Update: Esta entrada está en Español en el blog de Caro Botero. Gracias!
I find the MIT’s $100 Laptop project disturbing. For me there are too many open questions. I also found out that I am not only with my thoughts. Several other people are also rather critical with Mr Negroponte’s latest brainchild.
Already last February John Thackara of Doors of Perception called the MIT’s $100 Laptop “manna-ware” and Jamais Cascio of Worldchanging asked why the device should be a laptop? In the discussion following Jamais post people pointed out that if you would dare to ask from the people they would most likely rank radio, phone and TV much higher as a communication device than an Internet-PC.
So, I guess we all already see that the MIT’s $100 Laptop is just a vapoware and MIT’s latest attempt to get a bite from the developing world’s long tail. Still I am worried that many Governments are seriously considering if MIT’s Laptop could be the thing that will bring their children to information society.
As the tool is primary marketed for school – basically for the Ministries of Education – I would like to know a little more about expected educational results and pedagogical ideas behind the MIT’s laptop project. In educational politics one should always ask who is educating whom, why, where and how? It really bothers me that MIT is preaching about having every child a laptop in 2015, would just like that represent development and welfare. Also the explicit pedagogical vision on how the $100 Laptop will be used in schools is very weak.
I would like the MIT people to be a little more transparent and open when it comes to their motives, vision and aims with the $100 Laptop. Here are some questions (didn’t find answers to these from their FAQ):
- Why the only use case the MIT people talk about is delivering school books with the $100 Laptop? Is it because they have notice that it is the best sale argument for the Governments that mainly see learning over budget lines where use for textbooks is a large cost? Or is it really only way of using ICT in school that the MIT people came up? With the current vision the $100 Laptop is just an e-book, a very expensive e-book. The $20 / year / pupil used today for text books for instance in Brazil is more than 5 times better investment than $ 100 for a laptop that will be stolen or broken in less than a year. An example: Almost every night I read for my daughter a textbook my grandmother got when she was in primary school in 1920’s.
- Have the MIT designers ever heard about contextual design? You must be a fool if you seriously claim that your results from pilots made in schools in Maine, United States, where every child is given an Apple iBook, are anyhow transferable to Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa or China. Even your own results from testing Laptops in Cambodian village show that there is hardly any use for your technology. You report: “there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home.” I think you need several cultural anthropologists and designers in your team.
- Why didn’t MIT decide to contribute to the Indian Simputer project that has been around already for five year? From the Simputer project there is already a Linux based product in the markets. The price could easily be close to $100 if some Government would order a few million of them. To make this happen they need your marketing skills and contacts Mr Negroponte. I assume that MIT researchers are aware of the Simputer project, as they use to have a branch laboratory – Media Lab Asia – in India for some years.
Now you may ask what is my motivation to criticize the MIT’s project? I have two reasons which are linked together: (1) I am managing R&D project where we design and develop use of mobile phones in teaching and learning in developing countries. I seriously think that investment to mobile services in countries where networks are already everywhere and devices are getting to every third hand (we have two hands) in a few years, makes more sense than investments to laptops. (2) I am worried that MIT’s hype will simply kill all great projects in the field, as everybody will wait for MIT’s vapoware to be launched.
Some definitions of terms from the Dictionary.com: