A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Computers for All!

The government shouldn't provide students with personal computers, anymore than they provide them with loose-leaf paper and pens. Such responsibilities belong to the parents and family, not the taxpayers.

Christian-Science Monitor: A low-cost laptop for every child---

In Cambridge, Mass., Nicholas Negroponte and his team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been chipping away at a long-held dream: producing a laptop so cheap that governments could afford to link every child in the world to the Internet.

Wednesday, that idea could be lifted to a whole new level.

Mr. Negroponte, chairman of MIT's Media Lab, will unveil his brainchild with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a technology meeting in Tunisia. The meeting of the UN's World Summit on the Information Society is aimed at beginning to put into effect its stated goals where "everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate" in the benefits of information technology.

To do that, MIT and other groups have been pushing hard to create a low-cost laptop.

For example, the Indian government in cooperation with the US-based Jhai Foundation, has plans for developing a $200 machine for rural villages.

Negroponte's goal is even more aggressive: a $100 computer.

So far, the MIT group has whittled production costs down to less than $130.
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Nearly a half-dozen developing countries have expressed serious interest in ordering 1 million or more units, says Alexandra Kahn, spokeswoman for the MIT Media Lab.

Also, the UN Development Program has agreed to help distribute the machines, particularly to countries whose orders fall short of the million-unit bar Negroponte had originally set to help keep costs down.

American students could benefit, too.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has proposed a $54 million program to equip each of his state's 500,000 middle- and high-schoolers with the laptops, which the students would be allowed to keep. Other states may follow suit.
It is one thing for a private corporation to donate computers to schools or children. It is entirely another for the government to do so.

Will children who attend private schools, where parents pay tuition (in addition to paying taxes for the public schools they don't use), be given computers? Or will this be a classist thing and only those "in need" receive them?

What about paying for technological upgrades? Computer technology advances at a rapid pace. Won't those computers be outdated within a few years, if not a number of months? Will there be free upgrades?

What about when the computers break? Will we then have to pay for technology experts at every school, whose sole purpose is to care for these computers?

I think it is a fabulous idea for private corporations to develop inexpensive computers so that families can buy them for students without having to spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment. But, many children don't show respect for the desks and other materials that the taxpayers so graciously (though we are forced to) give to them. Why would they treat the computers any better?