Saturday, May 17, 2008

What education can poor kids get for $100?

In India, $100 is what the Central Government approximately spends annually on educating poor kids through its various schemes. The most optimist of people will say only 25% of that money is actually spent where it was intended, and if absent teachers, like in my native village, are the rule, availability of committed teachers is suspect.

Technology was supposed to bring quality education to all. What happened?

Let us discuss the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project:

The OLPC project promised an affordable, cutting-edge learning machine for kids in poor nations, costing only $100. In due time, the project seems to have lost momentum and a season of abandon is upon us.

Some accuse the project’s father Nicholas Negroponte of overreaching and having ego issues, as a result of which people are moving away from the project to start their own similarly noble-minded projects.

Others have said that the OLPC project was never a sound business proposition and manufacturers will always be conflicted about committing for a longer run.

Americans have blasted the OLPC of being myopic, saying kids in poor countries need food and clean water first.

Meanwhile, educators are still debating the usefulness of computers in the classroom.

Companies who thought the OLPC was a threat to their business deals in developing countries started launching their own initiatives, if they cannot muzzle the program in the open –

Intel’s Classmate and Microsoft’s Windows XP Lite are cases in point.
(note: This is same OS that OLPC will now have instead of the earlier Linus-based Sugar OS)

The fair market price of OLPC has now climbed to $199.

I am still surprised that Americans, otherwise famous for being world-beating philanthropists, did not come up in sizable numbers to support the OLPC, not even when the project introduced the "Give 1 Get 1" offer for Americans costing $399, which incidentally consisted of a tax-deductible portion of $200.

The most cynic say, “What’s the use of OLPC, anyway? Kids in Nigeria are using the OLPC to view porn."

So, how do we bring quality education to poor kids?

My options are all centered on using Wikipedia:

- Distribute free copies of the best of Wikipedia, or respective Topics, in all languages. Do it everywhere.
- Put the Wikipedia inside refurbished laptops, smartphones, iPods, whatever

You can also put the best of lectures from MIT OCW and other universities on refurbished iPods, smartphones, etc.

I know these ideas are not much but somehow, the world must do something about educating poor. And, yes, despite all its shortcomings, the OLPC was a noble and great idea.

Something is better than nothing. Something is also better than armchair analysis and criticism.

Related in MediaVidea:
What does India need most? The $100 Laptop or the Rs. 1 Lac car?
Top 5 things I would do if I were in charge of Wikipedia

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