One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a project set up in 2005 that essentially aims to give every child in the world access to a laptop, the Internet; and therefore education. To do this they have been trying to manufacture the $100 laptop but as of yet have only managed to get it down to $200. Obviously the benefits of the project could be huge: the Internet is an amazing resource for information and as a student myself I can’t imagine an education without it. But is it really more important than basic living essentials like food, water and shelter (which a lot of OLPC’s ‘target market’ don’t have)? - surely the $200 would be better spent feeding 100 starving kids for a month, for example. Despite this, the project has received huge amounts of support, originally being backed by AMD, eBay and Google, among others, and being shortlisted for the World Design Impact Prize. However when you look a bit deeper there is lots more criticism to be found.
One of the most interesting points I found was that, at the current price, people living on $1/day (more than 20% of the worlds population) would have to spend more than half of their annual income on this laptop. Considering that the global average of ICT spending is 3% of annual income, OLPC’s laptop should really cost people in the developing world around $10. On a similar note OLPC costs $200 per child’s education, whereas a new $10,000 school would serve approx 500 children, working out as only $20 per child’s education.
So far OLPC is probably the only celebrated sustainable design project I’ve found that I strongly disagree with. While I think the fundamental idea of giving every child education is extremely important, the way the organisation is going about it does not make sense to me. It is an excellent example of remote ‘parachute design’ and how it usually does not work to its imagined potential - western businessmen and designers see a problem and try to apply their own knowledge and experience of the situation to it, as if it was a problem for them, the westerners. In this case the problem was a lack of education and their solution was Internet enabled laptops, even for people who have very limited access to clean water, medicine and electricity.