15 September 2007

The $100 then $175 now $188 Laptop--Has Anyone Heard of Sharing?

The "One Laptop per Child" project was an interesting idea, but as anyone should have expected, the price has risen well above US $100.
Leaders of the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child that was spun out of MIT acknowledged Friday that the devices are now slated to cost $188 when mass production begins this fall. The last price the nonprofit announced was $176; it described $100 as a long-term goal.

Spokesman George Snell blamed the increase on a variety of factors, including currency fluctuations and rising costs of such components as nickel and silicon. He said the project was committed to keeping the price from rising above $190.

While less than $200 for an innovative, wireless-enabled, hand-powered laptop is a relative bargain, a price nearly twice what the project's memorable nickname promised could make it harder for One Laptop Per Child to sign up international governments as customers. Those governments are expected to give the computers to children for them to keep and tinker with, which the project's founders believe will cause critical thinking and creativity to blossom.

The actual hardware appears to be quite good, for the price, but it is quite likely that aiming for one laptop per child will be not only too expensive, but actually not necessary for optimal learning. What students of the third world need more than one laptop per child, is dedicated, professional teachers along with good learning materials, textbooks, pencils and paper, school buildings, plenty of food to eat, and freedom from disease and war. The laptops should be way down the list, actually.

But there is nothing wrong with sending these laptops, as long as they are sent to governments that will not steal the machines, resell them on the black market, and pocket the money in Swiss bank accounts for corrupt officials. The project's leaders may be guilty not only of excessive price point optimism, but of lack of oversight of the actual conditions of delivery and utilisation.

A computer is not a magic wand. If it were so, the test scores of American students would be quite high, internationally, when instead the scores are quite low.

As the price of these machines continues to grow, it may be necessary to rethink many of the assumptions underlying the overall project. It may be necessary to go slowly, as conditions merit. And it may be necessary for the children to share.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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