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Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Laptop, A Dollar Per Child

Jim Rex, State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina, announced that South Carolina would be expanding their One Laptop per Child project. A generous donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield is funding the expansion of South Carolina’s current laptop program. The program began last year. It has been highly successful, garnering positive response from students, parents and the community. School officials expect test results at the end of the year to show students are performing better since technology has been integrated into teaching and learning. My entry is garnered from information about the pilot implemented last year. For those of you like me, entirely unaware until today that such programs existed, here is an exciting look into schools with a keen eye to the future. In November 2005, Phil Noble, a Charleston technology entrepreneur, met with Dr. Negroponte and the MIT team at the UN World Summit on Information Society in Tunisia and began working to see that the children of South Carolina would be the first in the U.S. to receive these laptops. "Five hundred kindergarten and elementary students in one of the state’s most rural school districts will receive their own personal laptop computers beginning this week (May, 2008) as part of a new campaign to make South Carolina the first state with laptop technology in its primary grades.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex announced the initiative Monday at a press conference at Britton’s Neck Elementary in Marion School District Seven. That school, along with Rains Centenary Early Childhood Center in Mullins, is a pilot site for “One Laptop per Child/SC.”

Rex said the pilot is a partnership between the South Carolina Department of Education and the non-profit Palmetto Project and is underwritten with private funding. It has the potential to expand to every school district in South Carolina.

'Our goal is to promote affordable laptop technology for students and communities across the state,' Rex said. 'Students who can get technology into their hands early will have a head start on acquiring the kinds of computer skills they’ll need for learning at all stages of life.'” ( by LaptopSC)

This news from South Carolina is at the very least startling, if not monumentally progressive. For years, decades, people have been urging schools to take initiative and put money into early computer education. Most of the present student programs in the United States feature computer labs and access to machines on campus; however, the Palmetto Project and the South Carolina Department of Education are taking a giant step forward by distributing computers to each child early in his/her educational life.

The One Laptop per Child/South Carolina Program hopes to distribute as many as 50,000 laptops this spring to eligible students. The Palmetto mission is to put new and creative ideas to work in South Carolina. Kristin Shoemaker, open source advocate says,"While low-performing school districts with limited resources are a special focus for the OLPC/SC, the group is adamant on one point: There are no free laptops. In fact, there are two requirements for children wishing to receive a laptop -- one is merely a token, the other puts the greater meaning of the laptop in perspective."(A Laptop, A Child, A Dollar--And a Promise" May 6, 2009)

1. The children need to pledge a small monetary donation, a dollar or two is sufficient, in order to receive a laptop.

2. The child must sign a document promising simply to try to "do something great" for their state, families -- and themselves -- with the laptop.

When these requirements are met, children are then presented with their new XO laptops at a school ceremony, surrounded by friends, family, and supporters.

This initiative will surely make an impression on the elementary-school-aged children both in terms of giving something to receive a much needed resource but also in terms of understanding that the acquisition of a simple, relatively inexpensive tool presents a widely accessible connection to the world. What is done from there with this tool brings it all value.

Thus far, South Carolina is the only state in the US with such a program. The program will require more funding and advocacy efforts in the longer term.The Fund is accepting donations (by mail or online) which are tax deductible. Charleston entrepreneur Phil Noble said, “If we want a better South Carolina, with better jobs, better SAT scores and a better prepared workforce, this is the key. If we fail to act now, our children will be playing catch-up their entire lives.”

The XO laptops are spill proof, rain proof, dust proof and drop proof with a keyboard designed for a child's small hands. They come loaded with easy to use software, a built-in camera, built-in microphone and stereo speakers, and a screen that rotates into a tablet configuration. The cost of each computer is currently less than $180. by LaptopSC)

At one time, the initiation of such a program would probably have been cost-prohibitive. Yet, now arguments must be made that the purchase is very reasonable, especially when compared with astronomical costs of current textbooks and reference materials. I'm sure some drawbacks will be encountered in the new technological implementation. Still, the eager acceptance of the program displays the parents' and the State's deep belief in the value of technology.

The Fund accepts tax deductible donations from interested South Carolinians, corporations, local businesses, and community partners. Donations can be made online or by check to “Palmetto Project – OLPC/SC, 1031 Chuck Dawley Blvd. #5, Mount Pleasant SC 29464.”

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