The beneficiaries of a movement to equip students in developing countries with low-cost laptops now have a new resource to help them put the technology to sound educational use both in the U.S. and around the world, thanks to deals struck among ePals Inc., distributors of the low-cost laptops, and the National Geographic Society.

The agreements mean ePals’ suite of safe, kid-friendly electronic communication tools–including the company’s SchoolMail, SchoolBlog, and Global Learning Community applications–will be available to students using Intel’s Classmate PC and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation’s $188 XO laptop.

ePals, which started as a web-based electronic penpal service in 1996, now offers classroom eMail, blogs, online literacy tools, and web-based collaborative projects on subjects such as global climate change and habitats–all free of charge.

With 125,000 classrooms and approximately 13 million students around the world using its free applications for communicating and collaborating online, the company says, ePals is now poised to expand its reach into classrooms even further.

Students and teachers worldwide who use Intel’s Classmate PC or OLPC’s XO computer will be able to join ePals’ Global Learning Community–reportedly the largest network of interconnected classrooms in the world–by selecting the ePals icon on their machine’s desktop. By doing so, they will enter a safe online environment for building and exchanging knowledge, ePals says.

“We are working together to foster students’ 21st-century skills by using the internet in a safe and protected context to develop global awareness, master critical thinking, and experience project-based collaboration,” said Ed Fish, president and CEO of ePals.

Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel’s Emerging Markets Platform Group, echoes Fish’s enthusiasm for the partnership, saying ePals’ applications “complement the collaboration features on the Intel-powered Classmate PC–enabling students and teachers to collaborate and learn together in a secure environment to develop skills for the global economy.”

According to the New York Times, ePals already has seen its applications improve education in developing countries, such as at a school in Kragujevac, Serbia.

One teacher there, Mirjana Milovic, says ePals has helped the 120 students in her school with their English-language skills. Their correspondents in Alabama and Kansas have “also learned that jeans and Nike shoes are popular in Kragujevac, but that the McDonald’s in town closed for lack of business,” Milovic says.

Students in San Diego, meanwhile, use ePals’ applications to conduct “virtual field trips” and have online exchanges with their peers in Italy, China, and the Czech Republic. Students have learned about the family life and political systems in these countries, while at the same time improving their writing skills.

The announcement that Intel and OLPC have partnered with ePals coincides with an agreement between ePals and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development Council to give African students and educators the opportunity to connect with classrooms worldwide through ePals’ Global Learning Community. In addition, National Geographic has decided to partner with ePals to provide digital learning content.

Initially, National Geographic content will be included within ePals’ Global Learning Community on topics such as maps and geography, habitats, global warming, natural disasters, people and culture, great leaders, water, and weather.

“ePals is leading the digital transformation of the education landscape into a more dynamic, cross-cultural, and collaborative experience,” said Edward Prince, chief operating officer for National Geographic Ventures, which creates and distributes digital content for the National Geographic Society.

He added that ePals offers “a rich learning experience for users, while also offering a powerful platform for content providers to deliver their resources in a meaningful way.”

Links:

ePals Inc.

Intel’s Classmate PC

One Laptop Per Child

National Geographic