With the project scheduled to be completed by June 2008, Libya could become the first nation in which all school-age children are connected to the internet through educational computers, Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the One Laptop per Child project, told the The New York Times on Wednesday.
The $250 million deal, reached on Tuesday, would provide the nation with 1.2 million computers, a server in each school, a team of technical advisers, satellite internet service and other infrastructure.
The One Laptop per Child project, which has the support of the United Nations Development Programme, aims to provide laptops to school-aged children worldwide for about $100 each. It has reached tentative purchase agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand.
Negroponte, a computer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, said he had met with Moammar al-Gadhafi and the project appealed to the Libyan leader's political agenda of creating a more open Libya and consolidating his position as an African leader.
The two men discussed the possibility that Libya would also pay for laptops for poorer African nations like Chad, Niger and Rwanda, said Negroponte, who is the brother of John Negroponte, the US National Intelligence director.
Negroponte proposed the project
Al-Gadhafi surprised the world in late 2003 when he and announced plans to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction programs. Libya was eager to end the international isolation and economic hardships from United Nations and US sanctions. The US has since opened an embassy in Tripoli.
Test models of the computers will be distributed to the participating countries in November, and mass production is expected to begin by July 2007, he said. They are to be produced by Taiwanese computer maker Quanta Computer Inc.
The machines are to be equipped with hand cranks or foot pedals, so that children can use them when electricity is too costly or not available. Expected to initially cost $150 (? 120) and then be reduced in price, they will have wireless network access and run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux.
The project was inspired by Negroponte's experience giving internet-connected laptops to children in Cambodia. He said the first English word spoken by those children was "Google".