Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is One Laptop Per Child really a solution?

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is a non-profit initiative founded by Nicholas Negroponte (co-founder and director of MIT Media Lab). He has a vision to improve lives of underprivileged communities around the globe through betterment of education provided to their children. In his eyes, this laptop will act as a window for those curious kids to connect to each other and to a large information resource on the internet. “Whatever the solutions to the big problems are, they include education; sometimes it can be just education and (rest of the times) can never be without some element of education!“, he states.

On the other hand, critics of this project often consider this as band-aid solution to a more serious injury. In their opinion, spending money on providing gadgets to people - who are yet struggling to meet their basic needs - is naïve and ridiculous.

As the maxim goes - “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. OLPC project is based on theory of constructionism that emphasizes on learning to learn. Learning process is more effective when the learner is actively involved; and so traditional education process, being more of one way traffic, has failed to create genuine learners. OLPC is offering a tool that will make education system more interesting by infusing collaborative learning process. It will bring abundant of information at finger tips of children who, by nature, are curious and eager to learn. Moreover, it will inculcate self-learning abilities in them than mere filling their tiny heads with useless theories.

It’s true that just building schools and appointing teachers is not going to ensure education, let alone making it interesting and effective. And so this different approach taken by OLPC looks promising. Now, like any other large scale project, OLPC too is gonna encounter unavoidable and at times unseen obstacles; some of the most important issues to be addressed are -

Easily accessible technical support: Although designed to be robust, its very likely that kids are going to do use it in weirdest possible ways. Lack of easily accessible local technical support can dampen curiosity and interest.

Native (non-English) language support: Kids (and teachers) in underprivileged communities will need something that they understand better or can learn quickly.

Backbone infrastructure: Underdeveloped regions are most likely to lack any backbone telephone or internet infrastructure. And without that, information flow and peer-to-peer communication can be hindered to great extent.

Gray/black market problems: For highly underdeveloped communities which are still struggling to survive without sufficient food and other basic facilities, it is certainly not a solution. If they are offered this laptop, more probably it’s going to be sold in gray market to fulfill their today’s needs. Hungry stomachs do not understand philosophy, however great it may be. They should be provided with what they need first and funds allocated for that purpose should not be diverted towards any other project.

OLPC is certainly not an all-comprehensive solution to all problems of all underprivileged communities; rather it’s about building an enhanced education system that can solve some of them. It’s a step towards bridging digital divide. It is going to empower few of the bright minds inside some of the underdeveloped communities - that will further trigger a tickle down education effect and eventually improve lives of a larger population around them.

Source: http://we.excelalways.net/techbiz/ptc/is-one-laptop-per-child-really-solution

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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