As I'm trying to figure out the best way to spread around limited funds for my district this year, I'm taking a cue from AMD. Recently they announced an initiative to move low cost computing devices into Uganda and Brazil, piloting a program that would provide Internet access to a lot of kids without the expense and monstrous compromises represented by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) model. I think I may have heard something about sustainably funding shared and fully-utilized computing resources (as opposed to individual, under-utilized computing resources) in the Ed Tech blog once or twice.
I'm glad the folks at AMD get it, because here is a picture of the "laptop" that OLPC is unleashing on Thailand this week (courtesy of CNN.com):
Nice hand crank.
A pilot run of 500 of these devices will be headed for Thailand shortly and, according to the article, the Thai government expectes to purchase one million of these in their first year of production. At $100 bucks a pop, $100 million dollars could buy an awful lot of AMD's devices, with money left over to replace, expand, and maintain them over the next few years. In fact, although the AMD devices cost about twice as much, they are provided with training and the infrastructure required to make them meaningful and usable.
Which leads us back to this country. Without infrastructure, all the laptops (or Palms, or smartphones, or whatever) are outstanding paperweights. My 14-year old watched our neighbor's kids today as a favor. Since they were napping, I suggested that he take his laptop to work on a summer assignment. He rolled his eyes in typical 14-year old fashion and said, "Dad, they don't have Internet access." Oh. He still took it and played solitaire, but waited until he came home to look up literary analyses for his summer reading.
Whether it's $100 million in Thailand, or a few million (or even $100k) in a school district here in the states, where would you rather have your tax dollars go? To a smaller, cheaper group of computers that are utlized 8-10 hours a day and can benefit 8-10 different students in that same day, or to the portable computing device of your choice, utilized for a few hours a day? The latter, of course, assumes that the infrastructure exists in and out of the school setting to make them more valuable that a $7 handheld solitaire game from WalMart. Even in the states, this is hardly a safe assumption, particularly among the populations that OLPC and other initiatives like it hope to address (i.e., the technology have-nots on the other side of the Digital Divide).
One laptop per child? Not in my district and I hope not in the middle of Africa. A few good labs per school, fully-utilized and lifecycle-funded (or even a few solid computers per village, with Internet access and training to use, maintain, and apply the tools)? Count me in - Let's hope that we can count on this kind of funding in districts like mine as much as in the developing world as we valiantly attempt to bridge the Digital Divide at home and abroad.