Here's a significant commentary on the One Laptop Per Child program which I recommend:
As I hope that I have stated clearly in previous posts, the big issue here is not technological - I am confident that it is possible to meet the technical and economic goals of the OLPC development project (with the exception of the past claims for the hand-crank generator). The technical issue is the infrastructure (or lack thereof) which will be necessary in order for the project to come close to meeting its goals.
The larger social issue is the assumption that "education is the answer to poverty" - that, in effect, an entire generation must be written off and children separated from their culture through the agency of these marvelous machines. This would be less dangerous if Negroponte's formidable network and credibility were not being thrown into an effort to impose the laptops on the world's children without regard for the opinions of their families or their cultural institutions.
That such an effort will necessarily fail is pre-ordained - this has been the fate of almost all such development-from-above projects and I have laid out my prospective analysis in my initial posting on the topic. I am most concerned that other worthy projects will be brought down by the predictable failure of OLPC. In my history in the personal computer area I have seen many technologies and directions wither and die not because they were unworkable or even uneconomical, but because effort was expended to dominate "mindshare" and to induce a herd mentality among buyers. In this case the "buyers" are the sources of funding for development projects.
I am trying here to propound the idea that another approach is possible, an approach whereby devices and systems which can significantly benefit people and communities in the developing world can be designed, built and installed with the active and informed cooperation of the people who will use them and benefit from them.
The Fonly Institute exists to help create these designs and to aggregate the information available which informs us as to their performance. I would like to turn the discussion here from criticism of the OLPC effort to the exploration of the possibilites of applying current technologies to the actual needs and possibilities that exist in rural developing communities.
In a later post I will lay out a structure of topics for discussion, all under the heading of "Fair Trade Technologies", my term for the emergent industry which creates and supports tools and systems owned and used locally in developing countries to support functioning markets and viable communities.
(The thread on the OLPC starts here).