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Negroponte: Rich countries to buy laptops for poor

One Laptop Per Child project leader encourages wealthy countries to buy $100 notebooks for those in less-developed nations.

HONG KONG--Professor Nicholas Negroponte, head of the project responsible for the $100 laptop, has revealed that One Laptop Per Child is in discussions with a number of wealthy countries about orders for the low-cost devices--though they will be buying them for poorer economies, not themselves.

At the ITU Telecom World conference here, Negroponte said the OLPC is in discussions with Finland, which may order laptops for Namibia; with the United Arab Emirates over purchasing some for Pakistan; and with France to sponsor laptop buying for French-speaking African countries.

Nicholas Negroponte Nicholas Negroponte

However, Negroponte said he won't be seeking to take the laptop to poorer countries in Europe. "The only reason to talk to Europe, the U.S., to finance other children (in developing economies)," he said.

He added that the OLPC is now in discussions with Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and a group of eight Central American countries that will be seeking financing and placing an order as a single unit.

Negroponte, founding director of the , said that contrary to press reports, he has not heard that the Thai government has abandoned its order following the country's peaceful coup in September.

"They haven't told us that," he said. "We were very aligned with the previous government, and when that changed, that hurt us." Negroponte plans fly to Thailand soon to meet with the country's royal family and new government to learn if the plans to introduce the $100 laptop remain intact.

Some critics of the project, including the Indian education secretary, believe that the money invested in the $100 pieces of hardware would be better spent on more traditional education materials. It's an idea Negroponte rejects. "People (ask) if a child is malnourished--he doesn't have drinking water, he's sick--why do you want to give him a laptop? Substitute the word education for laptop, and you'll never ask that question again."

According to the head of the OLPC, too many people are focused on the technological aspect of the device--it has made headlines for its open-source software, its price, its mesh-networking properties and its battery--rather than its pedagogical aims.

"It's an education project, not a laptop project," he said. "For people, it's like the hazard of being a beautiful blonde--people pay attention to the wrong thing. It's almost an attractive nuisance. We were driven by the elimination of poverty. With building more schools, it would take forever and ever. What we're trying to do in the meantime is get more children to do more on their own."

Jo Best of reported from Hong Kong.