Monday, August 14, 2006

One Laptop Per Child Project

Some people have an idea (Stage A) and that idea drove them to find a solution. The drive to find a solution (Stage B) leads them to find the ways and means (Stage C) to achieve that solution, often resulting in a product (Stage D). Along the way, Stage B and C could perhaps generate more ideas, powered by the continuous renewal of creativity and entrepreneurial initiatives.

However, this conventional sequence of Stages A -> B -> C -> D has often been dismantled in this era of 'thinking out of the box'. For example, the widespread knowledge of computers and availability of low cost computing equipment has left many people a product in search of a solution. After all, one of the marketing techniques is to continuously find new ways to sell or market a product beyond its conventional usage. Then the mind goes on to rationalize and justify the efficacies and benefits of the product. As a result of marketing and highly touted features, the product becomes the primary message.

The OLPC project appears to start with the benefit of giving a laptop to a child in order to 'learn learning'. It is certainly an odd proposition especially in a third world environment. Three reasons why it is odd.

1) LINUX: The $100 laptop runs on Linux which is already not as ubiquitous as Windows in the developed world.

2) USEFULNESS: How will children learn to use the computers without learning the usefulness of computers? So what if the computer can allow one to type essays. Wouldn't that drive up to total cost of ownership? Who pays for paper and printer consumables? Who pays for repairs for mishandling? Who pays for Internet connectivity? Who pays for power supplies? Who pays for other pieces of software necessary for the functioning of the system? Who pays for training? What about technical support?

3) FIRST THINGS: Will people from the third world really appreciate the tools often used in a developed world? The contexts are simply different. The reason why the developed world is able to maximise its benefits from computers is because of their developed and available infrastructure. Third world countries often does not have such infrastructures. Pencil and paper would be best in most learning situations for them.

My conclusion: Before even thinking of helping Third World countries learn, one should seriously address the most important first steps for the children of the 3rd world. If training and the associated trainers and educational frameworks are not there in the first place, these so called wonder tools, one laptop per child initiatives will end up like games machines or other time wasting devices that plagues the first world nations today.

For more information of the One Laptop Per Child Project, click here.



wayan said...

Did you read the latest, that Thailand will be buying laptops instead of books for 530 target school kids? I did the math - laptops will be $100K more than books.
$100K that would educate and motivate teachers, who are proven to be the best in opening up a child to the wonder of knowledge

YAPdates said...

Yeh. Sometimes I wonder. Those proponents of the project. When they were younger, did they themselves 'benefited' or 'learned' from computers the same way like what they are proposing? I doubt.

We forget that computers are as good as the information we put into it. A book can be read anytime and anywhere with very simple basic lighting. A computer needs power which restricts movement.

'Releasing' a child to the wonders of knowledge while strapping him down to the chains of power supply, exhaustible battery life or associated software errors? Even using a hand driven power generator can become a distraction in itself.

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