Updated Tuesday 3:15 p.m.
As part of a charitable effort to bring a piece of revolutionary technology to children in developing nations, Forest Park fifth-graders will receive new laptop computers that are unlike any other on the market. And for every one of these unique and colorful machines purchased by the district, another will be delivered to sister students overseas, ultimately enabling the schools to communicate with one another.
One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass., and founded by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte, began an international fundraising effort on Monday encouraging those in the U.S. to provide the computers to impoverished countries.
Forest Park will purchase one of these computers for every fifth-grade student in the district, and in turn, an equal number are to be delivered to students elsewhere. Forest Park’s buy-in to the Give One Get One program is the largest of any educational system in the state, and Superintendent Lou Cavallo joined Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and Negroponte at a press conference in Chicago to help roll out the effort.
“This is a phenomenal endeavor we’re really proud to be a part of,” Cavallo said.
Quinn is heading up a statewide effort to bridge the “digital divide” and spoke enthusiastically of Negroponte’s product. He also pledged to purchase three pairs of the computer that will be awarded to Illinois third-graders through a statewide essay contest. Forest Park’s participation will become part of the state’s campaign for technology in the classroom and be leveraged to bring other schools into the mix.
“This is a special day for the Land of Lincoln, our state, our country and the world,” Quinn said.
Each pair of laptops will cost the district $399. Cavallo said he intends to solicit sponsorship from local business groups to help defray the costs.
The K-8 district learned of the opportunity to bring this technology to its students and at the same time expose them to other cultures through village Commissioner Rory Hoskins. Quinn and Hoskins discussed the program during a lunch meeting earlier this month and passed the information on to the superintendent.
Hoskins, who has children in the district, said he’s hopeful the computers will give students a sense of empowerment.
In launching the Give One Get One program, Negroponte spoke at length about the features of his computer that he said could revolutionize education in developing countries. The keyboard offers 18 languages and allows users to interact with nearby computers through a wireless mesh network. The devices are practically indestructible, operate on far less power than a traditional laptop and can be recharged using a hand crank.
Rwanda, Uruguay, Libya, Ethiopia and Mongolia are just a few of the countries that have been contacted by Negroponte. The goal, he said, is to engage children at a young age and keep them interested in education, thereby “eliminating poverty.”
“You can’t just count on building schools and hiring teachers,” Negroponte said. “You’ve got to leverage the kids.”