OLPC and the $100 laptop- Is it the answer?

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by Lunja, Dec 15, 2006.

  1. Lunja macrumors 6502

    Lunja

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    #1
    Hi all-

    I'm taking a contemporary media debates unit at University, and in one of the seminars recently we began discussing the concept of the "digital divide", an idea that computers can create divisions in society because they create a better quality of life for those that have them, thus excluding and reducing the quality of life for those that don't have such technology, basically creating a divide between the richer and poorer classes in society.

    We focused our discussion on the $100 laptop idea, with specific reference to its use in Africa, and to cut a long story short, I can't decide whether it is the right solution to educate African children.

    So, I'd like to start a discussion. Do you think the $100 laptop is right for Africa at this point in time?

    Here's a link to the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) group . I'd encourage people to do a quick google for other opinions on the idea. I didn't include any so as to not broadcast a bias opinion.

    Let the discussion commence! :D
     
  2. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #2
    No.

    If effort is to be expended, let's concentrate on making sure that people in Africa have clean water, enough food so that no one starves, immunization against diseases that we take for granted, and safety from gangs and tribal chieftains (read: no guns and explosives and people shouldn't have to live in fear for their lives). Until that's done, things like cellphones and laptop computers, even if they are cheaply priced, are luxuries. It should be enough for a village to have a centralized location with ruggedized computers which are connected to a power supply and satellite Internet service.
     
  3. Mammoth macrumors 6502a

    Mammoth

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    #3
    +1
    What's the point of having a nice laptop if you're starving to death and dying of diseases?
     
  4. eva01 macrumors 601

    eva01

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    #4
    you can tell people? :confused:
     
  5. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #5
    That's just silly. For starters, the $100 laptop isn't going to have built-in satellite communications or anything, so you really couldn't use it to tell anyone anything unless you connected it to a network. Additionally, the laptop needs a power source... is it going to run off a hand-powered crank at the cost of calories that might be better used, or a central power source to which the laptop will need to be connected once a day to recharge?

    So we're talking about setting up an advanced telecommunications and power distribution infrastructure for people who don't have enough clean water, food, healthcare, or even clothes on their back, and who live in an often dangerous environment where survival is priorities one, two, and three. Why don't we get them cheap LCD TVs and HBO while we're at it? :rolleyes:

    Sorry, but I think that there are a lot more pressing matters than lack of laptop computers for people who live in Africa. Hell, even in the US not every child has a laptop, and we're about as high up the pyramid of tech luxuries as you can get.
     
  6. eva01 macrumors 601

    eva01

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  7. Xeem macrumors 6502a

    Xeem

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    #7
    I'll vote positive on the OLPC initiative. With the built-in encyclopedias and other tools on these laptops, the children really should gain access to a lot of new knowledge that they can hopefully apply to improve their own lives. To quote some childhood role models of mine: "knowing is half the battle!" ;)
     
  8. Lunja thread starter macrumors 6502

    Lunja

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    #8
    I'm glad we have a postive this early in the discussion.

    I must admit that I'm on the fence at the moment.

    There is a fundamental issue though with how we classify "Africa". The stereotypical image of Africa, the one that Bono so righteously sings about (that's another story...) is a desolate land rife with famine and disease. Here's a quick question about Africa:

    How big is Africa?
    1. As big as USA.
    2. As big as Europe.
    3. As big as China.
     
  9. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #9
    4. How about as big as all three of those combined? It's only the second largest continent behind Asia.

    But the stereotype is there for a reason. In pretty much every sub-Saharan African nation (read: the ones that aren't dominated by Muslims), the average standard of living is far below the point where laptop computers would be expected to be found. Even in a "peaceful" nation like Kenya, most people still live in relative squalor... and that means they don't have AC outlets in their homes, and they don't have access to a network, wired or otherwise. So what good is a laptop without the supporting infrastructure? I'd think most of these folks would like to have $100 worth of food, clothing, and healthcare before you give their kids laptops (which you know are inevitably going to be stolen, sold, misappropriated, or broken).
     
  10. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus

    mkrishnan

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    #10
    I think Clay's point is valid but... is this initiative taking money away from other initiatives that handle infrastructural issues, or is it generating new investment in Africa (and technology) from donor sources that would not otherwise have invested? I think that it's the latter, in which case, unless it's the African people who reject this sort of aid, it's not my purview to say to what aspect of African development people donate...

    P.S. Africa geographically is very huge... but in terms of population, its size is comparable perhaps to the US + Europe but is significantly smaller than the population of China, as far as I know.
     
  11. Eraserhead macrumors G4

    Eraserhead

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    #11
    I'd say it was about the same as China, maybe slightly higher, (after looking Wikipedia it is 843 million, so about 3 times the US population), the $100 laptop is mainly going to relatively rich countries (Egypt, China, India) rather than desperately poor ones that need food to survive.
     
  12. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #12
    Perhaps it isn't taking money away from other worthwhile causes in Africa.

    But it isn't at all practical, no matter which way you look at it. One of the smartest things that Bill Gates' foundation has done is to approach problems from a practical standpoint... they see that the smart thing to do is to build a "pyramid", similar to what we have in the US and other Western nations. You need a stable base, which consists of immunizations against diseases, clean water, hygiene, and food. Then you move up to infrastructure, which consists of roads, common buildings (hospitals, schools, etc.), and sewer and power lines. THEN you worry about technology like cellphones and computers.

