"One Tennis Court Per Child" Computer Labs Are un-FAIR


Now that One Laptop Per Child is moving closer to an actual roll out, 3,500 Children's Machine XO's are headed out for field testing in February, other nonprofits in the same niche are starting to get nervous.

First up are the NGO's that focus on sending recycled computers to the developing world. Most of these efforts have a mixed track record. Projects that ship containers of randomly collected desktops without first culling the donation for usable computers and then investing much time and effort in the distribution and maintenance, are often seen more as transferring e-waste than helping recipient countries.

Then there is the whole argument against donations, that "free" decimates the local PC assembly market, that the developing world shouldn't be resigned to cast-offs, and that there is no provision for end-of-life computer recycling.

There are some standouts - SchoolNet Namibia has a great reputation in sustainable deployment of ICTs across the education sector. And FAIR International could also be another, though I don't know much about them past their website and this Eritrea feasibility study.

A FAIR/Eritrea computer lab

They aim to "become a premier ICT supplier providing world leadership in cost effective computer networks and communication solutions" and in emails with Terje Tjensvoll, he also claims that

FAIR reuse the computers as thin-clients, and take them back to Norway when they not longer work. […]We have to many successful projects, which shows that recycled computers are not to any burden for the benefit countries.
That may be so, but FAIR has taken it upon itself to go toe-to-toe with OLPC with a scathing press release:
FAIR accuses OLPC of misleading poor countries into taking a high investment risk for a new type of technology, the success of which is very uncertain.

With uncertain definitions of target groups and heavy international marketing, OLPC appears to be trying to create a need which has not existed before and which does not exist at all in the world's richer regions. Developing countries are thus being misled into measures which shift the focus away from their real needs.

While there is a nugget of truth to the statement, and the full press release has some valid points, I have to wonder why FAIR issued an OLPC broadside now as a press release. Might they see the reports that Finland might spend 44% of its $379 million in foreign aid on OLPC XO's for Namibia's 800,000 children and think Norway, FAIR's funder, would do the same?

No matter the worthiness of OLPC, richer countries only have a limited foreign aid budget and funding for OLPC would starve other aid programs of their already limited funding. Aid programs that unlike OLPC may have a long track record of documented successes in multiple countries.

Regardless of recycled computer effectiveness or funding squeeze, how might OLPC respond to this claim, that:

OLPC is heavily marketing its product's advantages without giving enough information about the weaknesses and pitfalls of the new technology. Attention is being directed away from the gaping deficiencies and the project's high risk and OLPC is being marketed as a "100 dollar laptop", when it really costs over USD 200.- plus other substantial investment costs.

Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC
On behalf of OLPC, Nicholas Negroponte took the lead and sent FAIR an email. Now, this is Dr. Negroponte, so its no ordinary "that wasn't nice" email. He starts off with a solid rebuttal of FAIR's complaints:
The developing world does not need children learning IT. They need children to learn learning itself.

It is not our policy to do anything but support efforts that provide access to children, including yours even though the economics of recycled computers or computer labs just do not hold or scale. If you or your people had looked more carefully you would have found how wrong your remarks were.

But then he gets down right blunt about the criticism. Blunt and seemingly threatening, with the impression that he and OLPC are way mightier than the lowly FAIR:
It seems to me that there are two choices at this time, to correct a situation of your own making. One is to remove your story and issue an apology of some sort. The other is enter into an unnecessary battle, where win or lose, the lose-lose people are those in Eritrea and other places that will learn sooner rather than later that computer labs are like tennis courts. Yes, you should have them. Yet, we do not advocate "one tennis court per child."
So while you're wondering how tennis courts came into this conversation (if you figure it out, let me know, I'm still lost on that one), FAIR should realize by now that its way out of its league and its OLPC improvement suggestions will be disregarded.

See, according to Nicholas Negroponte, criticising OLPC is like criticising the church, or the Red Cross. And you don't mess with either unless you have God, all that is good, and at least two different marketing company divisions on your side.

