OLPC in Argentina by the Numbers


Back when the One Laptop Per Child project was announced, and Nicholas Negroponte was still claiming a $100 dollar laptop price point, Taran Rampersad noted that its really a $100 million dollar laptop - you have to order them in one million unit blocks.

The 2B1 Children's Machine is now $138 dollars per laptop, making the minimum order price $138 million just for the laptops. How might this price affect a country like Argentina, a relatively rich developing world country and one of the initial OLPC partner countries?

First, lets look at some numbers from the CIA World Fact Book and The World Bank:

  • Children 15 or under: 10 million
  • Literacy at 15 and over: 97.1%
  • Internet users: 10 million (2005)
So first of all, if Argentina bought 1 million 2B1 laptops, it may increase Internet users by 10% but would only reach 10% of children under 15. Or as Alexander Piscitelli, General Manager of Argentina's Ministry of Education, Center of Technology and the main OLPC government counterpart, said in an interview with Cecilia Bazán via a Google translation:

An Argentine Student
First, it is necessary to see if the Argentine government buys first the million computers, something that this in evaluation. Although it bought them, and to the original value, a million machines are nothing in a country that has 10 million and means of students. It is the 10 percent of the population.

It would be necessary to every year buy a million, during 10 years. In addition, 850 thousand boys enter every year to the educative system. You would have to always buy a million machines.

So what might the effect of an annual million laptop computer purchase have on the Argentine education budget? Again, more numbers:
  • Total Federal expenditures: $39.98 billion
  • Public expenditure on education: $5.6 billion per year
  • Number of students per teacher: 17
  • Public expenditure on education minus teachers salaries: $300 million
So if we do simple math (great for OLPC income predictions too) we find that $138 million per year would consume half of the non-salary education budget nationwide for only 10% of the student body per year. And before you suggest that Argentina borrow the money from other sources, here is one last sobering number
  • Public debt: 72.5% of GDP
Let's not forget that $138 million dollars only buys 2b1 Children's Machines, not any related hardware, software, or more importantly teacher training. Alexander Piscitelli says it best with:
It is not unthinkable from the budgetary point of view, would be very expensive now and more cheap within four years. But the subject is not that one, but something much more complex: what takes control of the machines, the subject of the connectivity, what happens with the educational ones, the logistics...
Yes, Mr. Piscitelli, that is what I worry about most too, the total cost and implementation methodology of everything around One Laptop Per Child 2B1 Children's Machine one million unit purchases, not the computers themselves.

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Argentina is piece of cake, my friend.

Take a look at some brazilian numbers and you'll see that OLPC has a bigger problem.

Its always important to remember that the cost of infrastructure to support a deployment of OLPC is going to be one half of the equation.

Anyone that looks purely at 'the cost of laptops' without looking at the bigger picture are fooling not only themselves but also the users. Mr. Piscitelli has certainly highlighted the need for guidlines to be developed in the usage of the laptops and how the products would slot in to an educational system.

The laptop is a tool. We need to develop the machine.

Among the more glaring errors in the article, you complain that $138 does not include the price of software. All necessary software is free (both senses) on the laptops, in case you hadn't noticed.


The basic software will come with the laptop, but education software will be developed for it on a commercial basis. To quote Christopher Blizzard of OLPC:

"And with regards to the software, we’re not really building educational software for the laptop. We don’t consider it our job, we’re just building the basic tools to let those kinds of things flourish. And you can imagine that with an install base in the millions that that kind of software is likely to pop up for sale."


That's why I've been a skeptic all along:


The numbers are a bit better than you imply, with regards to the number of students covered. The goal is for the computers to last 5 years. So if you give every 13 year old a computer, it should last until they are 18. If there are 10 million children under 15, and they are evenly distributed over all ages, there should be around 650,000 13 year olds in Argentina.

Of course, ideally children would get the computer at a younger age, maybe 8. If they get a computer at 8 and 13, then that is 1,300,000 computers per year. A substantial number to be sure, but that's for sustained, complete coverage of all children in Argentina (though not initial costs starting from 0 laptops), it's not just the 10% coverage you give.

Other factors are that the cost of the laptop is expected to go down in future years (as the laptop's capabilities will not increase substantially), and the laptop offsets the need for printed textbooks, which are themselves not an insignificant educational cost.


Alexander Piscitelli says there are about 850,000 kids who enter the educational system each year.

Initial starting laptop purchase for all students (850,000 students x 8-10 grades) or continued purchased (850,000 x 2 grades) assuming the optimistic OLPC estimated lifespan, or just every new class of 8 year olds (850,000), equipment (only!) purchases would still be at least half of the current non-salary Argentine education budget.

So what do you think will happen first:
1. the education budget jumps up to buy laptops
2. some other part of the education budget gets cut
3. Argentina doesn't buy 1 million OLPC's @ $140

In countries such as Argentina, presumably the laptops could be sold to students at a subsidized price, lowering the cost burden.

And in the early stages I could imagine lending the laptops to students a few weeks at a time, and just rotating them. There was, and still is, nothing "personal" about computers in schools in a lot of countries.

Why would they need to keep buying more OLPCs? They should just be lent to the students, like textbooks are. These things are just thin clients, it's not like the students store personal things on the laptops.

... I've in argentina, and let me tell you, they are not living in caves... there's a huge percentage of people that can very well buy their own computers at the 'developed country price ' (twice the underdeveloped's price?). Just check that they are ~35 millions and already 10 millions are connected to the internet... they should have a computer already...

What part of OLPC did you not understand? One Laptop Per Child specifically means they want every child to have a laptop, so tell me how sharing by rotation achieve their OLPC goal?

This whole OLPC thing isn't really about freedom of anything, especially when it comes to Free Source (BSD and Open Source: GPL.) Instead, it's about selling laptops and other questionable motives.

For example, just read about their NDAs with Marvell; thus, they're perpetuating the cycle of closing documentation by vendors to kernel developers.

OpenBSD has repeatedly called for fully open documentations to hardware interfaces and for redistribution rights of binary firmwares, but OLPC had sold out the Free Source community in general.


I live in Brazil and I am an educator, so I am aware of the impact OLPC would have in the country's current projects for covering the digital gap. However I feel that 1) although every kid in Brazil would just ***love*** to own a computer of any kind. 2) It would be wiser to spend this money in 1 million computers for schools, NGOs and neighbourhood associations, where they would achieve exactly the same effect (if not better, because they will be embedde into the educational environment and rules of use). One computer for every 20 students (quite achievable) would mean an impact on 20 million students. Now, MUCH better! Most Brazilian teachers I now are apalled at OLPCs goals. CDI (a grassroots NGO founded by Rodrigo Baggio in Rio) is now approaching a thousand computer labs manned by voluntary workers across the country, and has had a big impact among the youths in slums favelas. Just imagine 100,000 computer labs!!

is now approaching a thousand computer labs manned by voluntary workers across the country,

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