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Non-Profit US Group to Supply Children With Computers

The non-profit group, "One Laptop per Child" has unveiled a low-cost, high-durability laptop computer that it says it wants to put into the hands of children across the globe.

For many developing countries, where the governments may be concerned with providing basic necessities, like food, health care and adequate sanitation, do children really need laptop computers?

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop per Child association, says the answer is, yes.

"If a child is starving and if a child has a disease, etc., etc., giving kids laptops, especially at $100 [each] is not really what we should be doing," he said. "And that criticism, which is more frequent than you could imagine, is completely eliminated when you ask somebody, 'please just substitute the word 'education' for 'laptop.' [And then] nobody would ever say that."

He says education is a vital issue in all cultures, and that the most important contribution laptop computers can make toward education is by replacing ink and paper books with an electronic version. He says he has made this argument with many education ministers.

"It's just a book," Negroponte said. "It's just an electronic book.' And the economics of textbooks could justify the whole thing. And then at night, the kids come out and use it as a laptop."

Negroponte feels so strongly about what he's doing that he took leave from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directed the university's media laboratory, to work on it full-time.

In order to operate in rugged conditions in remote areas, the laptops have two main requirements - durability and accessibility to a power source. Negroponte says the new computers address the power issue by running on only a fraction of the energy needed for regular laptop computers.

"The reason we want to be low-power is not just to be environmentally friendly, but we want to be able to crank it and want to be able to use human power," he noted.

He adds that toughness is an inherent part of the design.

"You're going to struggle to open it," he said. "And one of the reasons it's so closed is it's got to be mud-proof and sand-proof. It breaks my heart but we're going to destroy about 200 of these next week, by dropping them from various heights because they're supposed to be drop-resistant."

"One Laptop Per Child" says the laptops will be sold at cost, which is roughly $150 (US), to governments for their schools to issue to children in early 2007.

The first five countries include Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria and Thailand.

Other countries discussing the program are Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Turkey and Uruguay.

Negroponte said the Inter-American Development Bank is organizing a program that would bring the low-cost computers to all of Central America.

He said he expects the price of the laptop to come down, as more of them are produced. He said the computer companies that produce the laptops are exploring the possibility of making a commercial version for sale to the general public.