml last accessed 16 February 2011)

OLPC (nd f) Consultants au Saint-Louis (translated from the French). laptop.org (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/PlanDAction last accessed 16 February 2011)

Quanta (2007) About Quanta. quantatw.com (http://www.quantatw.com/Quanta/english/about/company.aspx last accessed 14 November 2009)

Romera, S. (2009) In Bolivia, Untapped Bounty Meets Nationalism. New York Times 2 February (www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/world/americas/03lithium.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&emc=eta1 last accessed 16 February 2011)

Roush, W. (2008) One Laptop Foundation blasts Intel, says world’s children are mission, not market. Xconomy.com 4 January (www.xconomy.com/boston/2008/01/04/one-laptop-foundation-blasts-intel-says-worlds-children-are-mission-not-market/ last accessed 16 February 2011)

Samsung (2009) About Samsung. samsung.com (www.samsung.com/us/aboutsamsung/index.html last accessed 14 November 2009)

VIA (2009) VIA Corporate Overview. via.com.tw (www.via.com.tw/en/company/ last accessed 14 November 2009)

Vota, W. (2007) OLPC XO-1: Now $205 Dollars Per Laptop in Uruguay. OLPC News 14 September (www.olpcnews.com/sales_talk/price/olpc_uruguay_205_dollars_laptop.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Vota, W. (2009) XO Laptops are Banned in OLPC Ethiopia Classrooms. OLPC News 16 June (www.olpcnews.com/countries/ethiopia/xo_laptop_banned_from_class.html last accessed 16 February 2011)

Keep track of new developments here

  1. OLPC Official Website (http://one.laptop.org/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
  2. OLPC Wiki (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/The_OLPC_Wiki last accessed 16 February 2011)
  3. OLPC Community Support Forum (http://en.forum.laptop.org/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
  4. Flickr OLPC Photostream (www.flickr.com/photos/olpc/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
  5. OLPC News (www.olpcnews.com/ last accessed 16 February 2011)
  6. ‘Questioning OLPC’ blog (http://questioningolpc.blogspot.com/ last accessed 16 February 2011, now removed)

Photo credit

Vota, V. (2006) OLPC Children's Machine XO Laptop Computer. Flickr Creative Commons (www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/212196724/ last accessed 23 March 2011)

Edited and posted by Jeff Bauer & Ian Cook (last updated September 2011). Page created for followthethings.com as part of the ‘Anthropologies of global connection’ course, Brown University.