Ethiopia has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, and the village of Wonchi is no exception. Nobody there can read or write. Thatâ€™s why I was astonished when I saw what Nicholas Negroponteâ€™s One Laptop per Child organization did there.
They dropped 20 Motorola tablets, preloaded with mostly literacy apps in the village with no instructions. Within four minutes, one boy had found the on/off switch â€“ an unknown entity in these parts â€“ and he then taught the others. In a few days, they were each using about 50 apps each.
At Fareed Zakariaâ€™s CNN program â€œGPSâ€,Â President Bill Clinton mentions our OLPC Laptop as a transformational project. It followed the meeting at Hult University earlier in the year. The message is penetrating:
Interview with Bill Clinton aired September 23, 2012 – 10:00 Â ET
ZAKARIA: You — It’s called “A Case for Optimism.” Most Americans are going to look at the situation therein and think, you know, everyone tells them this is the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. Why are you optimistic? CLINTON: Well, first of all, the recovery is slow because the damage was global and deep. And unemployment here is lower than it is in the Eurozone. Job creation here is better than it is in the U.K. So, for all of the problems, I think we’re moving in the right direction. It takes a long time to get over one of these financial crashes, but I think if you look around the world, if you look at just how the spread of elementary technology is generating wealth and opportunities, Haiti, where I do a lot of work, where Digicel has allowed all the cell phone owners in Haiti to do banking transactions over the cell phone, because the traditional banking system doesn’t work for them. That’s creating wealth, it’s facilitating the movement of money in a way that increases productivity. It makes a huge difference. All over the world wherever you increase cell phone penetration by ten percent in a developing country, it increases GDP output by six tenths of a percent. So, I think if you look at the impact of technology, what One Laptop for a Child movement can mean for bringing world-class educational materials to children who otherwise would have had to wait decades to get that kind of support, what it might even mean for poor schools in America, you have to be optimistic about it.