Monday, July 2, 2007

$100 magic wand seeks to change Nepal kids' lives

$100 magic wand seeks to change Nepal kids' lives

Kathmandu, July 2: A magic more enchanting than any of the Harry Potter tales will sweep through Nepal soon, thanks to a pair of students who are working to take $100 laptops to children in the country's remotest and most underdeveloped villages, where there is no electricity or even books.

The "magic pencil" that will write such plots is the XO-Laptop designed and developed by Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology media laboratory.

Made especially for children aged between six and 16, the laptop is designed for rural areas of developing countries where electricity is elusive. They run on solar power, rechargeable batteries and even "human power", provided by cranking.

What makes the XO-Laptop tailor-made for Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, is its price.

Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organisation is making the laptops available at $100.

When the news of his venture reached Nepal through the media, it set a pair of Nepali students thinking feverishly.

Shankar Pokharel and his friend Ankur Sharma, both fourth year students at Nepal Engineering College, were smitten by the vision and wrote to Negroponte, telling him Nepali children needed such computers.

When the American agreed, the pair last year registered the Nepal chapter of the OLPC to bring the $100 laptops to Nepal.

"We are giving priority to remote areas, like Jumla, Humla, Mustang and Manang," Pokharel told IANS. "Right now, we are working on the Nepali content."

Pokharel, now president of OLPC-Nepal, estimates the laptops will start arriving from next year. The organisation is working with the education and sports ministry and the major donors funding educational projects in Nepal will be approached for raising the money for the new tools.

Dubbed "Mero sanu sathi" - my little friend - the Nepali laptops will have a keyboard with both Nepali and English characters.

They are expected to take the place of books and class lessons in villages where neither is available.

Besides reading e-books, children can chat to share information, have meetings through video-conferencing, make music and play games online, skills that will sharpen reading and writing abilities.

Besides Nepal, only Pakistan from South Asia has shown an interest in acquiring the $100 laptops.

Neither India, the dominant partner in SAARC, nor any other members from the bloc has evinced interest in the project so far.

--- IANS

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