Recently the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and OLPC donated 220 XO laptop computers to Bhutan for 20 community schools. These XO's will be part of a pilot program to see if the Bhutanese Department of Information and Technology should buy more. Yet Kuensel Online brings up an issue:
[A] major aspect of the XO laptop that may be underutilised in Bhutan is that most of the community schools, which will receive the computers, lack internet access. Since all the computers have wireless internet capability as part of its goal to create access to the world's information for the children that use it, this major option will not be available for another two years, said Bhim Suberi.
Now lets ask the larger question: Is the XO laptop a complete learning experience without Internet connectivity? Back with the boys from Bhutan, we hear that the XO laptop works just fine without Internet access:
[S]tudents will still be able to create local networks and exchange their information with each other, said Sonam Dukda, which would still make the experience entertaining for the students using it.
While that is a great sound-bite, do you think it is accurate? I have three XO laptops now, and its fun to use Speak or Squeak, but from the chatter on OLPC News Forum, I'd say Browse is the most used Activity on the XO. Kinda like Safari on the iPhone, the web browser opens up an endless landscape of information that's beyond the capacity of the XO memory.
Without Internet access, the XO has its tricks, but is it an offline Library of Alexandria? And can Bhutan really understand the XO's promise without Internet access in their pilot schools?