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Despite all the potential positives of the OLPC project, there is a disgusting arrogance that seems to permeate the public approach. Saldy, this arrogance seems to start at the top with Dr. Negroponte.

Perhaps someone should remind him that the world existed before he graced it.


Negroponte may have gone over the top and have used a confusing a metaphor, but he is right to take on FAIR.

FAIR's approach is not sustainable, in terms of waste, administration, and actual learning. You couldn't scale their computer labs to a national level. The amount of E-waste would be incredible, you would need reliable power for them, and the systems would be controlled by an adult system administrator.

Kids need to learn learning not just Microsoft Office. FAIR centralized approach will make the kids digital pawns not participants.

As a corporate IT manager, I love thin clients because they force my users to have exactly the same settings and keep them in a very narrow sandbox of applications that I predetermine. Those advantages become disadvantages in educational settings.

Further the system administration costs for throw away PC's is incredible. Each one is unique and would require special configuration. Also, you would need a supply chain for spare parts. The system administration costs could easily exceed $100 per system, even w/ cheap labor costs.

OLPC, fully tested or not, is the way forward. FAIR's computer labs are not.

The Tennis court analogy makes sence:

1. Tennis is a nice sport, and doing that kind of sport is a good thing for any child.

2. But having a Tennis court is not the best way to solve the problem of education.

3. Not every children can play on the tennis court at the same time.

4. Before playing Tennis, or learning to use Microsoft software, there are many other things the children want to be able to do.

First of all I will thank Wayan for the article.

Hello Jeff

You and Negroponte maybe jumping to conclusions to quickly?

One PC-lab per School (OPCS) with reused ICT-equipment can scale easily in every means, for the best of the environment and the digital divide.

As you now it is in an environmental perspective far better to continue to use for 4 to 7 years, than terminate 3 years old very well functional ICT-equipment

Because FAIR reuse ICT as thin-clients with Linux, companies with a FairRecycling-certificate can document the far highest reuse-percentage in the market. They can also document that they make a difference for the school- and health system in the third world. This is good Cooperate Social Responsibility (CSR) and look off course also good in public.

Good measurable CSR-programs are companies increasingly willing to pay for and this is financing the part FAIR needs beside official funding and other sources. (More info in our Annual Report in the upper right corner at www.fairinternational.org. )

Among many others has WWF-Norway, Amnesty-Norway, The official “pollution monitor” agency (www.sft.no), “the governmental consumeragency”, one university, 2 city's, 2 hospitals – big and small companies in most branches has chosen the worlds best way to give further life to their ICT-waste. (complete list at website)

150 - 200.000 thin clients for the third world is the full potential from Norway, and when Europe and US joins up will Africa, South-America and part of the Far East be covered in the school system included parts of the universities and health institutions.

If Negroponte and OLPC simultaneously worked with the same, and use the OLPC as thin clients in OPCS, the goal would be reached much faster.

You wrote: “Kids need to learn learning not just Microsoft Office. FAIR centralized approach will make the kids digital pawns not participants. “

Answer: As mentioned we use Linux, and we offer the same technology, and the same pedagogic approach we have used with success in USA and Europe for many years. Why should the poorest countries in the world experiment with something completely different that we even haven't tried ourselves yet, when it cost close to 100 times more than a well proven way, PC-labs for youngsters 12 to 18 years?

You wrote
“Further the system administration costs for throw away PC's is incredible. Each one is unique and would require special configuration. Also, you would need a supply chain for spare parts. The system administration costs could easily exceed $100 per system, even w/ cheap labor costs.”

When the PC-labs are arriving a school in the third world it is just "plug and play". We train locals in some simple things to do if thin client-pc fails. If that doesn't help he take it out and bring it to a FAIR-container in the region and get a new one. The broken ones are gathered in the container, and when full, shipped back to Norway, You where concerned that the amount of E-waste would be incredible, but this “take-back-system are also easy to scale.

