How would you feel if you were on a sinking ship and someone handed you a new laptop? Somehow I don’t think you would be too pleased. Yet somehow Nicholas Negroponte doesn’t see any problem waltzing into impoverished countries with failing education systems and handing out laptops directly into the hands of children. What good does this really do anyone? With no infrastructure to provide technical support or adequate training to help teachers integrate the technology into their lesson plans, how much good is One Laptop per Child really doing? The problem with education in many of these developing countries goes far deeper than a few laptops can fix. The XO netbook isn’t going to be a revolution for more reasons than one.
How many of you own an iPhone? How many of you have bothered to jailbreak them? Very few I’m guessing. By most accounts fewer than 10% of iPhone users have tried to jailbreak their devices. The truth of the matter is that most consumers simply can’t be bothered to go the extra step to get that extra utility from their phones. Yet Zittrain somehow expects that the kids receiving these XO netbooks will be driven enough to learn the programming skills necessary to make the device suit their needs. This seems highly unlikely.
Instead I propose a different idea. Whatever happens to all the computers on campus when Yale decides to replace aging units? An initiative to donate used computers to these developing countries would be far more sustainable than convincing a government that probably has many other issues on its plate to spend 200 dollars on a laptop that will then be handed over directly into the hands of children. More importantly educators need to be trained to use these devices to take advantage of the wealth of free digital educational resources available out there. Even if every child won’t be able to attend Khan University on their own personal laptops, teachers will at least be able to access free online classroom aides or learn new teaching methods from Khan’s short but sweet style.
There is definitely a huge gap between the wonderful educational resources available online and the people who need them the most. But putting a laptop into children’s hands simply doesn’t get the job done if the correct infrastructure isn’t there to support both the child and the device. Education is certainly the key to closing the gaps between the developed and developing worlds. But throwing cute little laptops at kids is a far too narrow solution to have any real effect.