Wired has a new and very mildly skeptical article today about Nicholas Negroponte's $100 laptop project. But again, nobody's questioning the premise that computers are what these children need. Rather, critics want to throw more technology at them. Excerpt from Wired News: Laptops for Kids With No Power:
Giving laptops to school kids has been a big hit in the United States, but an ambitious plan to sell millions of cheap notebooks to children in developing countries may be more challenging, experts warn. Many need electricity more than laptops.
Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and founder of MIT's Media Lab, is planning to provide several hundred million kids in developing countries their own rugged, internet- and multimedia-capable $100 laptops.
But while Negroponte sees the notebooks as an educational tool that can help alleviate world poverty, others say it will take a lot more than a cheap computer.
"It's not as simple as 'if you build it, they will use it,'" said Andy Carvin, director of the Digital Divide Network, a community of educators and activists working to include more people in the digital age.
For the program to work, training and technical support has to exist -- as well as basic literacy and local content to meet local needs, he said.
"Some kids could probably do well on their own, but the majority will need long-term support of some kind," he said.
I started writing some comments but don't have the energy to be very coherent today... instead I'm going to steal some relevant quotes from Todd Oppenheimer's book. He's writing about the US, but the principles apply here too.
At its core, education is a people process. Yes, youngsters need tools, but most of all they need people. This is particularly the case with society's most disadvantaged children -- the group supposedly suffering from this cruel "digital divide" and which educators are desperate to supply with gizmos. Survey after survey indicates that schools that serve the poor are doing fine as far as supplies of computer gear are concerned. They're not doing so well when it comes to teaching. From California to Harlem, from the hollows of poverty in West Virginia to the polished suburban corners of Montgomery County, Maryland, the presence of state-of-the-art technology is in general making matters worse. (Oppenheimer, The Flickering Mind, p. 395)
Oppenheimer quotes Stephen Kindel, an editor at Forbes magazine:
"In the end, it is the poor who will be chained to the computer; the rich will get teachers."
[Edited for clarity and to add Wired excerpt.]