A growing number of Classmate PCs from Intel are finding their way into Asian classrooms as part of education programs designed to test the use of computers in developing countries.
Intel has so far delivered a relatively small number of Classmate PCs to pilot education programs in India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines. Hundreds more will be shipped to similar programs in Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka before the end of this year.
Unveiled last year, the Classmate PC is a small laptop based on Intel's 900MHz Celeron-M processor and designed for use by schoolchildren in developing countries. The first pilot Classmate PC programs were rolled out last year in Nigeria and Brazil, and Intel is working to extend the program throughout emerging markets in South America, Africa, and Asia.
The ultimate goal is to reach the point where there is one laptop for each student in these countries, said Leighton Phillips, the manager of Intel's World Ahead Program in Asia.
Akin to MIT Project
The need for a cheap laptop that can be used by children in developing countries was first championed by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, which has its roots at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To meet this need, the OLPC has designed a called the XO, which will enter production later this year.
While potential customers wait for the first XO laptops to roll off production lines, Intel has started seeding the market with Classmate PCs donated to governments under the company's World Ahead program, which aims to spur broader use of computers and broadband Internet access in emerging markets. In the case of the Classmate PCs, the computers are being used in pilot programs alongside locally developed teaching materials to prove their value in the classroom.
The first Classmate PCs arrived in Asia in March, with 1,230 units scheduled to be shipped by the end of 2007. At the beginning of June, 60 Classmate PCs had arrived in India, with a further 150 units in Pakistan, 150 in the Philippines, 50 in Vietnam, and 45 in Thailand. Before the year is over, another 55 Classmate PCs are to be shipped to Thailand, 100 more to India, as well as 60 Classmate PCs destined for Sri Lanka, 460 for Malaysia, and 100 for Indonesia.
Most countries are using the Classmate PC in conjunction with science and math classes, but not all. In Malaysia, educators plan to use Classmate PCs for teaching geography, art and languages. And Intel is teaching teachers across the region how to develop their own computer curriculum, which could expand the range of offerings even further.
The Classmate PC costs about $285, but Intel expects volume manufacturing to bring that price down to about $200. That's not far from OLPC's laptop, which is now estimated to cost about $175 when it enters production.
But don't expect Asian governments to bear these costs alone. "It doesn't matter how cheap it is, when you start multiplying it by the student numbers ... no government can afford to pay this bill," Phillips said, citing Indonesia, which has 40 million students, as an example. "Even at $10 per device, they couldn't afford it."
As a result, Asian governments may eventually move towards subsidizing the cost of these laptops, rather than paying for them completely, he said.