Bridging the digital divide by making computers for kids as common as pencils

May 15, 2005

A global education system in which a fully portable personal computer is as common as a pencil or textbook to school children even in the poorest nations is the vision of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, who next week will detail in Tokyo for the first time an accelerating international drive to mass manufacture a $100 laptop.

The brainchild of Prof. Nicholas Negroponte, the $100 laptop will be a full-color, full-screen portable computer that uses the cost-free Linux operating system. It will be rugged and powered by wind-up and other innovative sources of electricity for use in remote places. It will come enabled for wireless and cell phone Internet access, and "have USB ports galore" to accommodate potential additional peripheral devices such as a printer. Its current specifications are: 500 megahertz (processor speed), one gigabyte of memory, and an XVGA display.

Prof. Negroponte will address experts assembling in Tokyo Monday May 16 at an event entitled, "Toward the Realization of a Ubiquitous Network Society" (May 16-17, Keio Plaza Hotel; http://www.wsis-japan.jp), co-sponsored by the Government of Japan (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications), United Nations University and the International Telecommunication Union.

Roughly 400 experts from government, international organizations, the private sector and civil societies will attend the Tokyo conference and technology exhibition, setting the stage for the 2nd phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia, Nov. 16-18. The goals of the Summit include development of information and communication infrastructure that enables universal, sustainable, ubiquitous and affordable access by all, allowing people anywhere on Earth to access information and knowledge.

"Sadly, most educational systems that recognize the important need for computers meet that need with a roomful of desktops to which a child might go for a few hours per week," says Dr. Negroponte. "Computing should be like a pencil, you have your own (versus community pencils) and use it for all kinds of purposes, related to school, home, work and play.

"This model of computing calls for a lightweight, full-screen, full-color, fully-connected laptop. To achieve this, the MIT Media Lab has been developing a $100 laptop, with the idea that this can be provided on a very large scale worldwide. The ultimate goal is to have one laptop per child in the poorest and most remote regions of the world."

Developing cost-free software

For its part, United Nations University through its International Institute for Software Technology in Macau (UNU-IIST), is working on the "Open Computing Initiative," which aims to help developing countries create freely-available "open" software that works in particular on the cost-free Linux operating system.

UNU-IIST Director Mike Reed cites the critical importance, complementary to the $100 laptop initiative, of developing cost-free software adapted for local needs, pointing out projects in the past have given computers to impoverished schools "only to find they were unused because the schools could not pay for the software."

"The combination of a cheap laptop and free software would represent some of the most significant steps ever to bridge the digital divide," says Dr. Reed.

Through the UNU-IIST "Open Computing Initiative," headed by Scott McNeil, software programmers in the West link efforts with developing country counterparts who are new to open source software. Among other aims, the project will: Related UNU system-wide efforts include research and policy recommendations on environmental issues associated with the Information Society (the growing volume of high-tech trash, for example); promoting knowledge sharing through online learning activities that seek to promote open content and courseware -- the Global Virtual University, for example, and the Water Virtual Learning Centre developed by UNU-INWEH.

Says UN Under Secretary-General Hans van Ginkel, Rector of UNU: "The realization of a universally networked planet could contribute to the sharing of knowledge needed to collectively solve problems of pressing global concern - be they related to the environment, poverty, health or security.

"A ubiquitous network society should be consistent with long-term sustainability - personal, societal and environmental. Such a society should also be consistent with life-long learning. It is an important challenge for all of us, but in particular for the educational sector."

Dr. Negroponte says that while desktops can be made more cheaply than laptops, the latter's mobility is important.

"Bringing the laptop home engages the family. In one Cambodian village where we have been working, there is no electricity. Thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home."

He says the $100 laptop will accomplish "almost everything" possible with an expensive computer. However, "what it will not do is store a massive amount of data."

The $100 machines will not be sold to individuals but instead be distributed through ministries of education with initial orders limited to a minimum 1 million units. The first units are scheduled to be ready for shipment by the end of next year or early 2007.
-end-
For more information on Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Conference: Conference Secretariat (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan) +81-3-5253-5922, http://www.wsis-japan.jp; ubiquitous-jp@ml.soumu.go.jp

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973, UNU is an international community of scholars engaged in research, advanced training and the dissemination of knowledge related to pressing global problems. Activities focus mainly on peace and conflict resolution, sustainable development and the use of science and technology to advance human welfare. The University operates a worldwide network of research and post-graduate training centres, with headquarters in Tokyo.

Contacts: Wakako Kobayashi, Japan, +81-3-5467-1217 media@unu.edu, ubiquitous-jp@ml.soumu.go.jp/A>, onlinelearning@unu.edu

Brendan Barrett, +81-3-5467-1318; barrett@hq.unu.edu

Mike Reed, +853-6638283; +853-844316 (mobile) mike@iist.unu.edu

Terry Collins, +1-416-538-8712; +1-416-878-8712 (mobile) terrycollins@rogers.com

United Nations University

Related Education Articles from Brightsurf:

Applying artificial intelligence to science education
A new review published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching highlights the potential of machine learning--a subset of artificial intelligence--in science education.

Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.

How can education researchers support education and public health and institutions during COVID-19?
As education researchers' ongoing work is interrupted by school closures, what can they do to support education and public health institutions dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Online education platforms could scale high-quality STEM education for universities
Online and blended (online and in-person) STEM instruction can produce the same learning outcomes for students as traditional, in-person classes at a fraction of the cost, finds research published today in Science Advances.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

The new racial disparity in special education
Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought.

Education may be key to a healthier, wealthier US
A first-of-its-kind study estimate the economic value of education for better health and longevity.

How education may stave off cognitive decline
Prefrontal brain regions linked to higher educational attainment are characterized by increased expression of genes involved in neurotransmission and immunity, finds a study of healthy older adults published in JNeurosci.

Does more education stem political violence?
In a study released online today in Review of Educational Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, three Norwegian researchers attempt to bring clarity to this question by undertaking the first systematic examination of quantitative research on this topic.

Individual education programs not being used as intended in special education
Gone are the days when students with disabilities were placed in a separate classroom, or even in a completely different part of the school.

Read More: Education News and Education Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.