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I’m going to divert the blog for one post away from online journalism. If you’re not familiar with the (it was the subject of not long ago), the short version is:
Build a ruggedized wireless laptop impervious to sand, dirt and water. Run it from a rechargeable battery (charge with a pull-cord or a $12 solar panel) so that electricity is optional. Run it on Linux and . Distribute it to children in developing countries where there are few books (or none) in the schools.
How much would it cost? The goal was $100 per laptop. The goal has not yet been met (that’s a story in itself). Right now the cost is $200 each.
Under a limited-time program (now extended to Dec. 31), you can participate by buying two laptops for $399. You’ll get one to keep (or to give), and the other will be given to a child in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia or Rwanda.
You’ll also get one year of T-Mobile HotSpot access — free.
It’s the season for giving. Details about how to get involved are .
I support this program because I have seen classrooms in rural areas in developing countries, and I believe that literacy — just plain reading and writing — are vital to economic development and self-determination. The extremely limited access to books (and writing paper) prevents the spread of knowledge. When you have the Internet in your lap, you have access to the largest library in the history of the world.
Criticisms abound, but I have heard each one addressed in a manner that satisfies me.
One of the strongest criticisms is summed up in this comment:
“I think it’s wonderful that the machines can be put in the hands of children and parents, and it will have an impact on their lives if they have access to electricity [but the battery options mean you do not need external electricity],” Larry Cuban, a Stanford University education professor, said in an interview. “However, if part of their rationale is that it will revolutionize education in various countries, I don’t think it will happen, and they are naïve and innocent about the reality of formal schooling.” (Source: )
In one sense, Cuban is correct. We can see the results of poor teacher training in technology skills here in the U.S. But I disagree that formal schooling is necessarily the answer to the digital divide and the knowledge gap between developing and developed countries, or even between rural and urban in any country.
It’s true that you can’t just give the laptop to the child and expect her to figure it out all on her own. But children are natural explorers. I believe a child with resources and a little literacy, given enough free time, can learn much more by following her own curiosity than she could by sitting in a classroom being drilled and lectured. “Formal schooling” based on the Western model does not work everywhere — especially in cultures that have no written tradition.
If you want to revolutionize education, you might think about taking the kids out of the classroom — and away from paper-based media.
Then there’s the business world’s vested interest. Make a $200 laptop available, and what happens to Microsoft and other fat cats in the technology industries?
No, the biggest obstacle to the XO’s success is not technology — it’s already a wonder — but fear. Overseas ministers of education fear that changing the status quo might risk their jobs. Big-name computer makers fear that the XO will steal away an overlooked two-billion-person market. Critics fear that the poorest countries need food, malaria protection and clean water far more than computers. (Source: )
That’s from David Pogue’s hands-on review, published last month. The laptop sounds simply amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.
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