There’s been lots of buzz in the past months about MIT Media Lab’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. According to a WorldChanging article posted Saturday, the OLPC is now a reality — the first 1,000 units rolled off the assembly line in Shanghai and headed for Argentina & Brazil last week.
On one level, a self-powering, portable, kid-friendly computer — and for under $150, no less — is very appealing. And sure, the idea of giving children in underdeveloped countries like Cambodia, Nigeria, Libya, & Thailand the opportunity to connect to the sum of human knowledge on the Internet seems a noble notion. But Randy over at electrogeek.com wisely posed a question that’s been weighing on my mind too… Do Starving Children Really Need a $100 Laptop?
Are notebook PCs really the key to a better life (or even better learning) for children? Countless genuises — people whose ideas changed the world — existed long before the advent of semiconductors, so it hardly seems likely that the lack of a computer will truly hamper any child’s learning ability or intellectual potential.
I’m baffled why more people can’t see that funding books, teachers, & schools is more appropriate than placing gadgets in the hands of impoverished children. John Wood, founder of Room to Read, sensibly notes that a $2000 library can serve 400 children, costing just $5 per child. A $10,000 school can serve 400-500 children, or under $25 each.
As I’ve wondered before, maybe we need to seriously consider the wisdom of introducing computers into kids’ lives at too early an age. Does technology magically equate to a more efficient learning environment for children — or could it actually become a barrier to kids learning to think creatively and solve problems?