100$ laptop – Implications and Issues.

About the $100 laptop

The 100$ laptop consists of:
Linux-based
Dual-mode display—both a full-color, transmissive DVD mode
Second display option that is black and white reflective and sunlight-readable at 3× the resolution.
500MHz processor
128MB of DRAM
500MB of Flash memor [no hard disk]
Four USB ports
Wireless broadband that, among other things, allows them to work as a mesh network; each laptop will be able to talk to its nearest neighbors, creating an ad hoc, local area network
Innovative power (including wind-up)

The MIT professor Nick Negroponte is one of main promoters of the One Laptop Per Child programme (OLPC).

In the News: The OLPC programme in India Scrapped!

HRD rubbishes MIT’s laptop scheme for kids

Some excerpts from the toi site follow:
– India must not allow itself to be used for experimentation with children in this area -HRD ministry
– Negroponte had made a presentation on OLPC at Yojna Bhavan on April 7 seeking to sell one million laptops at the rate of $100 per unit for children, the cost to be borne by the government.
– HRD thought the Rs. 4500 million could be better spent on primary and health education.
– There exists a conceptual vacuum in which the scheme is being propagated.
– Implications of computer-based pedagogy for childhood have remained a grey zone of research
– Both physical and psychological effects of children’s intensive exposure to the computer implicit in OLPC are worrisome, to say the least

My initial reaction to seeing this article has been one of suprise at the amount of thought process put in by the HRD Ministy and other of actually accepting their discretion. At the very outset, the whole problem looks like a very obvious cheap and effective solution which will help India leapfrog from an agro based society to a knowledge based society.

Why the Scrapping is a Sane Decision

The 100$ laptop is based on some premises which actually dont correspond to the ground situation in India. The major assumptions:

a. Laptop as a commodity increases Adoption and Hence Literacy
New usable laptops for an on the move IT professional or real user are in the range of upwards of $700. Where the average per capita income in India is still US$165, buying a laptop is out of question. Now the question that we will have to ask is “Is the laptop filling the gap for bridging the literacy divide?”. Adoption is inevtiable, if the things that are being promised are really kept; but that doesnt in anyway guarantee any of the other corresponding assumptions being made about literacy.

b. Laptop as a Pedagogical Tool
This assumption as yet doesnt have a concrete solid provable document of proof. Let us assume that a student never has to have to buy the laptop as the cost is borne by the government. Being a student of Comp Sci and as well interacting with friends who have _not_ been students of Computer Science, I do understand the uses of Computer Based Pedagogy. Im puzzle not with the assumption that cheaper laptops will increase adoption; but with that assumption that Laptop is a method to tackle illiteracy. Even though a laptop is a great supplement, its role as a relacement for classroom or a very effective notebook for a child is totally questionable.

c. Prohibitive Cost
$100 x 1 million children = $100 million = 450 crores. When our requirement is for more infrastructure, the 450 crore investment in an as yet unproved technology is hardly justified.

d. Filling in the Gap
The $100 laptop as is evident is not filling any gap in the education system of India. What we need to solve the literacy problem in India is simple:
– More classrooms and more teachers
– Less reasons for children to not come/discontinue education viz bad classrooms, bad teachers, costly education(not only in the terms paid but also in terms of money lost by not working), precious time, better shorter term advantages
– More reasons for coming to school and continuing education viz. better amenities at school, great teachers, better food, better future…

The laptop in spite of being a great tool is as yet has to fit in or solve any of the ground realities pointed above.

e. Software for the Laptop

Even though the 100$ laptop looks exhiliarating to be able to solve a great digital divide, the software required to distribute the content digitally over the laptops is still questionable. Just having Linux doesnt solve any/all of our problems. For any tool to penetrate even the deepest reaches in India, either the tool has to be very simple(like a mobile), or it has to have very good localised font support. In this scenario, the problem the laptop sets out to solve are as yet unsolved.

Why the Scrapping is a Bad Idea

Now to the reasons as why scrapping is a bad Idea; not because the of OLPC programme per se; but because of its probable effect on other technologies trying to penetrate into the rural folds. Now for the reasons why this scrapping is a bad idea.

a. Money invested till now as a sunk cost
The HRD ministry for all now has to understand that the money invested hasnt borne the fruits as it had expected to. In that case trying cheap, alternative-technology driven solutions might be of use too. [I myself think that technology can solve this issue even without trying to solve the human issue involved].

b. No Alternative for Costlier Indigenious Solutions [Simputer, Mobile]
For all I know, even though scrapping the laptop is bad, its really an awesome tool for one. Ability to form cheap ad-hoc mesh networks is really a wonderful conceptualization of creating a networked mesh architecture. Compare this with the Simputer [www.amidasimputer.com] which costs upwards of $300 dollars for a simple gadget. I had been recently working on making been trying to see if a simputer can be a very cheap alternative to laptops [Rs. 9000 + Rs. 500 for a USB keyboard], and had been very much disappointed looking at the prohibitive costs, 20K for a full color Simputer. Why go for a micro sized screen plus a big keyboard for 20K when you can as well go for a better powered laptop device for 30K? And why not go for a lappie that costs 4500K???

Why should not the government try out the $100 laptops instead of using a Simputer or a bigger linux workstation? This laptop can definitely be used by a village teacher or a RMP doctor or many other adults as a better record keeping tool. For them it will prove much more handy and useful than to a child.

c. Deadstop for Innovation
A Digital alternative for pedagogy makes teaching interesting and not to speak of, the much more productivity increase for book keeping individuals. When this OLPC programme has been scrapped, the incentive for other high technology similar disruptive solutions have been essentially nullified. Not the best way to go for a ‘knowledge society’.

The Solution: Reorient the Vision

a. Make the OLPC and OLPT – One Laptop Per Teacher
b. Scrap log books & other arcane record keeping procedures and adopt the laptop as a better book keeping gadget for on the move rural professionals
c. Digital Kiosks can adopt the 100$ laptop instead of depending on the workstations. The dependance on electircity is effectively neutralized by adopting this laptop.

References:

http://www.laptop.org
http://www.slashdot.org

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7 thoughts on “100$ laptop – Implications and Issues.

  1. 9.5K? What dev. stage is your laptop at now?

    OLPT is a great idea! we have to make you heard where it matters…

  2. @seshu
    thanks for linking sir. and yes had seen your post too. good one :) keep coming

    @sabs
    dev stage bole tho, abhi have not looked more into it once i found that a simputer costs nothing less than 13K for a black and white screen one and a 20K for a full color simputer. i mean i can get a okish lappie for 30K; so putting in 20K for a simputer simulating it like an alternative for a lappie is out of question. isnt it? so abhi to you can say my dev stage has gone dormant with the status ‘Not Feasible’ :D

    How do we make myself heard? :D Def that will help me build a huge mega billion brand around my name; and even sell it! lol. Sorry about that crap joke, but yeah OLTP is a better idea than OLPC.

  3. i am a boy from iran . i have not computer but i love it . i have not much mony can you send for me a computer .
    my mom and dad can not buy it .
    and they are worker.
    i am just a iranian boy

  4. sorry . my mom sey to me that we have mony but we can not buy a computer or laptop for me .
    i love my mom and dad.

  5. Cheaper computing is one of the greatest developments in our time. I am looking forward to laptops (general consumer models) to see price drops similar to how DVD players went from hundreds of dollars to $30 for the basic models. Granted, I don’t see laptops reaching that price point but computing is becoming commodified. Software will still command high prices while it remains to be seen what kind of a market share open source will have.

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