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AU: Looking to laptops to lead Doomadgee children out of poverty
Source: theaustralian.com.au
Source Date: Saturday, September 11, 2010
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Australia
Created: Sep 14, 2010

A SMILE stretches wide across six-year-old Jeremiah Johnson's face as he grasps the neon-green and white laptop and races around his classroom, taking snapshots of his mates.

"They're great. (You can) take pictures, do paintings and do games," he says, beaming.

Outside Jeremiah's classroom, the mid-morning sun pounds down on the dust of Doomadgee, an Aboriginal community, home to just over 1000 people, inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria in far northwest Queensland.

It is about as remote as you can get - 2246km northwest of Brisbane, 1147km northwest of Townsville and 514km north of Mount Isa.

This week, the Australian arm of global not-for-profit organisation One Laptop Per Child, with longstanding support from The Australian, sent 120 laptops to Doomadgee, to be given to 120 children in grades 2, 4 and 5.

By the end of next month, OLPC will have sent 180 more, meaning every child at the school will have their own laptop.

Doomadgee State School principal Richard Barry said the school had experienced an 8 per cent increase in attendance between last year and semester one this year, and he hoped the arrival of the laptops would boost numbers even further. "It's a new form of learning, helping them with literacy and numeracy, making them familiar with a keyboard and with programming," said Mr Barry, an experienced educator who has also worked at schools in remote indigenous communities on Queensland's Cape York and in the Torres Strait.

OLPC is a global phenomenon, founded by technology innovator and investor Nicholas Negroponte and championed by News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch. It aims to provide educational opportunities to the world's poorest children by providing them with low-cost, rugged laptops.

The laptops are purpose-built to be almost indestructible and to use very little power. The devices have in-built wireless for internet access, a chunky handle for child-size hands, a specially designed screen that can be easily read in bright sunshine and a replaceable rubber keyboard.

So far, the program has given laptops to more than 1.5 million children globally, including almost 400,000 in Uruguay alone, which equates to one for every primary school age child in that country. Most recently, the Rwandan government has committed to distributing 65,000 OLPC laptops to 150 primary schools across the African nation. In war-torn Afghanistan, 3700 children have their own laptop, thanks to the OLPC program.

OLPC has also distributed laptops in Peru, the Middle East, Ethiopia and countries throughout the South Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

The Australian arm aims to provide the laptops to 400,000 children aged 4-15 in remote and regional Australia by 2014, to give them the same educational opportunities as their metropolitan peers. Doomadgee is the organisation's first foray into Queensland. By next month, the organisation will have provided nearly 4000 laptops to children in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

One Laptop Per Child Australia executive director Rangan Srikhanta said the laptops taught children problem-solving and critical analysis skills that they might not have learned otherwise.

The Australian and its parent company, News Limited, have been supporting OLPC since 2005 alongside corporate sponsors the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra.

The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, said the newspaper was proud of its long-standing support. "Education is one of the most important things you can give a child," he said. "This program helps give kids in remote parts . . . educational opportunities they've never had before - opportunities we take for granted in the cities."

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