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$100 Laptop! Is it worth what it seems to be? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by alok shrestha, Nepal Nov 18, 2007
Media , Technology   Opinions
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$100 Laptop! Is it worth what it seems to be? The project named, OLPC (One Laptop per Child), is gaining rapid popularity in developing as well as developed countries. This project was initially conceptualized by Nicholas Negroponte, founder chairman of MITs’ (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab and was announced in The World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland on January 2005. The project aims to provide laptops worth $100 to each and every school age child of underdeveloped and developing countries so that children do not have to be deprived of basic education. That means children don’t need to go to school, buy textbooks and other accessories to gain an education. The idea is conceptualized referencing the fact that most of the parents in underdeveloped and developing countries don’t even have enough money to buy textbook and pencils for their children.

Though at first it seems that this project is charming and has strong appeal for poor countries and its poor children, it is not as it seems to be. There are lots of questions to be answered and problems to be solved before the real implementation and success of this project can be felt. Can developing countries afford these laptops? Do they have any estimates about how much $100 means to developing countries? The per capita income of Bangladesh, one of the poorest and developing countries and where OLPC is willing to sell its laptop is $300 i.e. 20, 557 TAKA. Can the people of Bangladesh afford this laptop? OLPC is saying it will be selling these laptops to the government of the poor countries and they will have to distribute laptops to their poor children. Have they gone out of their minds to sell this $100 laptop which may seem very cheap here in USA and other developed countries, but is actually really expensive for underdeveloped and developing countries? I don’t think the governments of these countries who even don’t have money to provide basic needs of its people have ability to buy this so-called $100 laptop. And also who cares about this laptop if they don’t have anything to eat and wear? I don’t believe that educational needs comes before the basic needs like food, shelter and clothes.

Let’s assume that government of poor countries will buy these laptops for their poor children. It will be their first time investment. They will spend optimum of their nominal budget for buying these laptops. It’s ok that they spend money for this noble cause. But for how long will these laptops operate smoothly and without problems? One year? Two year? What about after then? It’s possible to make first time investment but it’s more costly to maintain this laptop and who will pay for that? Anyone can see in these poor countries that once some infrastructures like road, building, water supply etc. is built with the help of some donor, there’s no one to take care of it. Government is responsible for this but ironically these governments don’t have enough money to maintain it. Hospitals, roads, schools etc. are constructed once but after two or three years it’s common to see it ruined because of lack of care and management. So I don’t believe that these governments have enough financial capacity to repair these laptops after some time if they get into problems.

What about language problem? Are they going to build these laptops for English speaking children only? I don’t think so. Most of the developing countries' children don’t even understand English, then how are they going to use this laptop? Most of the underprivileged children of the underdeveloped and developing nations go to schools where they are taught in local language rather than English and more priority is given to those languages as its convenient to learn and gain knowledge in the language that are known in prior. So it’s obvious that they are not good in English. The majority of them even don’t understand English. Then how are they supposed to learn the content from this $100 laptop which obviously will be in English. Let’s give an example from Nepal itself. There are two categories of schools of Nepal. One that is established and operated by government and the other one which is established and operated by the private sector. In government schools the medium of teaching is the Nepali language whereas in private schools more priority is given to the English language. And $100 is should be for government school children as they are more poor and underprivileged than the children studying in private schools.
So it’s now crystal clear about the unfeasibility of OLPC project. I am sure that OLPC people are well aware of this problem and are trying their best to overcome this problem. I heard that they are thinking to localize the software for this Laptop that means all the necessary applications will be developed in a customized manner. Again the problem is who is going to fund for this. Thus what we can see is that $100 is not actually $100. We are well aware that software development cost is often more greater than hardware development and they are just talking about hardware. So what can be the real cost of this laptop after we add software cost as well, may be $200 or $300 or even more.

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Writer Profile
alok shrestha

I am from Bhaktapur, Nepal currently pursuing my higher education at Northwest Missouri State University majoring in "Management Information System". My interests include technology and society especially about how technology can transform rural life.

