There appears to be much confusion amongst the press and the general populace regarding the One Laptop Per Child Project, which I blogged about earlier. This article in the Murdoch press, for example, has stimulated some of these misconceptions. They stem from the false assumption that the OLPC is a computing project. “Don’t these kids deserve food, water, clothing and shelter first?”, some people ask.
The fact is that the OLPC is far more than a simple computing project. It is an education project, or more broadly, a development project. The computer is merely the tool to enable education and creativity. How can one learn when a textbook costs more than an average weekly wage? Imagine if you could interact with your textbook, in the form of games and exercises. Imagine if you could learn to write your own software for this device, and distribute it to help others in your community. You can create your own artworks, write your own novel or make your own music. Wireless mesh networking allows the distribution of data between computers, and even the sharing of one Internet connection across a villiage. For many households, the keyboard lights will be the only form of artificial lighting. The possibilities are effectively limitless.
The point that I am trying to make is that it is not the computer that is important, it is what you can do with it that truly matters. The computer is an enabler, a tool that allows people to ultimately create their own livelihoods and futures. There’s no point in keeping people dependent on handouts. Let’s encourage them to stand on their own feet.
Back in the developed world, I was able to attend a panel discussion for NSW ICT for the forthcoming state election. Pia made some good analysis of the event. In summary, the representative for the Liberal Party was completely and utterly useless when the question turned to open standards and FLOSS. Moreover, both sides (Labour and Liberal) would seemingly deliberately confuse open standards and open source when questioned about them. The key when questioning such people is to not mention open standards and open source together. Force them to address the issues separately, or they will conflate the two. The City of Munich was disparagingly referred to several times as an extreme case. What disturbs me is that there was specifically strong emphasis on NSW as a procurer and consumer of ICT, rather than as a producer. So while projects like the OLPC can promote local education and industry, the NSW government wants to keep us dependent upon foreign providers.