Cranky tech pundit John C. Dvorak recently wrote a PC Magazine column slamming the One Laptop per Child project. Dvorak knows his stuff, and he makes some good points about these children being exposed to all the garbage on the Internet. However, I think he may have missed the point with his “let them eat cake” comment.
On the surface, it does seem to make more sense to send more rice and food to these people. But that doesn’t solve the larger problem, does it? These people will become dependent upon those shipments. If Dvorak’s going to toss out quotables, I’ll toss one back: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That’s the real goal of the OLPC project: to enable these children to learn.
60 Minutes ran a segment on OLPC and the man behind it, Nicholas Negroponte. The guy didn’t conjure this idea up out of nowhere, he was actually out in the field in a poor village with no electricity or running water. His group installed generators, a satellite dish with Internet access, and a set of laptops and turned them over to the school to see what would happen.
The kids took them home and taught their families how to use them. They told their friends all about them, and the next year the school enrollment increased dramatically. If that trend continues, does it really matter what the laptops can or can’t do? Just by showing up they’re getting kids in the door.
I’d have to call that successful by any standard.