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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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August012008

On Order: Half a Million Classmate PCs to Portugal

This week, Intel announced a major partnership with the government of Portugual to supply half a million low-cost Classmate PCs to Portuguese primary school students. One can only imagine the disappointment of MIT’s One Laptop Per Child initiative, but that don’t count them out just yet.

The relationship between Intel and One Laptop Per Child (maker of the XO, the so-called $100 laptop) has been a bizarre saga to say the least. Once bitter rivals fighting for the hearts and minds of educational computing activists in the developing world, they later joined forces in a strategic partnership, only to break up soon afterwards. OLPC, meanwhile, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a thoroughly embarrasing rollout of their XO laptop last fall, with many new customers (including me) having their orders lost for months on end because of an enormous distribution snafu.

And now comes the news of the Portugal-Intel partnership. At an event in Lisbon on July 30, Intel chairman Craig Barrett joined Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates to announce the launch of the Magellan Initiative. Intended to complement a pilot project to supply laptops to secondary students, the Magellan Initiative will put half a million Intel Classmate PCs into the hands of Portuguese primary students - no small number given the fact that the total primary school population there is in the realm of 650,000 students, according to UNESCO.

The announcement has made a big splash, but some questions still remain. For example, the distribution of the PCs has been assigned to Portugal’s Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Communications rather than the education ministry. This decision immediately brings to mind the US rollout of the federal E-Rate program, which subsidizes Internet access at schools and libaries. The E-Rate has always been managed outside of the U.S. Department of Education, which at times has made it challenging to coordinate professional development and curricular initiatives. Intel says they will consult with the Portuguese government regarding training, but it remains to be seen how Portuguese teachers will be prepped to take advantage of these tools in their classrooms.

And then there’s the impact of this announcement on One Laptop Per Child. The MIT initiative has struggled to live up to the tremendous expectations laid down during its initial promotion in 2005, and governments haven’t flocked to the device as some had predicted. But just because Intel has more resources to develop and promote their low-cost educational laptop, don’t count out OLPC just yet. The protytpe for their XO-2 laptop is a sight to behold. It utilizes a dual touchscreen monitor, allowing it to be used as a laptop or an electronic book. Two students can even use it as once. It’s quite a site to behold.

So while OLPC is probably grimacing over Intel’s win in Portugal, the rivalry continues. And the longer it goes on, so much the better, as each company - not to mention their competitors - will continue to innovate as a way of getting a leg up on the other. -andy

Filed under : Cool Tools, Digital Divide, Policy

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