I don’t believe that educational needs comes before the basic needs like food, shelter and clothes.
Rómulo Trindade Tomé Marques Alves | Nov 29th, 2007
I obviously agree with this sentence. Nevertheless, I think you are analysing the situation by a very dark side that can be associated, in Political Economics, to the structuralism theory born from the thoughts of Karl Marx. Although this theory is rather interesting, especially to measure the inequalities in International Commerce, it limits itself to see only the extremely economic side of the social conjuncture in a slightly extremist way. So, I suppose that a bit of aware would be very positive. In fact, in order to define a policie it is necessary to see not only the political-economic side but also the history, both from the past and nowadays´ history - comparing with other nations. Lets think about India (so near Bangladesh), for example. In 1947 (independence), a petrifying number of Indians couldn’t satisfy their basic needs. It still has a lot of problems. However, since 1947 it is incredible how India managed to achieve its actual conjuncture. So, how did India managed to become such a better place to live? The answer is very simple. The development of India is mainly concerned with education. In 1951 (5 years after independence) are made 7 Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), which exams (to become a student there) are much more difficult than in MIT or Harvard (and there are not bribes). After 1953, Indian professionals began to emigrate to EUA. Until 1991, India’s economic system was far from ideal - socialist pro-soviet. In that year, the prime-minister Manmohan Singh opened the economy to foreign investments. Then, the competition in the national telecommunications industry started, and the prices become lower. Then optical fibre became almost free to India because of reasons widely known – some luck I admit. After this moment, it wasn’t necessary to emigrate to work. In fact, a lot of Indians in the EUA returned to India because they were fired. And why did this happen? Well, because it was cheaper to do the work in India. It is here that outsourcing has its role. “Outsourcing refers to the delegation of non-core operations from internal production to an external entity specializing in the management of that operation. Outsourcing is utilizing experts from outside the entity to perform specific tasks that the entity once performed itself. The decision to outsource is often made in the interest of lowering firm costs, redirecting or conserving energy directed at the competencies of a particular business, or to make more efficient use of labour, capital, technology and resources.” [in wikipedia]. Analysing India’s development process I think if it was not by education, this country would still be as it was in 1947 – a country where basic needs are not minimally satisfied to a huge part of its population. The rest of your text is very pertinent. But if you analyse it carefully, even in the Nepal’s schools the solution would pass by educational policies. In my opinion, other problem is that people in underdeveloped and in development countries don’t know how to use computers and there is not anybody to explain them. It is similar to the situation that occurs with these countries with the methods of controlling natality. Actually, if there is not anybody who explains them the importance of controlling the birth rate, the dangerous of AIDS and how to prevent themselves, they won´t change! In fact, most people there don´t know how to use a condom or a pill. And men consider that using these things makes them “less man”. A mentality change urges! And the only way to do that is by education and international cooperation. I am looking forward to see the result of EU-Africa summit. One-child policies as China´s are unwelcome. By this way, the Millennium Development Goals will never be achieved by 2015! “But help them by providing pencils, notebooks and textbooks which are far cheaper than $100 laptop. It’s the responsibility and duty of the technocrat like Negroponte to think about the use of technology in education but it’s also their duty to make the technology affordable, accessible and efficient for general use.” Pencils, notebooks and textbooks? That is not crucial. “Don’t give the fish; teach how to fish”. This means that the essential is not giving that material, but teach them how to teach and what to teach. In fact, only by this way the poor students in the underdeveloped countries can succeed. Why giving those things if they are not used in the best way possible? What Bangladesh needs is a strong human capital that allows the country to export brains. Only by this way they can have profits and develop more rapidly as India did. When teachers in Bangladesh (and other underdeveloped countries by addition) know how to teach and what to teach regarding to what is being done in the developed countries, the country will grow. Then, the emigrated brains will return and help the country. But if technology (computers mainly) isn’t included in these programmes of education/teaching, what are the brains going to do in foreign countries? The obvious answer is nothing! Maybe the same as many qualified Romanians, Moldovans and Ukrainians do in Eastern Europe: they, who are medics and teachers, clean houses and build (physically, not in the architect’s way) flats to survive. Although these people have good qualifications, they don’t know how to work with modern technology and their qualifications are not recognized. So it is important to centralize the education globally. They also need computers and they need someone who teaches them how to work with computers. Do you know how the Indian university students get money? They study hard during the day and work at night. And the truth is that this work depends a lot of the technology knowledge. More, when the millennium bug occurred – occurrence that was very important to India – if wasn’t because of the Indians technologic knowledge (and also because they are many people) they wouldn’t be the ones to have the main role. I agree with this measure. Nonetheless, I’m afraid that the computers get there and are not used conveniently because there are not anybody to teach how to work with this machines. In my opinion, these are the real problems concerned with OLPC.

Can i take part
Yussif Abdul-mumin | Dec 4th, 2007
I would be grate if my organization can take part in the development the same project as u are doing out there,we are in to youth development on ICT and we need partners. Thank you, Abdul-mumin Yussif Tamale/Ghana. +233-20-8283186

Keep it up
Yussif Abdul-mumin | Dec 4th, 2007
I would be grate if my organization can take part in the development the same project as u are doing out there,we are in to youth development on ICT and we need partners. Thank you, Abdul-mumin Yussif Tamale/Ghana. +233-20-8283186

Keep it up
Yussif Abdul-mumin | Dec 4th, 2007
I would be grate if my organization can take part in the development the same project as u are doing out there,we are working with youth on the MDG's the way forward ICT can be used in acheaving the goals,i wil eag u to keep the good work on and we need partners to move ours too forward. Thank you, Abdul-mumin Yussif Tamale/Ghana. +233-20-8283186

It's a good initiative
Dady | Feb 21st, 2009
I want you to know that there is other country that is waiting for kinds of initiatives also. I can take the case of Haiti, if you are willing to inlarge this project, and you can contact: CHRISTIAN COLLECTIVITY TO REACH OTHERS' NEEDS, in the following contacts details, we will welcome you to Haiti, and to work with you. Phone: (509) 364-88 E-mail: ccronh@yahoo.fr Postal address: P.O. BOX 30070. Delmas. Port au prince, Haiti, 6120

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