ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
It would be tempting to think that for the One Laptop Per Child project, the hard part is over. Engineers spent years developing the technology that would give computers to kids in third world villages and it's built for that. The futuristic-looking green and white laptop is rugged. It's only $100 to $200, and it even has wireless. Think of it. The world's poorest kids texting each other in class.
But it turns out there was a big challenge the Silicon Valley philanthropist hadn't anticipated - getting foreign governments to live up to their promises to buy the computers.
Nicholas Negroponte is a professor at MIT and the founder and chairman of One Laptop Per Child. He joins from MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. How are you?
Professor NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE (Director, Media Lab, MIT; Founder and Chairman, One Laptop Per Child): Fine, thank you.
SEABROOK: I understand that both Nigeria and Brazil have backed away from plans to order a million of the computers a piece. What happened?
Prof. NEGROPONTE: Well, backed away isn't the right word. What they have done is issued tenders or else opened it up to local industries to compete for it. So the number is so large, they - in a country so large, they want to engage more local industry.
SEABROOK: Were they responding to political pressure from inside their country?
Prof. NEGROPONTE: Well, they're responding from pressure that such a project should also create jobs and should not drain the economy. And, unfortunately, what they don't realize is you have to import all the parts anyway and the assembly cost, in our particular case, is about $1. They don't realize that when you ship in the discreet parts that are subsequently assembled, it actually costs more to ship in all the parts separately.
SEABROOK: Who else hasn't written out the checks that you thought were coming?
Prof. NEGROPONTE: Well, all the countries hesitate and I don't blame them. On the one hand, they'd love to have the leadership, which comes from being first. But they don't have anywhere to look to see if it has literally worked as this particularly technology. And this is why we've launched within the United States a program where Americans can pay for two but only get one. So for $399, you'll get one of these laptops and they're really cool, but at the same time, you will be giving a laptop to a child in another country.
At first, I was talking to Brazil and Nigeria and Thailand, who, big countries. Those countries are not amongst the 50 poorest nations. Now, with give one, get one, we will be able to go to the 50 poorest nations where they're spending less than a hundred dollars per year per child on education. And in some cases, only 25 percent of the children are getting education. We can go to the worst cases with the new give one, get one program.
SEABROOK: Give me a sense of what kind of change you expect when you bring laptops into classroom in, say, Haiti.
Prof. NEGROPONTE: Well, I can tell you the change we have witnessed. We have run a program in Cambodia. It has completely transformed the village. The second year the program was running, 100 percent more children showed up for first grade. And they weren't coming from the neighboring village. What was happening is that the six-year-olds in school that year told the other six-year-olds in the village who weren't going to school how cool school was. And the parents would look in the windows and the next year, sent their children to school.
The laptop program is really an education program but it's one that is seven by 24. We require the government to let the kids own the laptop. They bring it home. The parents then become engaged. And the parents start learning from their children. Grandparents even become involved. The children become the agents of change and the role of a child in a village changes very, very dramatically.
SEABROOK: Nicholas Negroponte is the founder of One Laptop Per Child. He joined us from MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thank you so much for talking with us.
Prof. NEGROPONTE: Thank you, Andrea.