Monday, September 10, 2007

One Laptop per Child

I was watching 60 Minutes the other day and they had a segment about the One Laptop Per Child program, spearheaded by faculty members at the MIT lab. What they've done is to work with technology companies to create a cheap ($100) laptop that is virtually indestructible - there are no ports or holes in the plastic, so you can literally pour a glass of water over it and not harm it. There are little ear-like antennae sticking off the top, which just about triples the strength of the WiFi. The battery life in somewhere in the range of 10-12 hours, and then they have hand wound battery rechargers that can be used when the kids have no electricity at home (as most of them don't in the targeted areas).

In some countries where they've started this program, school attendance has shot up to 50% as the word of mouth gets around among the kids to tell them about the fun computers they get by going to school. The kids can then take the computers home with them and teach their whole families how to use them.

One of the controversial aspects of this program is that the program backers contend that the computers can be used in place of education (if they are not able to attend school themselves). And computers are definitely better than nothing. But what the critics have said is that, while the kids may learn to use the basic functions, they won't learn the savvy and depth they could get in school.

But my take on it is that in many of these 3rd World countries where education is hard to come by, self-taught education by computer will vastly expand the horizons of these kids beyond anything they could have achieved on their own.

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