At last: from our press releases: ( You can find them at www.fairinternational.) FAIR offer a holistic approach to the transfer of technology and knowledge between the north and the south, including hardware, software, installation, training, support, maintenance, software development, take-back system for EE-waste, advisory and last but not least – financing. Financing means that FAIR offer a financial model where a combination of the government, companies and private persons in the country of origin cover all the costs for the transfer of technology and competence to the recipient country in the south. The recipients are not charged for FAIRs products and services.

Sincerely yours
Terje Tjensvoll

One Laptop Per Child With Peace Education Process In Gaza Strip and West Bank

We would Like to see some body or "To Whom It May Concern" to help us to use "One Laptop Per Child" initiative project in our schools in Gaza Strip and West Bank. This is an "Educational Initiative for Peace, Peace Education One Laptop Per Child" by MIT Media Lab.

Dr. Fouad EL-Harazin, President
Gaza International Foundation for Peace On Earth. Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority
Tel/Fax: +970 8 282-4157

Terje, your model is outdated. W/in 2-3 years your group will be reduced to an OLPC integrator for poor countries. I know that may scare you after all the hard work and good intentions, but time will show it to be true.

to Dr. Fouad M. EL-Harazin

I will remember your words
I'm not wooried
here in the land of the rich rich
yet the poor countries will never get the fundings to chose OLPC for every child

their other problems is to great
sad, but true

best regards

Terje, I think we are arguing apples versus oranges here.

OLPC has a different set of goals than FAIR. OLPC starts with Papert's constructivist theory of education, and then asks how it could be implimented in the developing world. For that it needed a unique laptop computer, one that could run on human-supplied power and was rugged enough for children to take home with them. It also needed a unique gui and software.

So OPLC has been developing all this and selling it to governments. All this is going quite well, at least so far.

FAIR has a more conventional set of goals, namely to facilitate developing world students learning to use conventional computers and software, including conventional educational software. It has had, from what I understand, a fair amount of success at this approach.

It doesn't make sense for FAIR to critize oplc for carrying out a plan that doesn't meet FAIR's goals. The proper question, which you fail to address, is whether oplc's goals are legitmate. I would say they are. As to which plan will have the most success, my guess is that it will be oplc, but I could be wrong.

Hey Eduardo

Olpc adress the poorest countries on the globe, but so fare this countries has not ordered any olpc. One reason is maybe the cost ?

Cost, cost, cost ...

Oplc's goals are offcourse legitmate in the respect in trying to make the educationlevel better in the developing world. But in our book they haven't done their homework about the situation on the ground.

Some problems they will meet you can read about here:
"OLPC: yet another bad idea"

Olpc may offcourse be a success in some ways, but not for the 50 poorest countries. The targetgroup and marketing has been missleading, and we in FAIR beleive the risk is very present that olpc only will be a burden for the poorest buyers.

When poor countries buy olpc, and when the children leave "childschool", they don't find any ICT-equipment in any of the next steps of education. At the same time, the poorest coutries in the developing world are drained of huge fundings cause of a hight-tech product we even haven't tried ourself.

Why use this fundings in a "learn to learn toy", when the goal also is to eliminate the digital devide ?

With One PC-lab per School - you don't take that risk - and the olpc can easely be uses in this way - in far more levels of education.

with the developing world in focus

best regards

terje, I think you are coming at this from the wrong angle.

You want to put pc labs in all schools. That is a good goal. However, there is a real question as to how far you are going to get.

I don't know if olpc is going to succeed, but so far it has gotten an enormous amount of publicity, built some amazing hardware and softwar, and has the interest of the governments of a number of developing nations.

