OLPC for Birmingham, Alabama?

I just submitted this to Slashdot, as I think it’s interesting what the end result will be? Will the OLPC get squeezed out? Will US kids like ’em (I think they will).

bettlebrox writes Birmingham, Albama, may be the first US city to purchase the OLPC, per the Boston Herald:

‘The City Council has approved a $3.5 million plan to provide Birmingham schoolchildren with 15,000 computers produced by the nonprofit One Laptop per Child Foundation, which is putting low-cost laptops in the hands of poor children in developing countries. The city School Board still must agree to the deal, and some members have reservations. They want proof that computers designed for the remote African bush or the mountains of South America operate properly in an American city already laced with computer networks.

“Third World countries just don’t have some of the issues that we have to deal with, like liability and networking,” ‘

Other concerns they have include training for teachers and kids, and responsibility if OLPC’s are lost or stolen from a child.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea, they’re easy to use (even for teachers), it’s a great way encourage kids to be more computer (and maybe programming) savvy, and it allows for easy online social networking. Also, kids and families can easily pool wireless connections using the OLPC, and it should work seamlessly with any existing networks.

What can we tell the School Board (if they read Slashdot) to address their concerns? And how soon do you think it’ll be before some major US software company offers them free computers running a different OS instead? Also, is it me or does the attitude of the article seem to imply that as this is for poor foreign children that’s it not good enough for Amerikan kids?”
http://www.bostonherald.com/news/national/south/view.bg?articleid=1077975&srvc=rss

One thought on “OLPC for Birmingham, Alabama?”

  1. Full text of the article:

    Birmingham 1st U.S. city to buy laptops meant for Third World
    By Associated Press | Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | http://www.bostonherald.com | U.S./ South Region

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – If low-cost laptop computers are good for kids in Peru and Mongolia, why not Alabama?

    The City Council has approved a $3.5 million plan to provide Birmingham schoolchildren with 15,000 computers produced by the nonprofit One Laptop per Child Foundation, which is putting low-cost laptops in the hands of poor children in developing countries.

    The foundation says the deal marks the first time a U.S. city has agreed to buy the machines, which also are headed to countries including Rwanda, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico.

    The city school board still must agree to the deal, and some members have reservations. They want proof that computers designed for the remote African bush or the mountains of South America operate properly in an American city already laced with computer networks.

    “Third World countries just don’t have some of the issues that we have to deal with, like liability and networking,” school board member Virginia S. Volker said.

    But the council worked past such worries Tuesday to reach a compromise plan to purchase computers from the Cambridge, Mass.-based, One Laptop per Child. The city will pay $3 million for the machines and give schools $500,000 to sort out any technical issues. A laptop will be available for every child in grades 1-8.

    Mayor Larry Langford, who came up with the idea for the laptops, says the machines will give many inner-city children their first access to a computer. About 80 percent of the system’s students received free or reduced-price lunches.

    “The No. 1 objective is to get the computers to the kids,” said Langford. He wants the laptops distributed by fall.

    The XO laptops — which are white and green with antennae resembling ears — are the dream of Nicholas Negroponte, a former MIT professor who founded One Laptop per Child with the goal of getting low-cost computers into the hands of children in underdeveloped nations.

    Originally nicknamed the “$100 laptop,” the computers will actually cost the city twice that much. While the foundation says it hopes to reduce the price in the future, the current cost is higher on the front-end of the production curve.

    Foundation spokeswoman Jackie Lustig said One Laptop per Child believes its machines, produced by Quanta Computer Inc. in Taiwan, will work in Alabama as well as they operate in Lima, Peru, where 40,000 recently were delivered.

    “They are designed principally for children in developing countries where they don’t have any technology. I’m sure there will be some compatibility issues to sort out, but that should not be a show stopper,” she said.

    After his election last year, Langford began promoting the idea of purchasing thousands of XO laptops for children in Birmingham, which is dealing with declining enrollment, poverty, funding shortages and other problems common to inner-city school systems. The board recently voted to close 16 of its 65 schools in a system with 28,000 students.

    Volker, the school board member, likes the idea of laptops for students. But she said Langford didn’t think through the plan before committing millions of tax dollars to pay for the machines, which will go to students in grades 1 through 8.

    Birmingham schools lack wireless networks needed to get the laptops online, she said, and the system doesn’t have enough technology workers to train teachers, much less students, on the computers.

    Langford wants to let students take the machines home, but who pays if one is lost or broken?

    “Thinking of public money, I am very reluctant to make a commitment on this until we are sure we can afford it,” Volker said.

    Reviews of XO laptops have been mixed, with praise for their simplicity, ruggedness and price but complaints that U.S. children may be turned off by the basic programming, which operates on a free version of Linux and doesn’t typically operate Windows or Mac programs.

    ———

    On the Net:

    City of Birmingham: http://www.informationbirmingham.com

    One Laptop per Child Foundation: http://laptop.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *