What If Every Child Had A Laptop?

Lesley Stahl Reports On The Dream And The Difficulties Of Getting A Computer To Every Child

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

This segment was originally broadcast on May 20, 2007. It was updated on Nov. 30, 2007.

There's a new laptop on the market that's being snapped up by parents looking for a unique holiday gift for their kids. It's only $200, and it isn't like any computer you've ever seen. But there's a catch: in order to buy one for your child, you also have to buy one for a child in a poor country.

And that was the whole point behind these new laptops: to get them to kids in the most impoverished places, so they can become educated and part of the modern world.

As correspondent Lesley Stahl first reported last spring, the laptop, called the XO, was the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at MIT.

Two years ago he founded a non-profit organization called "One Laptop Per Child," through which he recruited a cadre of geeks to design a low-cost computer specifically for poor children.

Negroponte had a dream, a big one: that every child on the planet have a laptop, and along with it, the possibility of a better future.

Negroponte's dream was born in Cambodia.

The idea came to him in a remote village called Reaksmy - a four-hour drive on a dirt road from the nearest town. It's as far from MIT as you can get. They don't even have running water.

Negroponte and his family founded a school here in 1999, putting in a satellite dish and generators. Then they gave the children laptops. Instantly, school became a lot more popular.

Kids who had never seen a computer before were now crossing the digital divide. Negroponte was knocked out.

"The first English word of every child in that village was 'Google'," he says. "The village has no electricity, no telephone, no television. And the children take laptops home that are connected broadband to the Internet."

When they take the laptops home, the kids often teach the whole family how to use it. Negroponte says the families loved the computers because, in a village with no electricity, it was the brightest light source in the house.

"Talk about a metaphor and a reality simultaneously," he says. "It just illuminated that household."

Once the computers were there, school attendance went way up.

Negroponte says that in Cambodia this year 50 percent more children showed up for the first grade because the kids who were in first grade last year told the other kids that "school is pretty cool."

Negroponte wanted this for all children, everywhere, but he realized conventional computers were too expensive. And so his dream of a hundred-dollar laptop was born.

And this is it!

A low-budget computer for children, like a group of second graders in a poor school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Each child has been given his or her own machine - as part of a test for the Brazilian government to see if they should buy them for all their school children.

"It's very exciting," Negroponte says. "It's very gratifying. It's been two years in the making."

The children seemed to especially like the built-in camera that takes stills and video. It also has Wi-Fi.

Negroponte's idea was that kids don't need teachers to learn the how to use the computer. They can pick it up by experimenting on their own - with help from a friend.

"That is what we are doing… is that that kid is showing this kid - that is key," he says. "They get it instantly. It takes a 10-year-old child about three minutes."

When Stahl asks if he means children who have never used any computer before, Negroponte responds, "Children who've never, in some cases, seen electricity."

"You go into countries where there may not be enough food, where the children may not have good enough education to even teach them to read, why a laptop?" Stahl asks. "It almost sounds like a luxury for these people who need so much more than that."

"Let me take two countries, Pakistan and Nigeria. Fifty per cent of the children in both of those countries are not in school," Negroponte says. "At all. They have no schools, they don't even have trees under which a teacher might stand…"