At this stage in the game, olpc is doing far better than your program. Instead of denouncing it as a fraud, I think it would be more useful in terms of promoting your own project if you looked carefully at why oplc has been so successful. Perhaps you might learn something that you could apply to your own, very valuable project.


the angel of the poor is what we are trying to have in mind
and it is off course yet to be seen that olpc is a success
for them

and when we truly believe that the olpc-angel is a waste of the developing nations resources
that they get a little for a lot of money

and the fact that we have unique insight in this field

isn't it then our duty to blow the whistle ?

the intentions behind olpc can be the very best, but that is not the issue
the issue is
why this big scale hurry experiment ?
5 mill OLPC ! x 200 USD ++ !
and they try to send the bill to the poorest of the poor - as many of them as possible ...

when there are no similar proven project in the west that could make the outcome less risky

when the main goal is to take away the digital divide .. .. isn't the right thing for the west
to provide something else than e brand new unproven concept and technology with a
"all or nothing" and "now or never" clausal ?

the amazing hardware and software are not in any case invented in wain, and we will all learn something from the olpc-project - no matter form or outcome - we have certainly learned allot already, and truly expect to learn more in the time to come – from olpc

best regards


and ...
you wrote:
"At this stage in the game, olpc is doing far better than your program"

Better in what respect?

Has OLPC some hundreds thousands of satisfied students in some hundred schools in 15 of the world’s poorest countries ?

olpc is doing better in media, but are not a success before the customers are happy also after a few years.

don't you agree ?


Terje, please disclose which development funds you are defending your case for again OLPC.

OLPC managed to cut cost of laptops by more than 3 times, and providing even new technologies not even available in current laptops like sunlight readabillity, ultra high resolution LED screen, Wi-Fi Mesh network, Educational Linux software, very quick boot, very low power usage, very smart CPU managment for low power.. And more.

Seriously. How can you find it constructive to critisize OLPC is totally amazing. You must be fighting with the Norwegian government against them sponsoring OLPC to some developping coutry instead of giving you the ICT development money or something like that.

OLPC plans to give 5 million children a laptop within the next 6 months, and you find it useful bashing the project in this way. That's really a sad marketing strategy you have.


if you read the top article on olpcnews
"One Environmentally Friendly Laptop Per Child"
and my comment to this
and consider what more you have red from FAIR
including my comments

can't you see possibilities that olpc can bee a disaster
even if the new technology emerged from the olpc-project is useful and amazing

fair and olpc is not in conflict in any funds
and as you know we also urge/invite olpc into our own “market”
as thin clients in “One PcLab per School” OPLS
it is so much undone regarding the digital divide
or the digital abyss
and our work is so effective and measurable
that we are not worried regarding not getting enough tasks

we are worried on behalf of the third world
that never will be able to make olpc as
a method for years to come

it to expensive for them to maintain and buy this to the coming generation
it is not a long lasting solution

the task is to get them up from the digital abyss
and at the same time do no harm to the environment

to do that we must give the youngsters
not the children

not a learning-tool to children
which – when they meet the next level of education
find no digital equipment

“OLPC plans to give 5 million children a laptop within the next 6 month”
you wrote
no sir, not give
sell- multiplied with 200 USD
to countries with no EE-waste management
and in fact no money for advanced “learn to learn” tool for children

you feel and mean that we
“find it useful bashing the project in this way”
in the light off course that you are convinced
that olpc is great for the poorest in the world

it will reveal itself what impact olpc will have
and i really do hope that you are right - and I am wrong

but if olpc is actually what I say - is it then the right thing to do
to shut up about it - just to avoid bashing an ongoing party?

for a moment - imagine that fair and I am right
then - if our effort helps just one country to say no thanks to olpc
you would be very happy on their behalf
and if our effort in the end brings olpc into the opls-method
in some regions – you have done something great

agree ?

Best regardz


YOu are spending all your time defending your program on this Blog. Nicholas Negroponte is not defending his program on this website or any other. He is too busy making OLPC happen.

That should tell you that he is looking toward the future while you are defending your tiny bit of territory.

This "territoriality" exposes the venality of so many NGO's. Sorry to hear that you will soon lose all your funding to a better idea.


