Welcome: $35 tablet for education

India’s HRD Minister Kapil Sibal spoke recently of a $35 tablet for Indian students.  In response, Nicholas published this open letter to India.  (Read it also in Hindi, Spanish, French, and German.)

One Laptop per Child applauds Minister Kapil Sibal for promoting a $35 tablet. Education is the primary solution to eliminating poverty, saving the environment and creating world peace. Access to a connected laptop or tablet is the fastest way to enable universal learning. We agree with you completely.

Please consider this open letter OLPC’s pledge to provide India with free and open access to all of our technology, and our experience with 2 million laptops, in over 40 countries, in over 25 languages. As a humanitarian and charitable organization, we do not compete. We collaborate, and invite you to do so, too.

In the meantime, let me offer the following six suggestions.

  1. Focus on children 6 to 12 years old. They are your nation’s most precious natural resource.  For primary school children, the tablet is not about computing or school, it is about hope. It makes passion the primary tool for learning.
  2. Your tablet should be the death of rote learning, not the tool of it. A creative society is built not on memorizing facts, but by learning learning itself. Drill and practice is a mechanism of the industrial age, when repetition and uniformity were systemic. The digital age is one of personalization, collaboration and appropriation. OLPC’s approach to learning is called constructionism. We hope you adopt it too.
  3. Tablets are indeed the future. OLPC announced its own eight months ago. However, caution is needed with regard to one aspect of tablets: learning is not media consumption. It is about making things. The iPad is a consumptive tool by design.  OLPC urges that you not make this mistake.
  4. Hardware is simple. Less obvious is ruggedness, sunlight readability and low power. We use solar power because our laptop is by far the lowest power laptop on the planet. But do not overlook human power – hand cranking and other things that kids can do at night or when it rains. Just solar would be a mistake. Rugged means water resistant and droppable from 10 feet onto a stone floor.
  5. Software is harder. Linux is obvious, but whatever you do, do not make it a special purpose device with only a handful of functions. It must be a general purpose computer upon which the whole world can build software, invent applications and do programming. We know that when children program they come the closest to thinking about thinking. When they debug, they are learning about learning. This is key.
  6. More than anything, of all the unsolicited advice I have to offer, the most important and most likely to be overlooked is good industrial design. Make an inexpensive tablet, not a cheap one. Make it desirable, lovable and fun to own. Take a page from Apple on this, maybe from OLPC too. Throw the best design teams in India behind it.

India is so big that you risk being satisfied with your internal market. Don’t. The world needs your device and leadership. Your tablet is not an “answer” or “competitor” to OLPC’s XO laptop. It is a member of a family dedicated to creating peace and prosperity through the transformation of education. In closing, I repeat my offer: full access to all of our technology, cost free. I urge you to send a team to MIT and OLPC at your earliest convenience so we can share our results with you.

Nicholas Negroponte
Founder and Chairman
One Laptop per Child Foundation
Cambridge, Massachusetts
USA

65 thoughts on “Welcome: $35 tablet for education

  1. You know what I think is gong to happen? Poor children will never get their hands on these laptops. The distributors will snitch them for their own kids and reselling. Then they will be genuinely offended if you try and talk to them about it. We need international relief workers to hand them out if we are are to see genuine improvement.

  2. An excellent response to India’s initiative.

    Has anyone tried the following:

    Sell me 2 (or x) $100 laptops, send me 1and give the rest to a child of your choice?

    It would be interesting to know just how many you need to sell to make the costs work out.

  3. The offer is invaluable for future generations of students. As usual there will be spin offs for the private people but for now, Negroponte has done a most noble thing.
    As the father of the internet commented when in Samoa(oceania) a few years back, sharing knowledge is power. Hope India will run with the olpc offer.

  4. This is an excellent post. The Indian developers must keep those words in mind on point no:6 inn their future development of this laptop. But the big question now is, who is going to manufacture this laptop for this price. Is Indian Government will support and fund it’s manufacturing. Being an Indian, I could say that, this laptop should cross too many obstacles before it reaches the Indian market. let us wait.

