Are Some OLPC Mission Statements More Equal?


At the recent OLPC Country Workshop on May 20, 2008, Nicholas Negroponte rather curiously stated that the OLPC mission statement "has not changed one ounce." Then he introduced a fourth version of the mission statement, entirely different from the previous three reported on OLPC News not long ago:

One Laptop per Child creates educational opportunity for the world's poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning.

Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC
Some people think Nicholas is insane. I think he is confused. He is unquestionably a terrible manager in many respects, and yet he has brought this project to major successes, including 600,000 units sold in the first six months, for more than $200 million.

And pushed Microsoft into joining a primarily Open Source project. And created a new market segment, ultra-low-cost laptops, where there is more Linux than Windows on offer. So we have to admit that Nicholas is also a genius.

If you look at the history of the great founders of industries such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, you will find the same kind of mixture of genius in some things, and serious incompetence in others. Anyway, this is an excellent mission statement.

The only problems with it are the constant chopping and changing from previous versions, the denial that this has happened, and the fact that this version doesn't mention Constructionism by name. Actually, I find it much more helpful to give a partial explanation of Constructionist teaching, and to skip the word.

I'm with Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman's father, who taught his son that names don't matter. They have no inherent meaning. What matters, he taught, is behavior, a thoroughly Constructionist point of view. We're having a discussion of Constructionist teaching and learning behaviors on the more contentious thread. If you are confused about what Constructionism is supposed to be, you are not alone.

Here is Alan Kay's explanation of how to do education with XOs. All of what he says fits within Constructionism, but he doesn't need the word itself because he invented a lot of this behavior.

This is by far the best explanation I have seen of what we are about. You can also view other presentations from the same preview of the XO-2.

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"The only problems with it are the constant chopping and changing from previous versions, the denial that this has happened, and the fact that this version doesn't mention Constructionism by name. Actually, I find it much more helpful to give a partial explanation of Constructionist teaching, and to skip the word."

As some-one already has pointed out on the olpc wiki page you created [1], this is actually untrue and "misleading at best". And yet you still insist on repeating it again, almost one month later...

Here are the relevant parts of the mission statement [2] in regards to the role of constructionism:

"XO embodies the theories of constructionism first developed by MIT Media Lab Professor Seymour Papert in the 1960s, and later elaborated upon by Alan Kay, complemented by the 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 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 will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential."

[1] OLPC wiki - Controversies - created by Edward Cherlin (Mokurai)
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[2] OLPC - mission
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I believe, the version of mission statement that Edward is talking about is this "new and updated", one, that Negroponte issued recently and distributed to developers as a Word attachment sent to mailing lists:

It reads:

"Mission statement of OLPC

To eliminate poverty and create world peace by providing education to the poorest and most remote children on the planet by making them more active in their own learning, through collaborative and creative activities, connected to the Internet, with their own laptop, as a human right and cost free to them."

To be honest, it was more shocking for me to see such a massive butchery of English rather than [expected] reduction of the content to meaningless corporate-friendly fluff.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the official olpc mission statement would continue to be the one at, regardless of what NN attached to an email. I think the latter was more of a summary -- note that it is about 1/10 the length of the full statement.

I like the bit about "as a human right". Besides the potentially very interesting debate about exactly what is a human right in the context of such a confusing statement, the fact is that there are so many human rights accorded to children not being actually provided to them all around the world. It looks like OLPC should get in line and wait for their turn to be provided free.

Such an aggrandizing view of the importance of a computer in the learning process does moves the debate from efficiency or fitness for purpose towards an ethical dilemma: is providing a computer a more urgent, more necessary right to be pursued and championed than health, safety, food or something similar?

I believe, Negroponte intended to say "education ... as a human right", but ended up sounding as if it's a human right to post on 4chan, or something like that.

I encourage folks to view the talk where Nicolas presented this. He actually says,

"This has been our been our mission statement all along. Maybe we've massaged a few words to use something different, but this has been our mission statement..."

( around minute 1:54. The rest of the talks given are also online at:

What he says is entirely consistent. He's not claiming that this statement is word-for-word identical, and to imply otherwise appears to be an effort to deliberately mislead, especially given that the author of this article uses quotes around "not changed one ounce" but omits the "maybe we've massaged a few words" statement immediately preceding that.

I've had my issues with some of OLPC's choices, but in this case I actually thought NN should be applauded for not cutting corners for the sake of a good sound bite, admitting the wording has changed over time, and rallying the troups around a mission statement which does quite succinctly express what OLPC is aiming to accomplish.