[iDC] One Laptop Per Child - MIT/Negroponte Initiative

Michael Naimark michael at naimark.net
Wed Jan 2 16:48:25 UTC 2008

Way down on the OLPC timeline is this entry: ³1982: In a French
government-sponsored pilot project, [Seymour] Papert and Negroponte
distribute Apple II microcomputers to school children in a suburb of Dakar,
Senegal. The experience confirms one of Papert's central assumptions:
children in remote, rural, and poor regions of the world take to computers
as easily and naturally as children anywhere. These results will be
validated in subsequent deployments in several countries, including
Pakistan, Thailand, and Colombia.² [http://www.laptop.org/vision/progress/]

The project was the brainchild of French journalist and politician
Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, who convinced his friend François Mitterrand
to create for him the Centre Mondial pour l'Informatique et les Resources
Humaines. The idea, roughly, was to jumpstart pre-industrial societies into
post-industrial ones through ubiquitous computers and forget the smokestacks
part. Alan Kay was involved in early meetings and suggested Negroponte as
head and Papert as chief scientist. The MIT Media Lab had just been
officially approved and the building was under construction, so Nicholas
accepted the appointment as an interim position. He brought with him some of
the best and brightest from MIT to spend time in Paris.

By most all accounts, it was a disaster. Alan Kay, who was at the time head
of Atari Research, mentioned to me around then that things weren¹t going
well. ³Politics?² I asked. ³No² replied Alan. ³French politics.²

The earliest entry on the OLPC timeline is 1967, with the introduction of
Papert¹s Logo programming language for children. Papert got his start with
Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, who formalized the theory of
constructivism, which is, without splitting hairs, that people learn by

This is all to say that OLPC may be geeky, but it¹s neither uninformed nor


Michael Naimark

Research Associate Professor, Interactive Media Division
USC School of Cinematic Arts

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