OLPC: One Laptop Per Child & Nicholas Negroponte’s TED Talk

Posted on November 26, 2008


(This is the first of two posts that highlight endeavors that are helping to change the world through creative and contrarian ways of thinking.)


You can learn more about OLPC through the Amazon videos here, and their website: http://www.laptop.org/en/. You can buy the laptops at Amazon.com.

Founded in 2005 by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte.

Mission Statement: To create educational opportunities 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. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

By giving a laptop, you are helping bring education to children in some of the world’s most remote areas. You are connecting them to each other. To us. To hope. And to a better future.

The following are my notes from two of Negroponte’s talks at TED.


TED Talks Worth Talking About – Nicholas Negroponte: The Vision Behind One Laptop Per Child (February 2006)

When you meet a head of state and ask them “What is your most precious resource,” they will not say “children.” Then when you say “children,” they will pretty quickly agree with you.

Everyone agrees that whatever the solutions are to the big problems, they include education, and can never be without some element of education.

We all learned how to walk and talk, not by being taught how to walk and talk, but by interacting with the world, by having certain results as a consequence of being able to ask for something or by being able to stand up and reach for something. By the age of 6, we were told to stop learning that way, and all learning from then on would happen through teaching.

One of the things, in general, that computers have provided to learning is that it includes a kind of learning that is a little bit more like walking or talking in the sense that a lot of it is driven by the learner him/herself.

Talk about where metaphors and reality mix, Seymour Papert got the governor of Maine to legislate OLPC in 2002. At the time, 80% of the teachers were apprehensive (actually against it) preferring the money be used for higher salaries, more schools, etc. 3 1/2 years later, they reported five things:

1. Drop of truancy to almost zero
2. Attendance at parent teacher meetings, which almost no one did
3. Drop in discipline problems
4. Increase in student participation (teachers are saying it’s more fun to teach, because the students are engaged).
5. The servers have to be turned off at night, because the teachers are getting too much email from students asking for help.

This is NOT a laptop project. It’s an education project.

I use to be a light bulb, now I’m a laser.

TED Talks Worth Talking About – Nicholas Negroponte: One Laptop per Child, two years one (December 2007)

If we could address education by leveraging the children, and bringing to the world, the access of computers, that should be the thing we should do.

When asked, “Who’s going to teach the teachers to teach the children.” Negroponte’s response is, “What planet do you come from?”

This is “teaching children thinking.” Kids who write computer programs understand things differently, and when they debug the programs, they come the closest to learning about learning.

Being a non-profit was absolutely fundamental. Why? 1) The clarity of purpose is there, the moral purpose is clear. 2) You can get the best people in the world. You get the best people because they believe in the mission.

Design matters because it is the best way to make an inexpensive product. If you take a different approach from “cheap,” and get the very best of the materials and really cool design, then you truly do have the best.

Look at children as a mission, not a market.

This isn’t going to happen by you. It will happen by you and your friends. This has got to be viral. Get your friends to give one, get one.


I have much applause for this effort. I am extremely happy to hear someone of this kind of work seeing children as a mission, not a market. And understanding a contrarian way of educational theory is hugely important.

My only comment is to suggest that education is not the sole answer. I agree completely that it has to be a main component of the solutions to the world’s biggest problems, but if we ignore the human heart, the human spirit/soul, we will be missing, what I would suggest, is a bigger piece of the puzzle. We have already seen, at the beginning of this millennium, how great information and great networks can produce great harm by so few to so many. So education and moral guidance must be married.

But that is why this is only post one of two. And, I will also say that this kind of benevolent business practice does virally spread these great human values around the world.