OLPC Laptop Donations: Foreign Aid for "Energy" in Schools


OLPC XO Edu-aid

From the very beginning, Nicholas Negroponte has put forth the idea that developing world governments would buy the Children's Machine XO. That the OLPC $208 or $972 dollar laptops could somehow fit into national budgets when multiplied out to millions students.

Our number crunching of the education budget for Argentina and the whole national budget of Nigeria, two of the richer OLPC target countries disproves that notion quite easily - a one laptop per child computer purchase would bankrupt most of the populous developing world countries.

So we figured that poor countries would look to rich countries like Libya or China to donate OLPC's as a form of international bribery aid. And it turns out we were right, just with the wrong countries. Silicon.com's Jo Best interviewed Negroponte on his country to country sales plan:

Which countries that you're in negotiations with do you think will lead to orders?
In central America there are eight countries grouping together in a single block [to purchase laptops]. That is definitely happening. Mexico is happening. We are talking to the Philippines and Pakistan - I'm convinced that's going to happen.

We're also talking to rich countries to help poor countries. Finland is interested in Namibia, UAE is interested in helping Pakistan, and France is looking at countries in Africa.

Rich countries to help poor countries, eh? Well in the case of Finland and Namibia that would be easy. Namibia's 800,000 children could each have a $208 dollar OLPC laptop and the $166 million dollar cost would be insignificant to Finland's $92 Billion dollar budget. It would represent 44% of Finland's $379 million in foreign aid, starving half of its current aid program recipients of funds.

The United Arab Emirates funding OLPC XO's for Pakistan would be a whole other situation. UAE might be a rich federation of 7 emirates, but 40% of its $35 Billion dollar budget would be consumed by a $13.5 Billion dollar purchase of $208 dollar laptops for Pakistan's 65 million children. Take into account the real cost of the OLPC, $972 dollars per laptop, and the cost balloons to a budget smashing $63 Billion, or almost double U.A.E.'s entire budget.

Negroponte & Shaikh Nahyan

I wonder if Negroponte mention these numbers to Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mub-arak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Abu Dhabi, UAE when the two met in October?

And I wonder how he suggested UAE and Pakistan should measure the success of their budget breaking investment? Maybe in an increase in test scores? Or how about an increase in literacy or employment? Or maybe how Negroponte answered Jo Best when she asked for his metrics of success:

We'll find out very quickly if it's been a success. The measure is the energy in schools. There's a village in Cambodia [using the laptops]… [where] there are twice as many kids registering. That's a good measure. That kind of measure - that's the best. Parent interest in kids' education is another.
Well there you have it. According to Nicholas Negroponte, UAE should spend 40% of its entire national budget on "energy" in schools, student attendance, and parental interest. Globally, we should make a collective $150 Billion dollar educational investment in Negroponte's OLPC implementation miracle.

Related Entries


Please stop assuming that OLPC means buying every child in a country a laptop at the same time.

Clearly this would be a rather stupid plan and no one could afford it. (Assuming countries with less than, say 5m children are sensible enough to buy in bulk)

The practical way is to give, e.g. an entire school year a laptop. Then do the same the next year and so on. Assuming they last for 5 years, then you could do OLP(Primary School)C with significantly less initial outlay.

Pakistan are not about to buy 65m laptops in one year, why would they? A purchase of 1m would be like that pilot plan you're after and would be far more realistic.

I wish I could believe that Negroponte wants to start with a limited pilot roll out. But alas, this is his exact quote on the matter:

"And they do need to do things which isn't futzing around and moving deck chairs. And they can spend the next five years planning. But that's not what they should do.

They have to take action. They have to take big action. To do a pilot project is ridiculous!"

Even an annual purchase for each cohort in Pakistan (all 3rd graders for instance) would be 4.3 million kids or roughly a Billion dollars at $208, the Libyan MOU price.

What about starting 'One Condom (packet) Per Adult' in Pakistan?
65 Million Children in Pakistan is the problem, not laptops.

I have restrained from commenting until now, but seeing how there is no active community to discuss the theme you put forward today (mainly due to the _way_ you do put it forward), I have a couple of suggestions about the OLPC.

It appears to me as if you were 'envious' of the whole project. You constantly affirm craving the machines, but all that comes out of your mouths when analyzing recent developments is spite and - mostly - manipulation.

I don't want to go into many details in this post (you've got my email adress if you want to contact me), but simply put, your economic "analysis" doesn't stand when you start crunching numbers. The geopolitical and diplomatic assumptions you make are also far off the mark.

