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.

It’s about education, stupid! / Sridhar Dhanapalan by Sridhar Dhanapalan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.
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