Browsed by
Tag: mobile computing

MLearn: South Africa and the Problem of $100 Laptops

MLearn: South Africa and the Problem of $100 Laptops

The One Laptop per Child program is creating a lot of conversation and consternation at the MLearn conference. There have been an interesting series of (still hopeful) criticisms of it, particularly from the delegates from South Africa.

The stunning comment that threw me into a whole new mind set was this: “If you give children laptops, you’re making them targets of violence, theft, and possibly death.”

In a place where the economy is so shaky, where items like cell phones and laptops are just as appealing to the black market as they are to students and teachers, how do you concieve of the prospect of using this technology, giving these (valuable) items to children, encouraging them to take them home and carry them around, when we understand that we’re painting targets on their backs? Even for parts those laptops would have value on the black market. The laptops come with a certain amount of security, but how long will it take for the ravenous black markets of the world to disable it? At what point does risk outweigh benefit? Is there any way (shy of full government and social overhaul) to lower the risk of theft and real physical danger and protect these children? Can we give them technology and keep them safe at the same time?

There was a considerable amount of talk about the value of ownership; when the laptop is theirs, there is a different learning outcome. I’ve seen this kind of process play out myself, so it strikes a chord with me. (I’ve spoken before about the difference between posting on a message board “owned” by the instructor and posting on a blog “owned” by the student; you get a different kind of committment, different kind of content, different kind of interaction. I’ve struggled with how to express the value of ownership, but I feel it rearing its head again here. What if the laptops are one per child, but don’t leave the school? I have a feeling the value of them drains right out with that scenario.

It’s a difficult question, and I’m pretty relieved that it’s not me who has to come up with an answer. I wouldn’t know where to start.