Occasionally we hear very strange things coming from the Western world. The latest news coming from the one laptop per child (OLPC) founder, Nicholas Negroponte should have all those like me from the developing countries worried.
Reports indicate that Negroponte has now decided to load the OLPC tablets on helicopters and drop them from the air in remote places in poor countries so that children can pick them and utilize them in their education without the help of adults.
Remember the pictures we normally see on television of people struggling with relief food dropped by helicopter! That has moved to a new level.
A little background to this story is in order for those readers who may not be aware. Nicholas Negroponte is a professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
In 2005, he came up with a brilliant idea to make cheap rugged laptop computers which would sell for $ 100, though when they were ready to ship, they sold for more than the originally projected price. His idea was to give children in poor countries a chance to work with computer technologies to access knowledge.
Negroponte should actually be congratulated for helping open innovation for cheaper notebooks that led to the proliferating tablet computers now. The OLPC sales did not perform as well as expected.
Only a few countries such as Uruguay, Peru, Mexico and Rwanda got on board with serious orders. Of course there was a political approach to Negroponte’s marketing strategy and so he got a few presidents such as Olusegun Obasanjo to place orders for Nigeria.
However, as we all know Presidents are not the procurement officers for their countries. When time for Obasanjo to leave the seat came, he had to go before getting the supplies. Anyway, the long and short of all this is that OLPC did no do so well.
Fast forward to 2011, and Negroponte after coming back from the drawing board, having revamped the OLPC, he has promised that he will do experiments with children in remote places. The reports available on PCMAG.com have it that Negroponte is ready to drop OLPCs in remote places for children to pick and use them for education and then one year later, he will come back with his team to find out what happened.
Apparently he is inspired by two episodes. First, Prof. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the wall” concept where young kids taught themselves how to use computers placed strategically in walls in India. Secondly, Negroponte is also inspired by the movie: “The gods must be crazy” where a bottle is dropped from a plane and a Bushman picks it and the events that followed in the movie are known.
This plan by Negroponte and his team at OLPC requires serious consideration and concern. We need to avert a disaster that might be brought upon us, by a professor who must have lost touch with reality.
First of all, how come Negroponte is using a movie produced for entertainment purposes, especially for his kinsmen in western world, and which might not necessarily have depicted he correct reactions and actions; to address a matter of such global importance as lack of access to education?
Exactly what will happen when poor people in developing countries in remote places get hurt by laptops dropping from helicopters? Even worse, when the same people start fighting and killing each other over goodies they could as well have done without?
A more serious concern to me, however, is the thinking that somehow, children in remote places in developing countries can do without teachers. For that matter, just dropping OLPC is enough to give them access education. My last search on this matter confirms that in the Western countries, universities still prepare teachers and that schools still operate with human teachers and not technologies.
Just to let Negroponte know, if he and his people care to read what the people from remote places have to say. There are schools in these remote places. There are some teachers in our remote places.
The dollars that are targeted for hiring helicopters to drop OLPCs from the air can still be used to get teachers in centers through a structured program and achieve better results than this, “The Sods must be crazy” approach as reported by Ryan Paul two weeks back.
Is any one listening out there? May be these helicopters by Negroponte should be declared enemy combatants by our military spokesman!
Finally, it appears Negroponte wants to to do a research on people who lack the basics of life because of where they come from, without considering their ethical rights. Heard of Guinea Pigs!
Brown Bully Onguko: I am a PhD Candidate in Educational Technology at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.