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Negroponte: You really can give a kid a laptop

Speaking at the Techonomy conference, the One Laptop Per Child founder says that kids getting laptops are teaching themselves--and then their parents--to read.

TRUCKEE, Calif.--One Laptop Per Child founder Nicholas Negroponte said that in two years the company has managed to rebuff one of the biggest critiques of his effort--the idea that you can't just give a kid a laptop connected to the Internet and walk away.

"You can, you actually can," Negroponte said, speaking on a panel at the Techonomy conference here. "Kids in the remotest places," he said, "not only teach themselves how to read and write, but most importantly--and we found this in Peru--teach their parents to read or write."

Negroponte said that is the point of his program. "I don't have a better story."

Afghanistan is a big focus for One Laptop Per Child, said founder Nicholas Negroponte, speaking on Friday at the Techonomy conference here. Ina Fried/CNET

A current focus of the group's efforts, he said, is on Afghanistan, where he said more than half the kids don't go to school, including 75 percent of girls. Plus, he said, even in schools a quarter of the teachers are illiterate and another quarter have only one more grade of education than their students.

In those places, the students need to be a bigger part of the education system. "It's actually using the kids as the agents of change."

Negroponte said that so far some 2 million of his project's laptops have been shipped to developing countries.

Negroponte offered a challenge to the U.S. government, which he said spends $2 billion per week on war and only $2 million per week on education. "All you have to do is move half of 1 percent from column A to column B and every child in Afghanistan (could) have a laptop."

"That's what the U.S. would be remembered for," he said. "Why not do it. That would make transformational change."

On another note, Negroponte said the developing world will actually be what guarantees the shift to e-books. While rich countries can afford the luxury of printing each book, he said there is no way that places without sufficient books will ever be able to afford that. By contrast, he said, a laptop or electronic-book reader can hold thousands of titles.