Intel looks to the World Ahead

Back in 2006 I got my paws on Intel’s Classmate PC at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The Classmate was unveiled as part of Intel’s World Ahead programme, which aimed to put technology to work in developing nations, much like the One Laptop Per Child organisation.

The Classmate PC was a solid state, rugged mobile computer designed to help children in the developing world learn. But putting hardware in the hands of children is only half the story – there’s a lot more to Intel’s World Ahead vision.

I recently met up with John Galvin - co-General Manager of World Ahead, Intel Education – to get some insight into what Intel has been doing and what it’s planning in the education space.

Intel has shipped over 10 million Classmate PCs, but today the company has a whole range of education-based devices. The basic Classmate PC premise still exists, but now you can get a version with a twistable screen that can be used in tablet mode, or a selection of tablet devices instead.

But Intel isn’t just focusing on the hardware that children are holding or using, it’s also putting effort into developing new and innovative ways for teachers to interact with those children and their devices. Whether it’s remotely sending assignments to children miles away, or sending questions to individual children in a classroom, Intel is working on how technology can best educate, rather than just pushing technology into the classroom.

One of the key points that Galvin raised when we were chatting about technology in the developing world, was a need for a “sometimes connected” solution. While we take our Internet and data connections for granted, in the developing world students might only have Internet access in specific locations, which could often be miles from home.

So while schools in the developed world can rely on web apps run on children’s devices, in the developing world that’s not an option – “client apps need to exist on student’s devices” Galvin confirmed. But those apps need to be lightweight enough to run without the need for power-hungry, expensive hardware. And those apps need to be updatable when the student does have access to a data connection.

When asked about the One Laptop Per Child organisation’s move to tablet devices, Galvin responded by saying “I want to provide the best solution for education.” And with Intel able to supply a plethora of different devices and form factors, that shouldn’t be a problem.

But Galvin was keen to point out that it’s not just about hardware and form factor “Great manageability and security” are just as important. With an ever-increasing amount of malware out there, not to mention the fact that children find it frustratingly easy to hobble any kind of computer, the ability for teachers or IT staff to remotely manage and secure the devices handed out to students is vital.

I asked whether we’d see an Intel Classmate device with integrated solar panels, since power is another major issue in the developing world. John confirmed that Intel is developing solar panels for mobile devices in its labs, so it’s likely we’ll see devices so equipped soon.

It’s clear that there’s a lot going on within Intel’s World Ahead Programme, and a lot of it is as much about educated deployment and training as it is about hardware. And if the Open Your Tomorrow initiative in Lebanon is anything to go by, Intel’s technology is going to be making a big difference to future generations all over the world.