Negroponte: Criticising OLPC is like Criticising the Church

During a short break on the final day of the "Digital World Africa 2006 Conference", Nicholas Negroponte took the time to speak to Nigeria's Daily Vanguard newspaper. As well as promising that Nigeria will receive laptops first, Mr Negroponte makes an astonishing statement that criticising OLPC is like criticising the church:
[Q.] We understand that Bill Gates and some others in this business have criticized this initiative as untenable. What is your response to this?

[A.] I don't respond to such criticism. Because criticising this project is like criticising the church, or the Red Cross.

Is he saying that criticising OLPC is as easy as criticising the church? Does he mean that those who criticise OLPC are heretics? Or could he be suggesting that OLPC be allowed to do what it does without listening to anyone else? If it is the latter, this is disturbing; criticism, and the ability to respond to it, are tenets at the very heart of learning. To ignore what others have to say about your work appears to contradict the very learning skills OLPC advocate in their mission to help a billion of the world's children.

We recently covered Walter Bender's presentation at Ars Electronica's "Simplicity Symposium". In it, Walter describes how the laptop will utilise multi-user "activities" as opposed to "standard" (non-interactive) programmes. He explains that the laptops' ebook content will be an editable wiki. He goes on to say that users will have the ability to invite their peers to participate in what ever activity they are currently undertaking. One of the assignable roles is that of critic.

Perhaps the OLPC Chairman should accept criticism as readily as children who use his laptop will have to.

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Accepting crticism is very difficult for a lot of people, albeit the Linux community and open communities are doing a very good job of keeping an open mind... (anyone can come in and have a say given they are making sense and rational).

In opposition to the Linux community a lot of corporations (via their marketing and communication department) don't want to depart from the ideal they have: we all live in a glossy world where their companies provides the best in everything the company does...

In all cases, I can see why Nicholas wouldn't want to answer directly to critism: because he'd waste a lot of is time reacting on what other people think rather than spend is time to make the OLPC a reality.

[All in all, anyone who's been following the project a little could respond to critisim by Bill Gates (who is leaving Microsoft but still represent the company in many ways).

How could he possibly agree with a project that will provide good software on well scaled computing platform whilst MS has spent the last 5 years working on an OS that will need bigger and larger system than ever????]

However I don't understand the comparison with the church or Red Crsss: the church in its long history has been responsible for a lot of suffering and is not pristine if I may say.

I don't know so much about the Red cross still it has to be accountable for its action which ever they may be, like any ethical companies.

Having read the balance for Mr Negroponte's statement following the 'church, or the Red Cross' comment, I'm at a loss to see why he would lead with statement that can quite easily be seen as outrageous. I THINK he was to say: Churches and the Red Cross often receive criticism, and if they reacted to all of it, they could not do their Good Works (or similar). i.e. Charities need a thick skin.

But, he did not say it like that, so I'm only guessing. Assuming that this is his meaning, it is still bold comparison to draw: I wouldn't have said that (but if *I* did, no-one would have been listening).

I agree they need a thick skin. And ultimately if OLTP is a failure, it won't be a failure be a true failure is to be unknown and to make no contribution. This advances the discussion and, I truly it will be ineffective, but most educational systems will declare it a success anyway, and so it will go down in history as a success.

But, it lays the foundation for the next project, where people get it right. Congratulations to Negroponte for having that thick skin and getting things off the ground and getting the whole internet to look at the problem. And boo to Negroponte, for thinking education has magic curative powers, that it simply doesn't have...i.e. the problem for most children, is their parents are poor.

Any solution that ignores the parents, is meaningless. Yes, look to the future, but change only comes from adults, because adults have power to change things.

Case in point, our children didn't develop the OLTP project to help the world's poor children.
If this seems obviouis to you, guess what...its not. It's not at all obvious to the people at the center of this.

dear sir
i want to start bessiness in pakistan to provide a laptop to any and every child in pakistan.please contact me.

Why wont my child have access to a low cost laptop when she enters school? She'll have to rely on clunky second-rate computers in some tiny computer lab at an underfunded U.S. school. Ignoring America's poor to exploit a whole new subset of people (and their governments who foot the bill) is not only wrong, it's insulting. And then I'm asked to donate a laptop - please. Take care of you own first.