The OLPC project has been a pet interest of mine since I first read about it in an edition of Time magazine in 2005. I wrote an update about it here and I was even more ecstatic to hear earlier this year from David Leeming at the UPNG ICT Workshop that trials and actual use had been going full steam ahead in the Solomon Islands. You can read all about the Solomon Islands success and experiences here.
The OLPC project is essentially the supply of basic, rugged laptops that operate on a WiFi network. However sales were hard to come by with initial prices at around USD$188.00 per unit and a minimum order of a million units. Thank goodness the OLPC project came to their senses to allow smaller orders and hence the first South Pacific project being initiated in the Solomon Islands by David Leeming.
So obviously my great interest in this project was because I wanted to see it used in PNG as well. In order to do so internet access would have to be enabled to the targeted rural locations. Commercially it has been uneconomical and so Telikom in conjunction with Pacific Rural Internet Connectivity Systems (RICS) have setup VSAT’s at selected provinces in PNG to provide free internet for the respective communities.
The Pacific RICS project was setup to provide Internet access to rural and remote Pacific communities that are currently not serviced by commercial operators. The technology uses small 1.2 or 1.8 metre satellite dishes and therefore requires low power to operate, which means it can be solar powered. A “network-in- a-box” server provides the networking capability that allows Internet connectivity, a laser printer, WIFI wireless access and computers networked via cables. 16 RICS pilot sites are ear marked to be established across the region. The first site was launched in Gaire, a rural community located an hour”s drive southeast drive of Port Moresby. The other pilot site in Papua New Guinea is in Bougainville, with the remaining sites in Cook Islands, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The Oceania OLPC initiative, consists of a pilot roll-out where 5000 OLPC laptops will be distributed to remote and rural areas in the Pacific, connected through RICS. Pacific governments and private sector stakeholders, as well as non-governmental organisations and other development partners, are being approached to collaborate to come up with the necessary funding to obtain a minimum of 100,000 units, which will cost approximately USD 200 each.
David Leeming, was the project consultant specially hired to help with the roll-out of the Oceania OLPC programme and he was instrumental in the Gaire setup. They plan to start providing laptops to 30 children in one class and hopefully by the end of the year we will have laptops for every child at the primary school in Gaire.
Ian Thomson, who was appointed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) to coordinate the Oceania OLPC programme stated, “Recently we went to Boston [USA] to discuss the OLPC Oceania programme at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology – OLPC headquarters]. We also looked at ways other countries, such as Peru, Uruguay and Pakistan, have gone about implementing their roll-out programme. It was very inspirational and we got lots of good ideas. “As a team, we want to help each village start an OLPC project. We call on foundations and other donors to join the project and help us match the donation of 5000 laptops from the MIT lab to kick this project off.”
So back to PNG, RICS and Telikom setup the network and now they have Gaire setup and more recently Acting Education Minister and Ambunti/Dreikikir MP Tony Aimo presented 47 laptop computers to the remote Dreikikir Administration Primary School in East Sepik province.
At last the One Lap Top Per Child has hit PNG and you can keep up to date with its developments on this Wiki page. I think sometime soon I may take a trip down to Gaire to see how these little laptops are going.