Nicholas Negroponte is defending/promoting his idea incessantly, starting with http://www.laptop.org and continuing through many, many speeches:

No matter what Terje might do to question OLPC, it pales in comparison to Negroponte's sales job.

the future
will be both dark and bright

(thank u Wayan )

NGO's is mostly busy in making it brighter for the unfortunate
often partly caused of earlier an present exploiting by the rich world

xo is not yet sold to the poorest among the poor countries
for obvious reasons
and I can assure you that the need for free ICT-solutions in schools
free for them
will be huge for many, many years to come.

You may not know this
but olpc will be used by children between 8 and 12 years
while we serve children between 12 and 18

and to enlighten you even more
the most important message we have to Mr. Negroponte
is to invite him and olpc into our “market”
because we know that this is the fastest method for the developing countries
with their very limited access to money
to get up from the state of their digital darkness

is that to be afraid of loosing fundings
and to be “"territoriality"

no my friend
the need is greater than xo can solve
even if they join our strategy – our “market”
and the same sources of funding
which they do not do - today

i which you a nice future

best regards


The reason I think the OLPC is going to be a huge success, is that there are some truly wonderful people working on the project, redesigning the computer hardware and software from the ground up.

Alan Kay invented object oriented programming.
Seymour Papert invented Logo and Constructionism. They have been working with kids for many years, doing ground breaking research and changing many people's lives. Mary Lou Jepsen has reinvented the flat panel display, especially designed just for this project. The list of great people contributing to the project goes on and on -- those three names are just the tip of the iceburg.

The only way another project like yours is going to eclipse the OLPC project, is if you convince those people and others to work on it instead. And your approach of "scathing criticism" is certainly not going to work.

The OLPC is a textbook example of "Stone Soup" development. You may criticize the first stone, but that's not the point -- it's all the other ingredients that everyone brings to add to the soup, that make it so great. It's the fact that some brilliant people finally had the guts to take a few steps back and re-synthesize the entire system from top to bottom, so it all fits together nicely, focused on important goals like low power consumption, usability, colaboration, and education.


According to the story, some travellers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. The travellers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making "stone soup", which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager doesn't mind parting with just a little bit to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which hasn't reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all. The stone may or may not be reused in the next soup, and is not eaten.

This fable can be thought of as "The Emperor's New Clothes" in reverse, where nothing is revealed to be something, after all. The original stone was only a pretext to start the villagers sharing in a way that they would not have considered without the catalyst of the "stone soup" that they thought they were improving.

Interpretation and lessons

1. We can all work together, co-operate and end up better off.

2. If you want to get people to do something, don't tell them how desperately they are needed. Don't try to appeal to their sympathy and kindness. Instead, create the impression that you are giving them the opportunity to be part of your success.

Hello Don

I have no doubt that the XO is a good learning-tool, and that it will be useful for some ..

Yet, it will not be sold to the poorest countries in the world as OLPC, because of the cost.

We do not expect to be met with enthusiasm from people who are dedicated to the xo and olpc-project. We also believe that if we had pointed out our criticism with a softer approach, we would not have been heard. It is sad, but we are convinced that xo and olpc will be a much bigger burden for the buyers, than it will benefit them.

We think it is strange that this is not obvious for more, but the fairy tale from H. C. Andersen may partly explain this ?

Many years ago there lived an emperor who was quite an average fairy tale ruler, with one exception: he cared much about his clothes. One day he heard from two swindlers named Guido and Luigi Farabutto that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, also had the special capability that it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position.

Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so praised it. All the townspeople had also heard of the cloth and were interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were.

The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing. He was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.

Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said:

"But he has nothing on!"

This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor heard it and felt that they were correct, but held his head high and finished the procession.


best regards

constructivism does *not* work and never proven to work, unlike the Direct Instruction (DI) approach as shown by Project Follow Through. Children today are suffering because they have been taught to misread with whole language and rely on calculators because they've spent too much time 'discovering' basic algorithms that were established years ago.

With OLPC they won't even do that because they'll be playing with their new computers instead of learning. What's sad is that it's these children that absolutely can't afford to lose time learning and countries that don't have the luxury of millions of dollars to waste on unproven ideas.