One Laptop Per Child Australia received a one-off boost in the federal budget, scoring $11.7 million of funding. In addition, budget measures mean that donations to OLPC Australia will be tax deductible from 1 July.
The funding will be used to purchase Linux-based XO laptops for 50,000 students. "This investment from government is the culmination of years of hard work," OLPC CEO Rangan Srikhanta told Techworld Australia.
"We always saw this as a grassroots movement that would then lead in to government support and we've got that and we're extremely grateful to [independent Lyne MP] Rob Oakeshott, [independent New England MP] Tony Windsor and the prime minister."
Srikhanta said that Oakeshott and Windsor played a "major role" in getting the funding included in the budget.
"It was a very natural fit," Srikhanta said. "They've seen the program first hand in their electorates and they have a very strong push on the National Broadband Network and technology as a means of equalising the disadvantages based on where you live, based on geography. So for them it was really a culmination of everything they've been pulling for for quite a few years."
Ultimately OLPC Australia intends to deploy laptops to 500,000 Australian students. "[50,000 laptops is] 10 per cent. It's a pilot and we're hoping to reach in the vicinity of 2000 classrooms around Australia using this funding."
"I've seen both the gap in education particularly in regional and remote communities and I've also seen in the limited rollout of the One Laptop Per Child program so far the impacts it has on closing that gap in education," Oakeshott told Techworld Australia.
One example cited by Oakeshott is Doomadgee State School in north-west Queensland, whose principal, Richard Barrie, was an early adopter of OLPC's XO laptops. Barrie credits the program as being one of the components for the school's increase in National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test scores.
Oakeshott said that the OLPC program has also had an impact in his electorate. "I have some very remote schools, even though I'm in a coastal electorate in the mid north coast of New South Wales. We are the land of hills and valleys and so a lot of schools with really difficult access issues, both in a physical sense and a technology sense, exist.
"I've already got two schools at Mount George and Long Flat that are benefiting directly from the One Laptop Per Child program."
"I think there's a there's a challenge in public policy at the moment to get education and technology as joint partners in the future of both," Oakeshott said.
The MP said he sees links between his support of OLPC and the NBN: "Education and the value of knowledge really can play a much greater role in winning the arguments on why we're doing things such as the National Broadband rollout — this is not just about movies and Angry Birds, this is an education opportunity for a very large country with a very diverse population that can deliver equity in education for all."
Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.
Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p
Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @techworld_au