A Laptop, a Child, a Dollar -- And a Promise

by Ostatic Staff - May. 06, 2009

The South Carolina Department of Education and the non-profit Palmetto Project have teamed up to get a laptop in the hands of every elementary school student in South Carolina. Inspired by the vision behind the OLPC Initiative, educators, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and government officials started working together in 2005 to see if they could make this happen.

The OLPC/SC hopes to distribute as many as 50,000 laptops this spring to eligible students. The effort is underwritten and managed by the Palmetto Project, whose mission is to "put new and creative ideas to work in South Carolina." While low-performing school districts with limited resources are a special focus for the OLPC/SC, the group is adamant on one point: There are no free laptops. In fact, there are two requirements for children wishing to receive a laptop -- one is merely a token, the other puts the greater meaning of the laptop in perspective.

In order to receive a laptop, children need to give a small monetary donation -- the project coordinators say a dollar or two is sufficient. What's interesting, innovative -- and will undoubtedly make an impression on an elementary school aged child -- is that in order to receive a laptop, a pledge needs to made. The child must sign a document promising simply to try to "do something great" for their state, families -- and themselves -- with the laptop. When these requirements are met, children are then presented with their new XO laptops at a school ceremony, surrounded by friends, family, and supporters.

It seems like a little thing, but it very much drives home the real point of the OLPC Initiative. It doesn't take much in terms of hardware or software to make a difference. They are tools, and they should be simple and widely accessible. It's the connection to the world and what is done from there that brings it all value.

Thus far, South Carolina is the only state in the US with such a program. And of course, it's not a done deal -- it will require more funding (and advocacy efforts) in the longer term. The Fund is accepting donations (by mail or online) which are tax deductible.

The sentiment is of course wonderful -- no one is going to argue that point. What's even better, though, is that the laptops aren't truly "given away." An extra dollar or two might be a hardship for some families, but it won't likely break them -- and what's infinitely more important is the child pledging to try to make a difference, in front of family and friends -- and then being presented a powerful tool to make that happen.