People for a very long time have been searching near and far for a solution to bridge the gap between the worlds’s financially wealthiest and poorest (United Nations 2001). Will the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) idea be the solution to the problem? This article will expose some of the most out-standing arguments opposing the idea; but do they stand a chance? Read on to see the verdict.
The One Laptop Per Child scheme was an idea brought forth by Nicholas Negroponte at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005. The idea behind it was a new way for children in developing nations to learn through independent exploration and interaction. The laptop will be Linux-based, with a dual-mode monitor system, totalling only a mere $100 per unit. However it won’t boast a hard-drive, instead it will feature 500MB of flash memory. The Central-Processing-Unit (CPU) will be clocked at 500MHz with 128MB DRAM at hand (Negroponte 2006).
The thinking behind this project is, if children in developing countries get an education, they can then get a proper job and fend for themselves (Anonymous 2006).They believe that the $100 laptop would solve this problem, mainly by giving them an education. However, there are much cheaper ways of doing this. Building enough schools and having adequate teachers so that everyone is given the same opportunity for an education is the first step. This is much cheaper than supplying a laptop to every child who in some cases will not have anyone (teachers) to explain how to use it. The children who will receive the laptop are illiterate, so how are they expected to learn from it unless they get initial teaching from a teacher? Many places in developing countries don’t have adequate teachers to teach the kids how to use the machine. So that means they first have to hire teachers, making the initial $100 investment blow out to something even more expensive. Why couldn’t they just hire enough teachers and then spend the money on buying text books and pencils for everyone?
Laptops, just like any other machine, breaks-down every so often. What happens when a child’s laptop breaks-down? Nothing, it is not like they can get next day on-site assistance. Instead, the laptop is now simply useless. What will happen to all the old machines when they don’t work anymore? They will most likely be thrown out; the country will have millions of dead machinery lying all around the street. On average, laptops usually have a 5-year life span; will the governments fork out more millions or billions of dollars every five-years to replace the old ones? Adversely, text books, if looked after carefully, should last at least 10 years – double the length that laptop’s last.
The money spent on the millions of laptops could be better well spent, with people in some countries who are without food or easy access to a doctor (Anonymous 2005). How is mathematics or other forms of education going to help them when they are sick? Or how is a laptop going to help them when they are starving? It’s a plain fact, it won’t. In a lot of developing countries’, families work on a farm so that they can have just enough to eat each day. This includes the children working on the farm after school each day.
The laptop is aimed to be distributed to developing nations, with the government of the country being expected to pay for it. But the countries that really need the laptops have governments that are already in heavy debt (Anonymous 2006); how can they be expected to pay hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars (one million laptops is the minimum shipment amount) for this?
Even if some developing nations can afford to buy a batch of $100 laptop’s, some have a poor reputation of being corrupt (Salih 2004), so therefore, one can predict that these laptops won’t be given to the children who need them most, but will rather be sold to businesses and the upper class. This is not the intended audience the project organises hoped for.
The $100 Laptop is planned to be distributed to various countries around the world, however, what languages will it be in? Will they force everyone in those countries to learn English? There are between 3,000 and 8,000 languages in the world (Anonymous n.d), one can be sure that they will not be able to support all of them.
The organisers of the project say that the laptop will be able to access the Internet (Negroponte 2006), however to set up wireless access points (WAP) all around the country and have network technicians to fix the problems when they occur, comes at a very high price tag. This money could be spent on more important things, such as food or clean drinking water.
What if, after distribution of millions of these little green machines, a virus sweeps across the world that knocks all of them out of action? Or if a hacker finds a vulnerability in the software on the laptops so that he/she is able to steal all the information stored on each one? How are they going to get a software update for them? They will not be able to without a great deal of hassle. So, the government has just wasted millions or even billions of dollars on purchasing these laptops.
The laptop is planned to contain a hand-crank from which it can be charged up (Anonymous 2006). This way of powering the machine is not very well investigated, with different sources saying different things for how long it will be able to operate for the amount of cranking completed. Some sources (Anonymous 2006) say 1:10 – 1 minute of turning will give ten minutes of operating time. Others (Smith 2005) say 1:3 – 1 minute of turning will give 3 minutes of operating time. The fact is, it’s not a very reliable power source. For the children in developing countries who only just manage to eat enough food each day, how can they be expected to turn the crank for hours daily? That means they would have to eat more food!
Theft is not only present in first-world countries, it is everywhere in the world. One can probably imagine that these laptops will be a common source of it. If children are walking home with one of these laptops, older people will get jealous and probably steal it off them. There may be even gangs set up that steal as many as they can and sell it to the black market. Would this happen if the kids where holding a textbook? I don’t think so.
The one laptop per child idea may have some benefits – as an interesting independent way to learn. However, the negatives against the idea clearly outweigh the positives. I commend the organisers of the project because of their willingness to help people, but a rethink of how it can be done better is required.
- Anonymous, 2006, $100 laptop, (WWW document) Available URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/$100_laptop [Accessed 2006, March 4].
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- Negroponte, N. 2006, Frequently Asked Questions, (WWW document) Available URL: http://laptop.org/faq.en_US.html [Accessed 2006, February 22].
- Noon, C. Intel’s Barrett Dismisses $100 Laptop As ‘Gadget’, (WWW document) Available URL: http://www.forbes.com/facesinthenews/2005/12/12/intel-barrett-mit-cx_cn_1212autofacescan03.html [Accessed 2006, March 2].
- Smith, S. 2005, The $100 laptop — is it a wind-up? (WWW document) Available URL: http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/africa/12/01/laptop/ [Accessed 2006, March 4].
- Tzeng, D. Taiwan notebook makers skeptical of MIT budget laptop production schedule, (WWW document) Available URL: http://digitimes.com/news/a20051201A2006.html [Accessed 2006, March 5].
- United Nations, “WE MUST DO MUCH BETTER TO BRIDGE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR”, SAYS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL IN ADDRESS AT QUEENS UNIVERSITY, (WWW document) Available URL: http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/pressrels/2001/dsgsm143rev1.html [Accessed 2006, March 6].
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