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  6. I hope and pray that Mr. Sibal really keeps his promise and he doesnot consider Mr. Negreponte’s offer as someone trying to hitchhike on his glory wagon of $35 tablet. I do hope the politicians who are very quick to raise their own salaries and perks will allow then this crumbs to fall from their table and I do earnestly hope the future generations empowered by this education tool will learn of their learning, think about their thinking and question their own questionings and not spare the ‘democratic’ tyrants, baffoons, illiterate criminals masquerading as leaders of this still lovely land

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  10. This is a lovely open letter to India.
    I just came to know of a place in Mumbai called “Study street”, where less fortunate children gather every night to study under street lights.

    Imagine what a $35 laptop, with access to free wifi and online resources such as Google Books would do for them.
    http://realvision.ae/blog/2010/08/lower-city-education-under-digital-lamp-posts-at-study-street-mumbai/

    India has the potential to be a game changer in invention and innovation as the laptop clearly shows.
    Let’s hope corruption does not rear it’s ugly head in this project. and hopefully the implementation is quick and not lost in translation.

    All the best.

    • Clyde, what a nice post. Thank you for sharing — we do see children reading and working with their families at night in Peru where they previously rarely had light — having electricity from their school charger, and a light source that uses it, is one of the useful features of the project for them.

      Shekhar, Sarves, good to hear from you. I look forward to seeing how India’s program develops.

  11. […]In closing, I repeat my offer: full access to all of our technology, cost free. I urge you to send a team to MIT and OLPC at your earliest convenience so we can share our results with you.[…]

    Μπράβο και ευχαριστώ.

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  14. Being an Indian I am eagerly waiting for ‘tablet’ in the hands of would be creators of world. According my knowledge, Indian government openly called many private companies for this wonderful project, but no one had given a prompt reply ( they want cores of cores rupees and moreover what will they have if included?). At last they have given this project to government organizations. But Mr.Nicholas who has seen this vision of Indian government, openly offered any help for ‘tablet’ and invited them for sharing of technology.
    If we all do a small bit for this type of projects, in no time we will see world of innovators,but not an innovators of world.
    I am heart fully appreciating Mr.Nicholas suggestions and offer.

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  17. Hi Sir,

    Government of India and several state governments have huge budgets that are lying unused.
    More so there are fund to the tune of several millions for every district (county in US) someone need to prove that small is good, then the media hungry politicians of India will latch on to this bandwagon.
    I have seen very closely that such politicians need a space for themselves within this initiative, once you have done that, u can start small and improve on that… u can expand statewise – preferably

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  20. sir….
    i really agree u from my heart…
    this is staring of a big revolution in world…..
    i m from INDIA.
    i M intersted for this projectn prodect…

    :-)

  21. I strongly support OLPC’s decision in supporting India in its development for $35 laptop.

    Moreover OLPC is having a Goal to promote learning than computer awareness.!!!

    So keeping my fingers crossed, I hope that this project of $35 laptop comes into a reality.

    I pray hereby.

  22. Thank you for offering your valuable suggestions to the Indian government but honestly, I do not imagine our govt. considering your suggestions. I do not know if you’ve made this request officially (sending this document to govt. officials through bureaucratic procedures).

    Good luck!

    • Thank you for the kind wishes, Bhanu.

      Arunan, let us know what you learn and share in Goa.

      Sebastian, you can see from our latest post about the project in Argentina; it will involve laptops, not tablets. Once the first OLPC tablets come out, they will be available worldwide, but perhaps used in classrooms and at home in different ways.

  23. hola que tal, queria saber en que momento llegaria la computadora esa a la argentina o si se podria enviar para tener una y cual seria el costo total…responder a mi mail .. gracias

  24. Pingback: Negroponte offers good advice to India’s $35 computer project | Don Tapscott

  25. thanks to negroponte for making such a generous offer. India and OLPC dont have such a good relationship and that’s probably one reason for india to go its way.
    But is producing a $35 laptop feasible or is it a marketing gimic. I hope that the indian government doesn’t see this as a big business opportunity instead of thinking of it as universal education.

    I strongly feel that India should embrace negroponte’s comments. Common, government agencies are so corrupt in for-profit dealings, I dont see anything different here. I hope good things happen.

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  27. Good words, platitudes all.

    But behind it lies a man already marginalized from most of the community that created the
    original OLPC, and struggling for continued relevance.

    Contact the people who *made* the OLPC. Most of them are now in other projects. But
    I’m sure they’d be quite glad to offer assistance and perspective. Do you really want another
    bureaucrat on board?

