OLPC Australia Is Going to be Disappointed


Recently, OLPC Australia has some interesting coverage by The Australian, the biggest-selling national newspaper in Australia. Press articles that may be misleading its readership to believe that XO laptops can accomplish miracles.

Here's the two stories in question. Tell me if you too think they're a bit over the top:

  • Laptops to lead children out of poverty
    [OLPC Australia] aims to provide the laptops to 400,000 children aged 4-15 in remote and regional Australia by 2014, to give them the same educational opportunities as their metropolitan peers. Doomadgee is the organisation's first foray into Queensland. By next month, the organisation will have provided nearly 4000 laptops to children in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

    The Australian and its parent company, News Limited, have been supporting OLPC since 2005 alongside corporate sponsors the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra. The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, said the newspaper was proud of its long-standing support. "Education is one of the most important things you can give a child," he said. "This program helps give kids in remote parts . . . educational opportunities they've never had before - opportunities we take for granted in the cities."

  • XO laptop impervious to tough conditions
    When technology big-thinker Nicholas Negroponte decided to do something about bridging the digital divide he hit on the idea of producing a laptop tough enough and cheap enough for Third World service. The result was the cheap, simple and rugged One Laptop Per Child XO.

    The $300 XO is built to survive dust, rain and being dropped, has no moving parts and can be repaired in the field. The case is made of thick plastic and twin WiFi antennae latch the laptop closed so it can be carried with what becomes a handle. The 1.5kg laptop has a water and dust-proof keyboard and an ingenious 19cm LCD screen that is clear even in bright sunlight. In this regard it shames high-end laptops that sell for many multiples of its price.

As you can see, the article titles don't really match their content, and should put the reader on notice that these are News Corporation publications.


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Sometimes there is a lot of overly idealistic hype surrounding what the XOs and Sugar are offering, but the two articles here aren't in that category in my view. The first headline "Laptops to lead children out of poverty" is perhaps over the top, but the writer of the article and the writer of the headline are not always the same person. And if you substitute the word "education" for "laptop" in that headline, then few people will disagree. The question then is whether the XO laptop is equivalent to an education. The articles don't address that question. What is without doubt though is that the XOs, even right now, are an amazing tool for education. It all depends on how that tool gets used.

Kevin writes:

"And if you substitute the word "education" for "laptop" in that headline, then few people will disagree."

Absolutely true. In fact, I often wonder: if my grandmother had a moustache, she would be my grandfather. Amazing!

Actually, the Australian has a very small readership for a national newspaper, we're not talking the same demographic as USA Today. It's core audience is the country's media and business elites.

What these and other articles in The Australian indicate is that News Corp, as a founding donor in the development of the XO, is simply getting behind the local charity arm with an ongoing campaign of publicity to raise awareness. The editor's comment that he is "proud of its long-standing support" is a clear indication that his position is to actively and transparently promote OLPC in Australia. This is great for the program in Australia except that it's promotion dressed up as news and thus invites the critical response that Wayan has understandably taken.

OLPC Australia has been very successful in gaining corporate support for OLPC as an attractive vehicle for corporate social responsibility programs. This is in keeping with its profile in Australia as a registered charity with tax deductible status.

I had always had a hard time replying to that silly syllogism of swapping education/laptops. Now we're all prepared!

Mephisto, if we ever compile "the best of OLPCNews", this latest of yours has to be in!

But just to have objective data in, I'll try it out in Gimp with a picture of my grands - oh wait, my granddads didn't use moustache... hmmm, foiled again, I guess :-)

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