You know the old saw about helping people rise from poverty? Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime -- or until the fish run out.
The idea of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is to teach a child to fish. But is it really more like giving a child a fishing pole?
It's true the man who offered this criticism, Tom Pastorius of Projects Abroad, is selling something. Volunteering. He is the exclusive agent of the UK-based volunteering group for the U.S. and Canada.
He says volunteers should be there to help kids who get laptops, ideally at a community computer cluster rather than leaving each child to their own devices. This reduces the child’s frustration, without hindering the learning process.
Fair enough. One volunteer per child sounds better than one laptop. But it's not going to happen. So that means we go back to the idea of computer labs, with the hardware locked away at night to keep it safe?
Pastorius' concept also flies in the face of recent trends in Australia, where as we noted earlier students in New South Wales all got laptops to start the year. Windows laptops.
How long do you think those will last, with their hard drives and optical drives and what are the odds the kid's going to update their antiviral each day? How about one computer repairman per child?
Which leads to my own modest proposal. Client hardware is not the problem. OLPC has proven that hardware can be super-cheap. Taiwanese Netbook makers have taken that idea and run with it.
The real problem is connectivity. Would our aid money, and the work of volunteers, be better spent upgrading the bandwidth available to villages in the developing world? One WiFi per child.