Thursday, November 17, 2005

$100 Laptops For All The Children of the World

Just what is the purpose of this project?

A cheap laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand-crank to provide electricity are expected to start shipping in February or March to help extend technology to school-aged children worldwide.

The machines are to sell for $100, slightly less than its cost. The aim is to have governments or donors buy them and give full ownership to the children.

"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters.

I don't understand how giving a hand-cranked laptop to some kid in the bush of the Serengeti, or in the mountains of Laos, or wherever the heck these are supposed to go, is going to help anyone. The article specifically mentions Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria, and Egypt. Just who is going to put up all these wireless nodes so that the bedouin kids in Egypt, or the Brazilians in the rain forest, can surf the web and catch up on the latest happenings on Lost?

I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see how this benefits anyone to any great degree. I view it as akin to the proposal a few years ago (guess which city!) to give every homeless person his/her own shopping cart. Certainly the money spent on shopping carts could be better spent on the homeless, and certainly the money spent on these educational toys/fads, and the infrastructure needed to support them, could be better spent on the same kids these computers purport to help.


Wulf said...

My students and I discussed this the other day. I am in a school district where all high school students are issued a Dell Inspiron 600. They thought this $100 laptop was a great idea. But most of them have lived in the suburbs of Richmond Va their whole lives. And they spend more time playing games and finding illicit IM channels than doing any work on the things. Their perspective falls short for understanding the infrastructure questions, or for considering what is really needed for educating the children in question.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was very excited about it - he wants to see these given to every child in his state, which is about as far from the original idea as one could get. So, maybe there are some kids up that way who will benefit.

In addition, it is my understanding that the plan is to give the kids the laptops and wish them the best of luck for maintainence. Cracked screen? Fix it, kid. That's a great plan.

Anonymous said...

This is why I hate conservatives.

Try to build a cost effective solution to address the world's education problems, you poop all over it.

Try to bring democracy to a country though the barrel end of a gun, you break out your Lee Greenwood CD's and wave American flags made it Taiwan.

Shame on you. Shame on you.

Darren said...

Anonymous, don't be a hater. It takes way too much energy and isn't productive. I quote Master Yoda: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” You don't want suffering, do you? I don't.

You think these mini-computers will "address the world's education problems"? There's the difference--I don't. Computers haven't addressed the education problems here in the US, where computers are much more ubiquitous than they ever will be in the bush of Africa or the forests of southern Asia or Brazil.

And now, to comment on your political point:

Here's where I *disagree* with liberals. Libs think that "caring enough" is sufficient. We conservatives think that caring enough is fine, but that it should lead to actually solving the problem you care about. Liberals "emote", conservatives "do".

To paraphrase the old anti-teacher saying, "Those (conservatives) who can, do. Those (liberals) who can't, emote."

Anonymous said...

I think the $100 laptops are a good idea. Sure, giving them to media-saturated kids in the U.S. doesn't mean much, but for isolated peoples, perhaps giving them a look at other cultures through the internet or something, and getting them a look at what technology can be, can be a step towards improvement of the quality of life.

I think an important thing is that the kids will "own" the laptops, where they might never have owned anything else of such value in today's marketplace.

Finally, the cost isn't THAT much; $100 million dollars to bring a million kids into the 21st century is a bargain, in the world of philanthropy. Remember, it's not the US gov't paying for them it's other countries (or donors) who probably know what will help their kids. (Plus, it's doubtful that $100 laptops will make their way to the black market if everyone's got one).

Even if they just sit and look at music videos, it would go a long way towards understanding.

Darren said...

I sound like a leftie here, but...

*I* think the money would be better spent on a teacher for those kids. And some books. I just do not see how a novelty gadget, no matter how high tech, is going to improve *anyone's* life.

But kellen, thank you for commenting. How did you find my little corner of the internet?

James said...

The computer iniative indeed does present an opportunity for education advancement in the countries mentioned.

First, their wireless nodes tend to be very extensive, maybe not as extensive as in the U.S. or a standard European country, but otherwise very far-reaching on the whole. It's cheaper and easier to install a wireless infrastructure than a wired one such as is still prevalent here in the U.S. So there's plenty of connectivity for these machines should they ever materialize.

In these countries if you have the education to become a teacher you usually have sufficient education to go onto something else that's far more lucrative and less demanding on your personal resources. So teachers are at a premium.

Brick and mortar schoolhouses are expensive to build and hard to sustain with staff and in any other way you need to sustain a place of learning. This can be overcome with distance learning opportunities, something which poor countries have been far more inclined to with open-universities that cater to tens of thousands of students per institution. Scaling this down to K-12 should be very possible with the right support and governmental commitment.

On the whole, this can be a feasible educational opportunity for countries with the right support and commitment to making it work, and trying to compare it to anything we see here is a misplaced effort. First we've invested far more in brick and mortar infrastructures and what it takes to keep them up and going, however much those ways may be inefficient or unfair, and we don't have nearly the number of people running around without access to education past certain minimal levels so there's no compelling reason to try and make something like this actually happen and work.

James said...


James said...

Sorry ... didn't notice the note that you're screening your comments, so that explains the two "test" messages. I thought I had lost the original comment, which came with a bit of work, and was wondering what the heck happened.

Darren said...

What is it you think these children will learn? The 3 R's?

Again, I think the reality will be a technological novelty.