The topography and demographic spread in Afghanistan were always going to mount things like education, health and commerce as challenges. However, thanks to the One Laptop Per Child project, distances have been overcome and hope is kindled as 4th, 5th and 6th graders are handed their XO machines in Kandahar.
With the help of USAID programs, the Afghan Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, around 313 students and teachers were given the low cost, power efficient laptops at the Jamhuryat Technical School in Kabul on Tuesday, April 27, 2010. Last month, 744 laptops were handed out at the Zarghona Ana Middle School in Kandahar. This brought the total number of laptops distributed to 3,700 in Afghanistan, and close to 1.4 million units worldwide. Previously, some 3000 laptops were handed out in schools and clinics in Kabul and Jalalabad since 2008.
These laptops have been made and distributed under the One Laptop Per Child global program, keeping in mind the topography and specific challenges that Afghanistan presents. Carrying 150 special education games, the laptops run the local languages of Pashto and Dari. There are digital books on a Greenstone Digital Library network for children to access remotely as well. During past 20 years, including the Taliban era, it was education more than anything that suffered greatly in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, there were as few as 650 schools operational in the entire country and female education was banned completely.
Along with education, the laptop goes beyond and tries to help Afghan people in general. Once the children are done with their school work and compulsory readings, the elders in the house can use the XO’s custom program to learn just about everything from nutritional facts, health issues, common diseases to trade information and agriculture information. It is especially helpful for people who run small businesses. A Business directory and survey of the local business markets are also included along with greater economic, social and political information to help them be ‘connected’.
The power grids and the internet networks are thinly spread which provides the basic problems of powering the laptops and then getting close to an internet connection. A machine was needed that would not only brave the dusty environment of Afghanistan but could be powered using alternative power generation. Technical partners of the program, Paiwastoon, have developed a pedal based power generator for the laptop. This generator can be cycled much like a cycle and the laptop works as a child pedals. The laptops plastic construction makes it completely dust-proof.
The spread demographics make it difficult to reach far off spots with Wi-Fi coverage. This problem is also effectively tackled by connecting the laptops to access internet spots and digital archives. Each of the machines has a Wi-Fi range of 1.2 miles. They can connect to another XO laptop and chain link laptops till each of the laptops can connect to the internet or a network archive via chain link. This minimizes the need to have multiple internet hubs and laying hundreds of thousands of miles of cables.
The new laptop is finding hearts across the spectrum of the Afghan society. Being affordable (though largely being subsidized by the government) it gives the poor a chance for a better life. From education to business; health to nutrition, the XO reaches out to those who might not have electricity, water, gas or even a phone line. With the OLPC, they have access to the most revolutionary of all technologies – information.
With the XO, students can download lessons, do their assignments, submit their home work, and interact with other students all without having to go to a proper school. And at the end of the day, the children can not only get education, but be health conscious, have the time to help out on the family estate, and set up their own small business to supplement the household income.