    • Hello Don,

      Many of the original creators are still working towards that goal together — Mary Lou Jepsen and Walter Bender are still involved with or directly supporting OLPC projects, and we proudly support their related work in low-power hardware and software tools for learning.

      Mark Foster, Jim Gettys and Chris Blizzard also had early roles to play, and would each be worth talking to — though they are no longer working or advocating for the same sorts of developments.

      Nicholas is currently a prominent figure in the movement, and it means a lot for him to continue to remind people that we should be collaborating, not competing. I would love to see other strong public figures emerge from lower-case olpc efforts around the globe, advocating loudly for lower power, longer-lived, lower-cost computers, and exploring their educational impact. If you have champions of that message to suggest, please let us know.

  28. I think these are the wisest, most deeply empathic words one could find on this topic – of ICT. Being an Indian, I doubt though that the Govt of India has the true political will to take on the entire PC distribution channel. The “Channel Partners”, as they call themselves, in collusion with countrywide distributors, have a stranglehold on decisions of Ministers (by way of “lavish gifts” located in Swiss banks) of each state. This is a long drawn out battle.

    When the Central Govt is forced to transfer diligent, combative, and highly effective officers for having distributed cheap laptops to children in Chennai, you should know that teh system is rotten. these few are actually *punished* for doing what the Cong party promised in the general elections.

    It is a dirty system. How the GoI is going to actually bring this about is a huge mystery.

    But this is the right kind of pressure. I hope the media and news channels take up this cause – like their many other nationalist / sensationalist causes – Save the Tiger, Save the Forest, Feed the hungry, etc.

    Citing Right to Education and Right to information, each new channel must come up with a campaign like this:
    “A Tablet to cure illiteracy”

    … even before the project is officially launched, because these “Channel Partner” and “Distributor” wolves will be ganging up with their alpha-male behaviour to ward off competition from their territory.

    If we hunt beasts in the jungle, then GoI must hunt these beasts of the corporate trader jungle that ICT has been malformed into.

    Or will this pass like countless other false election promises from the Cong?

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  37. Any innovation is welcome news. Prof. Negroponte’s lucid and amazingly worded comments echo our sentiments. We need to learn from the experience of taking something from the design board to commercial production and distribution. He has made a very generous offer and has already gifted the first round of XO laptops to get us started in India way back in 2007. As someone very closely associated with the OLPC programme from its earliest deployments in India…all I can say is: Seeing is believing: Anyone in India who has never held an XO laptop or seen a classroom with kids working on XOs with the Sugar Learning Platform and other free software has only to come and see the children and their families in action with the XO at the centre of their learning, to believe the unprecedented opportuntiy we are being offered in India. The Govt. of India and some private sectors companies coming together have the capacity to scale up our current little OLPC projects, that no longer need a proof of concept. To the millions of Indian children at the primary school level in villages across India who have the ability but not the economic means..this may be their last hope.

  38. Its a real world battle between a vision of the future and those who need to worry about their survival today. In India, few decisions are taken because of high moral or vision content. The Times of India used a report in one of its smaller editions and its difficult if Kapil Sibal will ever see with OLPC offered.

    For all his strange ways, Kapil Sibal knows and meets Satish Jha often enough. A better way will be to reach out to the media effectively in a way that Kapil Sibal and his masters get an opportunity to listen.

    Even better a way will be for OLPC to take a higher view and deploy 10,000 OLPC laptops and demonstrate their value in India.

    Poor are poor for some reason. If they could see several generations ahead, will they be poor? To expect them to make a better decision without some help in effectively demonstrating it is as good as no decision at all.

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  41. Its a fantastic and realistic offer and not an illusion. I being an Indian dont want to have baised comment by supporting Kapil Sibal for his foolish anouncement. We are all here to collaborate and not compete with each other.

  42. This is fantastic! What a fabulous open letter and statement. I wish more educational non-profit organizations took the stance that “we do not compete […] we collaborate”. So many of the existing non-profits working on technology and resources for education do not take this stance. They want to keep their technology proprietry and secretive and they often compete with other non-profits in their space. So, it is a welcome relief to see OLPC reach out to other institutions with the offer to “full access to all of our technology, cost free”. Thank you!!

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