One Laptop per Child not the only answer

Intel's withdrawal from the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project highlights the plight of millions of school children who will remain without access to IT skills and education, warns Louise Richards, newly-appointed CEO of Computer Aid International, the world’s largest not-for-profit supplier of computers to developing countries.


Following OLPC’s request for partner Intel to stop backing rival low-cost laptop, the Classmate, Intel has withdrawn from the project citing ‘impossible’ philosophical differences. This is yet another setback in the IT industry’s attempt to provide school children in the developing world with access to affordable technology. In the same week, a lawsuit in Nigeria means OLPC’s hands are tied in that country until the claim is resolved.

There is an urgent need to provide hundreds of thousands of PCs for schools, colleges and universities in the developing world to bridge a yawning digital divide. If we are to have a chance of meeting this need, the IT industry must unite in support of practical solutions that can deliver PCs on a scale and within a timeframe that will make a difference to the millions of school children who have never even seen a PC, let alone used one.

The manufacturing process of any PC requires the consumption of over ten times its own weight in fossil fuels and 75% of a PC’s fossil fuel consumption happens before it is even switched on. Experts predict that 100 million working Pentium 4 computers will be decommissioned globally in 2008 as the Vista upgrade cycle reaches its peak. Computer Aid is concerned that these PCs could be a massive wasted resource.

Michael Dell has pointed out that the millions of functioning PCs that come out of circulation annually offer a much more realistic option for the world’s poorest children than producing new equipment – at a fraction of the cost.

We are urging UK companies to give their obsolete PCs a productive second life in classrooms and hospitals in the developing world. In an increasingly global economy, it is essential that the world’s poorest countries have the technical means and skills base to help develop their economies, thus helping to break the grinding cycle of poverty.

Although the OLPC scheme is an admirable initiative, there are thousands of existing decommissioned PCs which can be sent out to developing countries, thus extending the life of the PC and helping to provide the vital skills needed to help these countries to work their way out of poverty.

While the OLPC’s wind-up power provision and low-power requirement could be seen as attractive features for developing countries, the cost of the unit and minimum order requirement of one million units make the device less accessible to poverty stricken countries. Computer Aid is already helping to reduce poverty on a global scale by providing PCs to schools, colleges and hospitals throughout the developing world.

Simply getting rid of an obsolete PC is a waste when this equipment can go on to provide several years of additional service on a desk in Africa, helping the user to gain valuable IT skills, which will be vital to their country’s development.

Computer Aid International has been working tirelessly for ten years to help bridge the global digital divide and in doing so has proved that re-use does work. We have shipped over 100,000 PCs to more than 100 developing countries, 5,000 of which have gone to schools and colleges in Nigeria alone. With the help of the UK IT industry, we could double this achievement within 12 months.

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