Aakash, blue skies vaporware

In the information technology sector, the two well-known categories of goods are hardware, the stuff you can hold in your hands, and software, the bits that have no weight. The third category is termed vaporware: hardware that exist only in the fevered imagination of their promoters and which will never hit the stores.
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First Debug the Child . . .

The topic of education is an obsession with me for the simple reason that one cannot address any development related issues without reference to education, however broadly or narrowly one defines education or development. My interest in the use — and misuse — of technology in education is a natural extension of that basic interest in development and growth. The One Laptop Per Child comes in for special scrutiny because the implications of such a program are phenomenal for a poor country like India. I have long argued that there are simpler, more affordable and more urgently needed interventions that is needed than is provided by the OLPC program. Here’s one that I recently became aware of.
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The OLPC is Inappropriate for India

I was invited to write a guest post on One Laptop Per Child News by Wayan Vota in connection with the recent news that 250,000 OLPC laptops have been ordered by two government agencies in India and one private sector firm. And I complied. Thanks, Wayan. I appreciate the opportunity. Below the fold I reproduce the post in full.
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The Indian $10 Laptop — Revisited

[Follow up to the previous post.]

I suppose it should not come as any surprise that it is now being claimed that the $10 cost was a mis-statement and the actual cost is $100. And like the “$100” OLPC which actually costs twice as much, probably the Indian laptop will — if it ever is actually produced — cost anything between $200 to $400, at which point it would be pointless as currently laptops are being produced for around $200 a pop by many manufacturers. I think it is a safe bet that the government officials who continue to make their $10 claims are clueless about technology and about the complexity of building a complex machine.

The newspapers are reporting that the laptop will be unveiled today. A couple of reports even quote yours truly.
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The Indian $10 Laptop

Some years ago it was some genius who was making petroleum by twirling some sticks in a bucket of water. The Indian press reported it breathlessly and which is worse, some dimwitted “professors” from some “educational” institutions even considered it seriously. The details of that are hazy in my mind but I was reminded of it when I read that the government is going to produce a laptop for Rs 500 (or US$ 10).

A collaborative team between the Indian governments ministry of science and ministry of technology will unveil a super-low-cost computer on February 3rd, as part of the country’s $10 laptop project. Specifications of the notebook – which is intended for education use – are unconfirmed, but unofficial sources suggest it will have 2GB of memory, both ethernet and WiFi connectivity, the ability to expand the storage and low power requirements of just 2W, all in a small, portable package. [Slashgear]

Here’s what I feel like.

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What’s up, OLPC?

At the intersection of high-tech gadgets and public spending on education in poor countries lies XO, the machine from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project led by Nicholas Negroponte. I have been a critic of the program right from the start. I have argued before that the idea of providing one laptop per child is well and good if money were no object. Unfortunately, in resource-strapped economies such as India, the opportunity cost of providing school children with laptops is prohibitive.
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The OLPC in India

I spent the last evening in the American Center near Churchgate, Mumbai, at a presentation on the launch of the “one laptop per child” — OLPC — in India. The event was hosted by a bunch of institutions: Asia Society, Digital Bridge Foundation (created by the Reliance ADA Group), MIT Alumni Association of India, and Consulate General of the US.

I had received an email saying that Prof Negroponte would like to meet with me after the presentation. Negroponte, as most people know, is the founder and chairman of the OLPC project and a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab. The announcement said, “Professor Nicholas Negroponte will discuss the MIT-Media Labs developed XO-laptop which is widely seen as revolutionizing primary education around the world…”
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Laptops and Learning

Let me begin with an “I told you so.” For a few years I have been obsessed with the use of technology in education because it is my considered position that the smart use of technology provides the best hope of solving the problem of educating the hundreds of millions in India.

But a bit of thinking brought me to the (apparently contradictory) conclusion that laptops in the school learning environment is detrimental to learning. I love the idea of using technology in schools but totally distrust the idea of one-on-one laptop use in schools. In 2006 I wrote, “It is predictable that in the near future, good schools around the world will prohibit school students the use of laptops while in class, just as students are not allowed cell phones.”
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