Wednesday, February 01, 2006

India and the 100 dollar laptop

At a private breakfast meeting on the digital divide at the forum on Saturday, Mr. Negroponte said that he had a commitment from Quanta Computer of Taiwan to manufacture the portable computers, which would initially use a processing chip from Advanced Micro Devices of Sunnyvale, Calif. He also said he had raised $20 million to pay for engineering and was close to a final commitment of $700 million from seven nations — Thailand, Egypt, Nigeria, India, China, Brazil and Argentina — to purchase seven million of the laptops.

From this NYTimes report about two competing visions for how computing can reach the poor (via).

When I saw 'India' in that list of countries that were "close to a final commitment", my heart sank. This is terrible.

A country that does such a poor job of educating its kids (and particularly in its primary schools) should not be spending serious money on laptops. Look at it this way: 100 dollars or 4500 rupees is roughly the amount of money that our government spends on educating each child. When so many are out of our school system, shouldn't we be spending money to bring all these missing children back into our schools?


  1. Anonymous said...

    It amazing that the country which "does a terrible job of educating its kids,especially at the primary level" has also one of the highest number of Engineers in this world.Just coz we are not able to provide education to some kids in the country does not necessarily mean we have to give up on our amibitions.I wonder if Americans are asking,why are we spending money on these Indian students coming to the US Universities and pay for their education when there are so many high-school dropouts in America!?
    Gist : Being ambitious is not a sin...pass it on,it doesn't hurt.

  2. Abi said...

    Hi Anon! I am all for ambition and big thinking. We, as a country, certainly have quite a bit of that. So, if you can spell out what kind of ambition we would display in ordering 1 million laptops at 100 dollars a pop, perhaps this argument can progress further.

    Let me spell out my position again: I think it is cruel to spend 100 million dollars on a gadget of dubious educational value when it could be spent on educating one million kids. Particularly when the countryhas many millions of kids out of school. It's a question of priorities.

    I am intrigued by your 'evidence'. The large number of engineers in our country is due to a combination of two factors: the population is large (about 3.5 to 4 times that of the US), and a larger fraction (close to 20%) of our college students (choose to) study engineering than probably any other country.

    The engineering prowess you refer to was developed largely without the use of fancy gadgets at the school level. Mind you: I am not saying the gadget is worthless, I am only questioning its value in educating a child.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Hi Abi,it doesn't take a rocket scientist(i don't know if you are one) to figure out what numbers mean to the economy.Let's say we did spend that Rs.4500 per person for like 1 million kids,do you really think the country would move forward? As a matter of fact,i believe the Govt of India is indeed spending significant amount of money on Education but the end-result has been empty classrooms coz there are no teachers or the kid's parents feel that if they are sent to work,they can actually bring some food to the table.
    So here's my point,by having these $100 laptops,we are going to be able to grab the attention of Large profit-based corporations and ask them to invest in our Universities for research.It is a trickle-down effect and definitely would reach the poorest of the poor in terms of infrastructure and better educational supplies.
    I know it sounds utopian but i would rather prefer this way than send like $100 million to the Ministry of Education and goto the corrupted officials who could care less about the kids anyway and rather use that money to send their kids on vacation to US or Australia.
    And regarding ambitious,look at China.Do you think the Chinese kids have the best of the world? But look at how much investment is going to their country for they have proved that they can produce equipment cheaper and better.
    In short,Capitalism works and Capitalism can only work if you are ambitious.
    And i hate to say this but your idea of spending money for something which we have been doing for a while and has never worked doesn't seem to ring a bell to me.
    You also have to understand that the world today doesn't work without computers.No wonder the richest man in India or the world has something to do with computers.So by creating something which is within the reach of the masses,we will be able to train even our kids in these Panchayat schools on computers and help them gain more self-confidence in facing the globalised economy.
    And education cannot be measured by you or me.Do you think just coz you and i are educated makes us more smarter than a Dabbawallah in Mumbai?
    Education is about exposure.It's about opening up your mind and soul.It's not about proving E=Mc^2 or being a JAVA super-hero.

  4. Abi said...

    Hi Anon: Welcome back! Leaving aside all your sarcasm, let me cut to the core of your argument. If capitalism is what you want, why would you support the distribution of these 100 dollar laptops through the government?

    As for me, I have no problems at all if Negroponte chooses to sell the laptops to people. That way, it either flies or falls flat on its own merits.

    Going by your arguemnt, let's say quite a bit of the money meant for education does get diverted. Just extending it a bit, don't you think this 'distributing laptops through governments' would lead to more money diverted out of education?

    That's my main (and at some level, only substantive) complaint.