I can see I am not the only one manifesting this opinion (not even the only one to do so today), but I'd like to suggest that you clarify your position: if you consider the OLPC initiative is a bad one, then say so - and back it up with consistent arguments and facts -. If not, please stop posting as if you all knew better (tough luck for those poor souls at MIT that cannot benefit from your ample expertise ...).
(/rant off)

This said, you are the ones that report the most often and the most info about OLPC, and I must acknowledge that and thank you for the time it takes you to post. Keep up the (good? :-) ) work.



I do "crave" the OLPC XO, and I really do hope to see the technology rolled out worldwide, but in a measured process that respects both the existing educational environment and budget realities.

Budget realities that I know very well from working in a related, but wholly different field. Negroponte's 1 million unit laptop minimum order cost is still several magnitudes more than existing education programs. Programs that unlike his, have measured results and do not rely on implementation magic.

If you have better knowledge of either OLPC or the on-the-ground realities, you're more than welcome to join OLPC News and enter the debate on a regular basis. You have my email too.

Please stop using falacies in all your arguements.

I agree that the laptops may not be ready to implement in January 2007 as there is no proper training, maintence, or even distribution details out yet. But nonetheless, only constructive critiscm should be said for these people are trying to do a good thing. It seems like you are just complaining!

For example, as you said, the laptops will probably cost $208 or $972 for start up costs but then you make comparisons with UAE's yearly education budget. In your break-down for the $972 you clearly say that it will cost $972 for 5 years. UAE's one year budget compared with a 5 year cost break down. Now how is that fair? And UAE doesn't say anything about COMPLETEY funding all of pakistan's laptops, it is clearly only going to give a portion.

And stop making comparisons with country's entire education budgets, they have funds else where too! Have you ever heard of borrowing money from other countries?? It happens!

Not to sound harsh, I like your website and visit it almost everyday for new updates on the project, but you need to stop being a bitter old man towards it.


Note I am contrasting the $208 cost - from the Libyan MOU - to the entire UAE budget (not just the education budget).

"The United Arab Emirates funding OLPC XO's for Pakistan would be a whole other situation. UAE might be a rich federation of 7 emirates, but 40% of its $35 Billion dollar budget would be consumed by a $13.5 Billion dollar purchase of $208 dollar laptops for Pakistan's 65 million children."

And you would suggest UAE would go into debt to buy untested laptops lacking an implementation plan for Pakistan's children?

This is simply preposterous. You take an out-of-context statement by Negroponte that a pilot project would have little impact, and translate that into an order for 65 million OLPC units for Pakistan, one for every single child of whatever age, on Day One of availability...? I'd be fascinated to hear if you have any actual support for this claim beyond the off-hand Negroponte quote and your apparent agenda.

Since you folks are big fans of "transparency", perhaps you would be so kind as to share with all of us the advertising revenues that this site has generated for you going back to its inception, and keep us updated on a regular basis. I'm beginning to suspect that this site is more of a forum for creating click-through payments rather than any actual critical analysis or, or legitimate interest in, the OLPC project.


I'll quote Negroponte himself when talking about Ministers of Education in Central & South america:

"And they do need to do things which isn't futzing around and moving deck chairs. And they can spend the next five years planning. But that's not what they should do.

They have to take action. They have to take big action. To do a pilot project is ridiculous!"

Also, if you think this site produced enough click throughs to even pay for the website's designer yet, you are wholly unfamiliar with the (lack of) economics in blogging.

This is a labor of love by all the writers, day-job technologies who you can read more about here:

You've failed to address my key point, Wayan, and it's a fallacy with which this site is rife: the bulk of your "analyses" are founded on the assumption that (and you do precisely this in the case of Finland and Namibia, as just one example) a buncha my pals in Helsinki will ensure that about a million units will suddenly arrive in Windhoek on a big truck one fine morning, rather than as (which seems much more likely to me, and pretty much everybody but you folks) a staged approach over a longer period. It's so common here that it amounts to obvious intellectual dishonesty, I'm sorry to say.

Similarly, your pricing models fall into assumptions which are absurd. You add things into the "real" cost of the unit like a blind estimate of loss, theft, destruction, etc. which would amount to saying that if I give you an iPod Nano for which I paid a hundred bucks, I really paid two hundred because some day the battery will wear out and you'll have to buy a new one.

"Thank you for commenting.

Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner."


My first comments here yesterday went up instantaneously. Am I being moderated already?

Gee, it usually takes me at least a week...

(By the way, for all that web designer money you spent, you should've gotten a comment engine that supports some kind of formatting tags...)

Oh, I see. Replies get moderated, not free-floating comments. Never mind.


I pulled at least one of your comments out of the spam filter, you didn't past the Turing test. (no comment on what that implies)

Formatting in comments are turned off on purpose. Good thought need not formatting to make a point.


