Intel's Classmate PC Aims to Be Many Kids' First Laptop

Since 2006, computer manufacturer Intel has offered its Learning Series, part of an initiative to get computers and technological education into classrooms around the world. The latest addition to that series: the Classmate PC, a highly durable, semi-tablet touch-screen device meant to provide computing power to children everywhere. How does it fit into Intel's educational directive? Schools offering Computer Support Technician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Laptops for All

Several organizations, like the popular One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), make it a goal to deliver technology to young learners in areas that might not otherwise have access to it. But where OLPC focuses primarily on affordability, Intel concentrates on utility. It's not just hardware they're delivering.

Intel loads each of their PCs with a software suite designed to facilitate learning in the classroom. Part of this software is cloud-based, so classmates can easily engage in collaborative exercises at their teacher's direction. Intel also sends employees to help train teachers wherever their technology's delivered. The goal is for educators to be familiar enough with both the hardware and software components of Intel's product to substantially improve their classroom.

Of course the hardware itself is nothing to scoff at. Classmate PCs are tiny, clam-shelled and thick-skinned laptops whose monitors can swivel around and convert into a touch-screen tablet device. They feature a webcam to foster communication, and also an accelerometer/motion sensor. Classmates have been tested in extreme conditions, from ovens to freezing cold to being dropped several feet. Intel wants these products to last, not always an easy thing to accomplish when it comes to small children with fun toys.

Improve Access, Improve Education

So far, Intel's done a pretty solid job carrying out their goals. Mashable.com reports that as of July 2011 they've delivered over four million PCs to children in more remote areas, including Nigeria and Argentina. They've also come up with a unique way to distribute those computers - instead of selling the hardware directly, they license their specifications out to local manufacturers, who then make the computers and sell them to their communities. In that way, Intel not only fosters education but also local economies. The one potential downside: because of the complexity of the hardware and software, as well as the time invested by Intel employees in training local teachers, each of their PCs costs around $400-500, which is even more than the retail price of some laptops in the U.S.

Still, Intel's goals are certainly laudable, as are their locally targeted methods. Many educators around the world, including those in more remote regions, believe that increasing access to and familiarity with technology is an important key to improving education. Intel's Learning Series could end up being a major component in that battle.

Back stateside, some school districts are implementing a Bring Your Own Laptop policy.

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