Newsforge has an interesting article summarizing criticisms that have been levelled against the OLPC project.
Here’s a rundown of the argument of the critics, centered around the issue that the low cost of production underestimates many associated cost issues. All the quotes are from the article.
According to Camfield, one of the largest factors associated with the cost of the laptops involves training local educators on how to best use the machines in a classroom setting. “Training is critical,” he says. “OLPC has a very specific vision with regards to educational pedagogies which is very child-centric. This is certainly a valid approach, but in many (if not all) cases, there are institutional constraints that will not change overnight. Some degree of teacher training and integration into educational curricula/daily classroom practices must take place for the laptops to be used. They are fantastic tools with great promise, but if the education system mandates written tests based on specific printed materials, the laptops will not find a place in the class where students and teachers are focused on getting a solid test grade which increases downstream educational and occupational opportunities. Teaching for tests in this way is not ideal, but may be a reality.”
Then there is the importance of training local people on the nuances of supporting and maintaining the machines themselves. Although Negroponte has said he hopes that 95% of the maintenance will be done by the children who own the laptops, Camfield says that goal “may or may not work out in practice.”
– Theft for resale
The concern over theft (and subsequent gray market resale) of the laptops is so prevalent among supporters and critics alike that the OLPC team has invited suggestions from the computing community at large on how to address the issue. Khaled Hassounah, OLPC’s director for Middle East and Africa, says, “The theft challenge is more complex than people believe, but not necessarily more difficult to handle. There are different dimensions to the theft problem, and there is a wide variety in the reasons why people steal, the sophistication of their methods, the ways in which they sell the stolen goods, etc. Given the complexity, multiple methods will be used to prevent theft.”
– Internet access cost
Placing a laptop in the hands of a child is one thing, but providing Internet access for maximum usefulness is another. In many countries where even basic electricity is lacking, establishing Internet connectivity can quickly cause the actual cost of a laptop to skyrocket.