While I was aware of the One Laptop Per Child Project – the goal of which is to develop a lost-cost, “$100,” laptop that can be given to children in developing countries for educational purposes – I had not seen much about its progress recently until I read an article on WashingtonPost.com this morning entitled, “Low-Cost Laptop Could Transform Learning .” If you have a few minutes, I would recommend reading it in its entirety – it is not terribly long and I found it to be a worthwhile read.

It serves as a good overview of what the final product will be like, and provides sufficient background about the project itself.  There are two things in the article that I feel warrant my humble commentary.  

The first is related to the operating system developed specifically for the machine, which is nicknamed Sugar.  Sugar is unlike any other operating system that is commonly used today.  Although it is built up on Linux code, it neither resembles most implementations of it, or Windows, or Apple Computer’s OS.  The article describes its runic-oriented, journal-like organization (as opposed to a folder-centric system, such as that used by Windows) in greater detail, which you can read by clicking here.  

I have somewhat of an issue with this “innovative approach.” While I do not necessarily oppose the concept behind the OS, which was developed to be intuitive for children across myriad cultures, I do question the wisdom behind teaching children about technology on a system that is so unique that when they eventually graduate to mainstream computing (which one would assume is one of the goals of the project) a lot of their knowledge will not be directly transferable.

My second area of concern is somewhat similar, and it has to do with a quote by the project’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte.  In the article, he is quoted as saying, “…the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.”  

Granted, a child’s learning should be more creation- and exploration-focused than say, vocational training.  That said, Microsoft Office, like it or not, has evolved into a nearly universal tool in business and (to a somewhat lesser extent) in academia.  Therefore, what is so inherently wrong about children learning how to use these tools and then utilizing them in the creative process (other than the cost)?  To me, this reeks more of anti-Microsoft / anti-corporate dogma than a legitimate area of concern for a project such as this.

Do not get me wrong – I think that One Laptop Per Child is a great program that is innovative and will make inroads towards closing the technology gap.  No project is perfect, and I completely support these efforts.