Back in January 2005, an initiative to create inexpensive laptops that would be used in third world countries was spearheaded by MIT professor, Nicholas Negroponte. He founded the organization called OLPC which is a collaboration between academia and the computer industry whose goal was to design a laptop that would be inexpensive, rugged, solar powered, and capable of connecting wirelessly to the Internet. They dubbed the revolutionary new laptop “XO” . The OLPC’s non-profit mission is to use the XO as a tool for altering lifestyles and ultimately transforming societies in developing countries.
OLPC is working with the government of Rwanda to implement a new program that could change the future of the country. President Kagame is committed to giving children a window on the world beyond Africa. He wants to ensure that all 2.3 million children in Rwanda’s primary schools have computer and Internet access. So far the government of Rwanda has bought 100,000 of the laptops for children between the ages of 9-12. The government is also investing in satellites and installing wireless hot spots to bring Internet access to school districts in the smaller towns and villages where there is no electrical grid.
It’s been a challenge for Rwanda to implement the OLPC program, since this country is still trying to recover from the genocide that occurred here in 1994. Some have argued that the money could be invested in bridges and roads, but President Kagame believes in the economic potential that will result from Rwanda’s embracing of this technology. The reaction of the children as they receive their laptop is wonderful to behold. They’re thrilled about the possibilities of being able to connect with each other or the Internet in one click, since most have never even touched a computer in their lifetime.
The XO laptop features over 30 applications meant to encourage hands-on learning, including educational games that promote peace, encourage respect for human rights, and teach about the importance of caring for their environment. The introduction of the XO’s have created a new excitement inside the classroom, where children are completely engaged in their studies and able to satisfy their curiosity about the world to a degree never possible before. The replacement of outdated textbooks with instant access to learning programs and the internet is nothing short of revolutionary for them.
On the weekends children are allowed to take the colorful, rugged laptops to their homes, where family members are eager to learn from them as well. Students share computer time with siblings and parents, passing on skills and exploring a world of knowledge.
In this way, a new level of computer literacy is beginning to ripple through the villages. President Kagame and the people working on this program believe it can help to eradicate the paradigm of poverty and move Rwanda past genocide and toward the future into the 21st century. He aims to have 50,000 computer programmers within the next decade and envisions Rwanda to be a knowledge-based society that can one day compete with technology hubs such as Asia.- Will Bradford