So what would I do instead, if it were up to me? I've got plenty to say on the topic, since it's been my focus for a few years now.
I must admit I've fantasized about being offered the position of project engineer, but there seems to be no possibility of realizing that particular fantasy.
That's because I'd set as a condition the complete re-evaluation and re-planning of the project, not to mention subtitling it "but first make sure it's going to work". That means a simultaneous focus on 1) research, and 2) provision of infrastructure.
Research would consist of 1) ethnographic field investigation, gathering new data among the intended usership communities, 2) review of pertinent literature on education with computers, along with 3) analysis of data fro, both of the above, and 4) experimentation to develop appropriate system specifications and scenarios of use.
The part about infrastructure provision should be the focus of the balls-to-the-wall crash development effort. Fortunately not much research is needed here - there is a body of experience with telecentres (I use the British spelling advisedly here in recognition of the leading role played by practitioners in India) that shows the need for a nice, solid, reliable PC in a box that will operate in telecentre service with a minimum of setup and maintenance.
Telecentre operation involves the following capabilities:
1) IP telephony, both
a) through the Internet for international calling, and
b) through a gateway to the local switched telephone (POTS - Plain Old Telephone Service)
2) World wide web browsing
3) Spread sheet operations
5) simple word processing, in the character set of the local language(s)
6) a simple paint program (for training as well as drawing)
7) a simple database program
8) printing capability with the least cost of operation and greatest possible reliability.
An essential part of the package would be a source of electrical power. My approach is a 100 Watt system that keeps a 12 V lead-acid battery charged from a variety of sources, with pedal power as the backup. In addition to a robust pedal frame and an optimizing switching regulator, it needs enough microprocessor brains to run a little database system for keeping energy accounts. My experience shows that the people where it's installed will want to use it to charge other batteries as well, so the technology can't forbid that. Think of it as a small village power utility.
And finally there's the real eye-roller, connectivity. Felsenstein's Ninth Law states that every wire has two ends (and wireless has more), so just putting a WiFi transceiver and a directional antenna there isn't enough. We'd need to craft arrangements with satellite providers for low-cost VSAT time and work out the system structure to enable optimum use of the channel. Then we'd have to specify a low-cost earth station and negotiate a bulk deal on its production. Wifi and just plain wireline modems are the backup here.
It would be a real project - not just something to be dashed off and abandoned to its fate. When it's been shipping for six months and working stably we can then begin to bring in the laptops and be sure they'd work.
Along the way there would be a lot of unglamorous arrangements to be made with indigenous partner organizations and governments, not the high-visibility schmoozing with heads of state and the cream of the business establishment that make the OLPC effort look so appealing (and inevitable).
This one would be the steak, not the sizzle, and that's why it's fantasy to think that the OLPC project could be re-directed toward this methodology.