Most of the nearly two-billion children in the developing world are inadequately educated, or receive no education at all. One in three does not complete the fifth grade.
The individual and societal consequences of this chronic global crisis are profound. Children are consigned to poverty and isolation-just like their parents-never guessing what the light of learning could mean in their lives. At the same time, their governments struggle to compete in a rapidly-evolving, global information economy, hobbled by a vast and increasingly urban underclass that cannot support itself, much less contribute to the commonweal, because it lacks the tools to do so.
It is time to rethink this equation.
Given the resources that poor countries can reasonably allocate to education-sometimes less than $20 per year per pupil, compared to approximately $7500 spent annually in the U.S.-even a doubled or redoubled national commitment to traditional education, augmented by external and private funding, does not get the job done. Moreover, experience strongly suggests that incrementally doing more of the same-building schools, hiring teachers, buying books and equipment-is a laudable but insufficient response to the problem of bringing true learning possibilities to the vast numbers of children in the developing world.
It is instead a reliable recipe for going backward by standing still.
Any nation's most precious and valuable natural resource is its children. We believe the emerging world must leverage its children, tap their innate capacities to learn and share and create on their own. Our answer to that challenge is the XO laptop, a children's machine designed for "learning learning."
XO embodies the theories of constructionism first developed by Seymour Papert in the 1960s, and later elaborated upon by Alan Kay, plus principles articulated by Nicholas Negroponte in his book, Being Digital.
Extensively field-tested and validated among some of the poorest and most remote populations on earth, constructionism emphasizes what Papert calls learning learning as the fundamental educational experience. A computer uniquely fosters learning learning by allowing children to think, and then think about thinking, in ways that are otherwise impossible. Using the XO as both their window on the world, as well as a highly programmable tool for exploring it, children in emerging nations are opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential.
OLPC is not at heart a technology program and the XO is not a product in any conventional sense of the word. We are non-profit: constructionism is our goal; XO is our means of getting there. It is a very cool, even revolutionary machine, and we are very proud of it. But we would also be delighted if someone built something better, and at a lower price.
Until then, stay tuned.