OLPC and Markets

Alex Singleton, President of the Globalisation Institute, a European think tank, argues against the OLPC and says that computers should be left to the market economy. “The very worst idea in international development circles is the One Laptop Per Child scheme being fronted by academic Nicholas Negroponte. ”

Open source software should compete against non-open source variants. Different hardware, similarly, should compete. The one-size-fits-all approach is flawed because Western academics can’t know the specific needs of two billion users. The African child who desperately wants to be a graphic designer for the African subsidiary of global company might want a computer that can run Adobe software. A child musician might want a computer that can run Sibelius, the music composition software used by famous composers and American and European schools. The one-size-fits-all laptop won’t run these programs.

My opposition to the OLPC is grounded on the fact that it bypasses the market mechanism. It involves the government and its inefficient and corrupt bureaucracies. The problem of the insufficient resources for education in poor economies is compounded by the almost certain misallocation of whatever little there is by going for the OLPC.

Singleton concludes his post with a quote from me:

Moreover, the laptop proposal is simply a very wasteful use of money when there are more important priorities. The Indian Ministry of Education has attacked the laptop as “pedagogically suspect”. India’s Atanu Dey says that in his country:

“Tens of millions of children don’t go to school, and of the many who do, they end up in schools that lack blackboards and in some cases even chalk. Government schools – especially in rural areas – are plagued with teacher absenteeism. The schools lack even the most rudimentary of facilities such as toilets (the lack of which is a major barrier to girl children.)”

So, how long before eBay gets flooded with people flogging the things?

4 thoughts on “OLPC and Markets

  1. It’s nice to criticize a project without giving an alternative. If the Indian minister of education is reporting such high level of dropouts, they should all be fired.
    Anyway, I think the article badly misses the point. To be competitive in a free market all players must be able to act with equal possibilities. I agree that if I am a graphic designer I want to use the best. Unfortunately, I don’t make enough money to be able to afford it. To me the best thing the OLPC is trying to do is to overcome the strong limitation that the free market imposes in the developing countries. One is access to free (in the sense of speech) information. The article is suggesting that this is evil, because a one size fits all approach is not going to satisfy the needs of everybody. This is true, however, the OLPC is better than NOTHING.

    All this, of course, unless us, the developed world, want to keep control of the destiny of the people in the developing world, by asking them to play against us, with our rules, without our resources.


  2. Nick,

    OLPC may be better than nothing if the something of OLPC indebts countries for Billions that is lost through mismanagement and corruption during implementation, resulting in little net change to education, yet massive loans and disillusionment on a national scale.


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