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.

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