Rich Nations May Sponsor $100 Laptops

The head of the One Laptop Per Child project is talking to wealthy countries to help get financing for his innovative education plan

Professor Nicholas Negroponte, head of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, responsible for the $100 laptop, has revealed the OLPC is in discussions with a number of rich countries about orders for the low-cost devices - although they will be buying them for poorer economies, not themselves.

Speaking to at ITU Telecom World in Hong Kong, Negroponte said the OLPC is in discussions with Finland, which may order laptops for Namibia, that the United Arab Emirates is considering some for Pakistan, and France may sponsor laptops for French-speaking African countries.

However, Negroponte said he won't be seeking to take the laptop to poorer countries in Europe. "The only reason to talk to Europe, the US, Japan… is to finance other children [in developing economies]," he said.

He added that the OLPC is now in discussions with Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and a group of eight central American countries which will be seeking financing and placing an order as a single unit.

Negroponte told that, contrary to press reports, he has not heard the Thai government has abandoned its order following the country's peaceful coup in September.

He said: "They haven't told us that they're not doing that. We were very aligned with the previous government and when that changed that hurt us." Negroponte will be flying out to Thailand soon to meet with the Thai royal family and new government to learn if the plans to introduce the $100 laptop are on course.

Some critics of the project, including the Indian education secretary, believe the money invested in the $100 pieces of hardware would be better off spent on more traditional education materials. It's an idea Negroponte rejects. "People say if a child is malnourished, he doesn't have drinking water, he's sick, why do you want to give him a laptop? Substitute the word 'education' for 'laptop' and you'll never ask that question again."

According to the head of the OLPC, too many people are focused on the technological aspect of the device - it’s made headlines for choosing open source software, its price, its mesh networking properties and its battery - rather than its pedagogical aims.

He said: "It's an education project not a laptop project. For people it's like the hazard of being a beautiful blonde - people pay attention to the wrong thing. It's almost an attractive nuisance. We were driven by the elimination of poverty. With building more schools, it would take forever and ever. What we're trying to do in the meantime is get more children to do more on their own."