Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ One Laptop Per Child

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 02, 2007

One person on schoolforge said this:
An interesting article by one of the GNU Classpath Developer Roma Kennke

He thinks what our children really need are:
* Parents.
* Time to learn.
* Childhood.

and they don't need:
* Floods of information and media.
* Plastic toys
* And certainly, kids don't need a computer
Then another said this:
When your world is dominated by where your next meal is coming from and IF your next meal is coming, you probably aren't too concerned about things like PC's, the Internet, etc. This is one project that should die an early and fast death.
This is my reply:

It is true that people in developing nations are most worried about where their next meal is coming from. Computers aren't high on the list.

But that's the problem. These children have no way to earn a living, and when they are parents, they will have no way to care for their children.

It should be abundantly and blatantly obvious that aid to impoverished children should consist NOT ONLY of the basics of survival. At some point, aid needs to focus on how they will grow so they need no further aid. 'Teach a man to fish...' and all that.

The suggestion that they need parents and time to learn and all that is cutesy and all motherhood (quite literally) in a family values kind of way, but is utterly useless. They're not going to to get that (you can't just manufacture parents), and even if they got that, it would not improve their situation at all.

That's why development aid often consists of things other than the basics of survival. You might say that a starving child has no use for a road, and directly you'd be right, but the road is what allows people and goods to travel, and thus enables products to flow out of the community and the food those products pay for to flow into the community.

You might say that a starving child has no use for a power plant, or a furniture factory, or an aqueduct, or even things like a postal service, and you'd be right. But all of these things make it easier, make it more possible, that the child in question will get food.

The question is, WHAT BEST will improve the poor child's chances of being able to make a future for him or her self.

And honestly, it's hard to come up with something better than a laptop and free (or very low cost) internet connection.

The laptop teaches the child. Perhaps not as effectively as a parent or a teacher - but remember, these kids are not going to get parents or teachers. There isn't enough money in the world - have you any understanding of what a teacher costs? For many children, if the laptop does not teach them then nothing will. And a laptop is a whole lot better than nothing.

Moreover, once the child has learned a few things, then the child can use that very same tool to actually earn money. Unlike almost anything else, a computer allows you to make something from nothing. You can create software, you can create designs, you can perform services like translation or transcription, you can answer questions, you can write and make music and so much more.

The cost of this is $130 or so per child, plus whatever the connection costs are over time. That's less than it costs to feed them - a lot less.

And if we're doing comparative costing, well then let's keep in mind that the cost of one cruise missile would pay for every child in a developing nation to have a computer. The cost of the Iraq war could have provided every child in the world a computer (and probably fed and housed them too). The money developing nations spend on arms (usually purchased from the U.S. or France or Britain) would feed and educate their children. So I don't buy this whole 'misplaced priorities' argument. If a country can afford to fight a war, it can afford to provide computers for children.

I'm ready to entertain the argument that a computer might not be the best way to educate a child and to then provide a means of employment. But believe me, family values ain't it. Nor anything else I've seen.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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