News.com is carrying a story on efforts in one Brazilian city to forgo emerging trends towards OLPC-style laptops for kids and bring computing directly to kids' desks. While the Brazilian government is being courted by both OLPC and Intel to place their respective low-cost laptops into classrooms around the country, the city of Serrana is taking a very different approach.
Starting at the end of this month, the Serrana Digital Desk project will get underway when 200 surface PCs that transform into desktop PCs will be placed in classrooms in the city of 45,000.
This program has a number of unique features that extend well beyond the new inexpensive tablet technology that was developed by a member of Brazil's Ministry of Science and Technology, Victor Mammana. The 15" multipoint displays (capable of reading more than one stylus at a time to enable student collaboration) are being incorporated into the tops of existing student desks, along with low-end computer hardware to turn the desks into fully-functioning, dual purpose desks/Linux workstations.
The most important part of the program in the minds of its champions, however, is the manner in which the assembly, deployment, and maintenance of these computers is being handled by local businesses and community members. According to Mammana,
When [the Serrana mayor] approached Mammana, the mayor already had a site picked out to refurbish the desks. By employing local workers to do that, as well as maintain the new computers, the city of Serrana wants to demonstrate that education is not just taking place in the classroom, but also when young students see their older family members and community pitching in to find a local solution.
So is anything being sacrificed by eschewing the mini-portables currently coming to the market? Not according to the project planners:
"I'm not sure how important mobility is for 8- to 12-year-old kids," Mammana said. It's not as if they're checking e-mail on their way to the airport, he noted. Plus, keeping the PCs in the classroom allows for more structure in how they're used and cuts down on misuse of the government-funded devices, like illegal activity, pornography, or the devices being sold off piecemeal, or in whole, on the black or gray market...They also like the surface idea because the bigger displays encourage more comfortable posture, and better legibility of the screens.