Birmingham, Alabama has had possibly the first of many rude awakenings worldwide as they realize that the XOs don't come with an Internet connection included in the price tag:
John Katopodis, adviser to Mayor Larry Langford, negotiated the deal with One Laptop Per Child for 15,000 laptop computers, originally designed for Third World countries. Katopodis came to this afternoon's board meeting with Bob McKenna, Langford's liaison to the City Council.
McKenna attended last week's seminar on the XO Laptop in Boston. "You need to add a router to every school and as long as there is one, every computer in that field can tap into it," McKenna said. "Depending on what type of router you buy, it's about $39 plus a monthly fee."
Like the Stone Soup fable, the OLPC's XO laptop is a seed of change in an education system, but at the end of the day it's just a box. Implementing a successful educational project using the XO means that you need to add some more ingredients into the pot. The Internet, certainly, is key for access to Wikipedia, Google Apps, and other useful online resources and tools. Training the teachers is another one; the XO needs to be tied into the curriculum so that teachers and students can take full advantage of the XO in their classrooms and not just as a toy. Teacher training could provide innovative ideas and lesson plans, as well as training on the laptops themselves and how they work.
Repair and replacement capabilities are another important ingredient. If a laptop breaks, gets stolen, lost, or whathaveyou, there needs to be some plan to repair or replace it. As we've seen, it's designed to resist breakage and be, for the most common problems, simple to repair, but the parts have to be available and someone has to have the responsibility to repair it. And of course, the laptop has to get there in the first place; something that hasn't been easy, even in the US. I have to say, I feel like I've said this before, y'know, like over a year ago:
At the end of five years of training, continued Internet, and maintenance, the actual cost is USD$972 per laptop, almost quintuple the Libyan estimates, and ten times the original laptop cost. Of course, a more expensive computer system would just drive all of this upwards, so at least we're starting cheap. This all reminds me of Namibia's SchoolNet rejecting Microsoft's "gift" of MS Office (sans operating system!). For the OLPC project to succeed, it needs to accept that it's selling a $100 laptop with an $872 support plan, and find countries that can afford it as such.
Alabama is seeking donations of hardware, but the issue further raised content questions; "Board member Virginia Volker said she was worried about students accessing inappropriate Web content."
So add another line-item of a filtering software (we all know how well those work), or some other monitoring process (possibly parenting?) to keep the new OLPC users out of the red-light districts of the Internet:
McKenna said filters would have to be added to the school routers, but parents need to be on the lookout as well. “We need to look at bringing all parents together to make them understand the power of this technology,” he said.
Best of luck, Alabama!