Friday, August 10, 2007

Why do we need a $100 laptop?

At the NECC this year I saw a talk, given by Greg Dekoenigsberg, on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, the so called $100 laptop. Overall it was a very informative presentation and showed off the capabilities of the OLPC. Among the topics Dekoenigsberg covered were the major criticisms of the program. The biggest in my mind is, "Send them food not computers!"

Dekoenigsberg talked about this and said something to the effect of, countries with educated populations do not suffer the ravages of famine we see in many third world countries. I wasn't sure I bought this, until I read about William Kamkwamba, a young man from Malawi in south eastern Africa. William's family couldn't afford to keep him in school, so he took on the task of educating himself. He used his education to take scavenged materials and build a windmill to power his home. He now has visions of building a bigger version that could be used for irrigation. With some knowledge and a lot of ambition, William brought enough electricity to his home to light four lights and two radios.

You can read more about his story by searching the net or by going to his blog (he started it after he was discovered by the press). It's a great story that goes a long way towards showing the power of education.


Anonymous said...

William's story is amazing and I thank you for drawing my attention to it. I think I see your point about OLPC leapfrogging poverty by providing educational opportunities. It reminds me of that Christian saying about teaching a man to fish.

But I can't help but wonder: wouldn't a library be a better use of the $100 being invested in each laptop?

Nonetheless, the OLPC program's lofty goals are pretty cool.

Oh, and with my engineering background, I'd be lying if I didn't say how cool it is that this teenager is playing around with power generation -- and succeeding!

Anonymous said...

It's inspiring to think of how the free exchange of valuable educational information can change the world.