    I'm not saying that these folks shouldn't have access to computers. I am saying that it doesn't make sense to issue cheap laptops to children. It would make more sense for someone to develop a ruggedized PC that could be installed in schools and post offices and other common spaces, so that people could access the Internet when they need to, without the risk of having them stolen, lost, or broken... and where they could be attended to by an assigned tech support person and connected to a satellite network.
     
  13. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus

    mkrishnan

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    #13
    I'm not at all sure that a strict pyramid or hierarchy sort of approach is definitely better than a parallel approach... that is, I think it's valuable to place effort higher up in the chain of needs/wants even though the majority of effort is placed on basic safety infrastructure.

    I do think centralizing IT resources makes a lot of sense... this has had some good success in places like Andra Pradesh. And in some of those villages they have electronic voting which...cough...cough...I live in Florida. :rolleyes:
     
  14. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #14
    If these folks are ever going to be able to take care of themselves 100% and not require continual infusions of foreign aid, building a pyramid is absolutely required. Otherwise, we can look forward to aiding them forever.
     
  15. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus

    mkrishnan

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    #15
    If that is what you believe in, that is the policy you should pursue, Clay.
     
  16. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #16
    Thanks, I will. :)

    I think it's just an extension of the old "Teach a man to fish" saying. We can just keep treating Africa like a basket case and just throw money (and $100 laptops) at the problem, or we can encourage them (through directed aid and instruction) to build stable societies and economies where they can thrive on their own. So much of Africa is still torn by ancient ways... tribes committing genocide against each other, young girls being raped because of superstitious belief that having sex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS, stuff like that. Sure, let's get these folks online so they can learn what they need to learn, but let's be practical about how it's done. We didn't just wake up one day in the US and find ourselves with the Internet, computers, and cell phones; the necessary infrastructure to support all of that took DECADES to build. If we just drop that sort of thing on Africa, it'll only be good for as long as the equipment lasts, and then that'll be the end of it.
     
  17. dornoforpyros macrumors 68040

    dornoforpyros

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    #17
    Personally I think the OLPC is a GREAT idea. Yes the argument that "well why are we not giving them food/water/shelter instead of a laptop" is a very valid argument. But the fact is we could spend the next 200 years fighting those same battles and never making any progress on other fronts.

    I see this laptop as being a component of helping people, is it as needed as clean water? Absolutely not, but would you object to giving these children a book or a toy? Helping people out of despair involves more than a warm meal and a roof over their head.

    Anyone here listen to K'naan? He's a Somalian refugee who's now making some amazing music based out of Toronto. I'm bring him up as an example of someone coming from horrible conditions going on to do great things. For all we know 50 years from now the CEO of Microsoft or Apple might have started with one of these $100 laptops.
     
  18. clayj macrumors 604

    clayj

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    #18
    Books and toys don't require power and infrastructure to function. They don't break like computers do. And they're nowhere near as worth stealing. I agree that more than a warm meal and a roof are necessary, but it just seems to me that portable computers are, in this case, putting the cart before the horse.

    Listen to what you said: A refugee who came from horrible conditions. Sure, if you remove any one of these people from their homes and bring them to a Western locale, they can flourish just as well as any of us. But no one is proposing relocating everyone out of Africa and plunking them down in Toronto or New York or London or Tokyo. Bringing people to the infrastructure is easy; bringing infrastructure to the people is hard, and it must be done correctly if a permanent solution to problems is to be found.
     
  19. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

    Macky-Mac

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    #19
    looking at the link I notice several things;

    These computers will be sold, not given, to the education ministries in the targeted countries, most of which aren't in Africa. To me that suggests these $100 computers (which dont actually exist yet) will end up in organized school systems and not out in the wilds where there isn't any infastructure. And if that's the case, then they might do some good.

    but on the other hand, there are probably other approaches that would have a greater effect on educating the poor of the world
     
  20. Lunja thread starter macrumors 6502

    Lunja

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    #20
    Exactly my point. I asked a few of my friends which country/continent they believed Africa was similar in size to. It's the similar in size to USA, Europe and China combined! I just think that the idea of a $100 laptop that will educate Africa is non-sensical at this point in time, because the continent is too diverse. Egypt has show significant interest in the laptop, however this a developing/developed country which has the infrastructure needed to support a project. In Cairo I bet that there are a number of graduates who would willingly take position as support staff to help fix and maintain these laptops. However, in sub-saharan Africa, these laptops will be distributed, and there will be nobody to support them should they fail.

    My main criticism of the OLPC project in Africa is that a large majority of the children who will recieve such a laptop are likely to be illiterate, let alone computer literate. Giving an African child such an alien machine will be akin to the very early film-going audience watching the train rush towards the screen- they simply will not know what to do with it.

    The OLPC claims that a laptop will help children learn and become creative, but I find myself to be far more creative with a pen and paper. I always handwrite lecture notes rather than type them because I feel more connected with what is being said. If I want to quickly draw a diagram which is being shown, I can, rather than having to open up Photoshop (why doesn't OSX have Paint?!).

    I have always preferred book-learning rather than the internet (which the laptops will be able to access through wi-fi and mesh networks) because when reading a book, you are given a selected context in which to place the information. I recently researched for a documentary on the Dambusters, and from reading books on the infamous raid, I learnt far more than typing "Dambusters" into Google. Children need to be taught to learn for themselves, not just to gather information, which is the way the curriculum in England is going...
     

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