Now that I dug a second comment out of the spam bin (that Turing test hard for ya?), let me say that I agree, a staged approach not only would be more logical, OLPC distribution might actually happen that way.

Its Negroponte's constant, unwavering insistence that OLPC will only do a "Big Bang" approach - a least a million units per country all at once - that is the "intellectual dishonesty" I rail against.

If he would only admit that yes, the OLPC will roll out in a measured process supported by successfully pilots, and that the cost of each OLPC is more than just the laptop (or the iPod for you) but also the content, distribution, and other systems (iTunes, songs, computers to make the iTues/iPod transfer, etc), then I would be 100% in support of him.

As it is, I love his technology and his dream yet seriously question his hype and (lack of) methods to reach the dream.


I asked Negroponte point blank about pilot projects and he was not at all interested in them. To paraphrase his response, it was essentially that the point of pilot projects is to create something you can measure - but how do you quantitatively measure the impact of the OLPC? Test scores may even go down after the introduction of the OLPC laptop, but that may be reflecting more actual learning taking place.

Which is fine, I think most of us here are sympathetic to the concept that teaching for tests is suboptimal. This ignores some institutional constraints that those lower test scores may mean that the students don't continue in school, or go to a less-prestigious high school (or equivalent), or don't get accepted by a college. Does anyone really think that the US's SAT/GRE tests accurately measures intelligence? (OK, I'm sure some do). Regardless, it's required for application, and affects what universities will accept you.

Even if you don't want to trap the OLPC project down with a quantitative score (test scores will increase by x%) there are measures, some of which even Negroponte has mentioned, like "energy" - school attendance rates, literacy rates, and so on. And you can definitely "measure" or detect absolute failures, non-usage and so on, and these things might be nice to test on a small, in-country basis before signing up for a batch of a million, or 65 million...

If by "failed the Turing test", you mean failed to enter the required letter, you're in error, or your software is. If you're simply being snotty, no comment.

"A million units per country" does not, let me point out, imply simultaneous delivery of all one million units. If you manage to miss my point enough times, it'll start to seem like you're attempting to evade it.

Okay, it's pretty clear what you folks are about. Whatsamatter? Was the domain "olpcrants.com" already taken? Sorry to have wasted your time with attempts at rational discussion.

Have a day.

Our school require 25 computers for our students & school has no sufficient funds for this project. So we are looking for donation from well parties or person for promotion of education in Karachi-Pakistan

Sir, i am a dtudent of petroleum and gas engineering in university of information technology, engineering and managment sceinces quetta. So i can not afford the price of laptop please fund a laptop. i shall be very thankfull to you. if you give me a positve response in favour of me.

I have a school, few of the students are destitutes and ophans. No fund to equip the school. I dearly wish to apply for equipment and children teaching aid to help the destitutes and ophans. For the main school I request for laptop, computers,projectors of teaching the destitutes and ophans under 12.I hope you will give a response to help the helpless. Thanks engr. C.U. Umesi Aba Abia state Nigeria.

I ordered early December...on the buy one get one computer laptop program as was featured on the Today Show...It is almost one month now...can you please tell me about when I should expect my laptop. My credit card was processed through pay pal...I live just outside Washington DC....Thanks,

Subject: - Partner ship and Fund Request
Dear Sir/Madam,
How are you? I hope you are well .we are in Ethiopia Humanitarian none governmental none profit making, none political, none parts ion organization .The name of the organization is Covenant For Ethiopian Support (CFES).
CFES is local NGO registered Minster of justice. (MOJ) according to the relevant of country law. Signed operational agreement with the Disaster prevention and preparedness Agency/DPPA/and the Regional Food security and DDPC. CFES have program to implement all regions.
CFES is already operated /Implemented/ the in Afar regional state Zone three.
Now, this is the request of your organization partnership for Awash 7kilo of Afar Regional state in Ethiopia. As we all know your Organization is popular in humanitarian program in through out the world. So, please find the concept paper and the worst Harmful practice live video in Local language as attached with this letter and we hope that you would positively respond to our request
Thanking you in advance for the support provided to us and we look forward to a strengthened partnership between our two organizations.
With best regards,
Lemelem Semu
Bank Reference: - Commercial Bank of Ethiopia Joseph branch the name of the organization Covenant for Ethiopian Support ACC NO. 203

+2511911228417/[email protected], [email protected] , [email protected] PO Box 120439
Addis Ababa Ethiopia

XO Tablets for Sale

Buy Your XO Tablet on Amazon.com
OLPC is selling the new XO Tablets on Amazon.com for just $149. Buy yours today!



Recent Comments

Community Forum