Sunday, April 10, 2005

$100 laptops for children: MIT and Blanco

The AP wire carried an interesting story this week that told the tale of an MIT group that is working toward putting together a $100 laptop aimed for mass distribution to children in the developing world. A great idea--and not impossible, given breakthroughs in display technology and, more crucially, in the economics of distribution. The team behind it has a lot of pull; both Negroponte as the leader of MIT's legendary media lab—a lab organized around deep-pockets funding by tech giants—and Seymour Papert—as the grey eminence of educational computing, the man behind Logo and other major projects—both have deep connections. And of course, they have direct access to all those MIT students where clever is mandatory and brilliance common. It might turn out to be a pipe dream but these guys are the sort who can decide on a project and already have had meetings with officials in Brazil and China before the initiative is announced.

A great idea, yes, but as was remarked on Mike's DigitalLouisiana List (recommended) in response to his posting the story: Why can't we do this too?

The question resonates when we pick up this morning's Advocate. In Blanco still plans to give schools laptops," John LaPlante, goes back to Governor Blanco and asks what happened to her pledge to provide every seventh grader with a laptop. The short answer: money. (She felt she had to choose between pre-K programs and the laptop program and, in my humble opinion, choose wisely.) The cost would be prohibitive...and most of the direct cost is in the hardware. Developing the technology model and the economic model to distribute critical technology could make similar devices available for our students.

In fact, Blanco is considering a recommendation from the "Louisiana Laptop Task Force" to begin a pilot program. Being a good Lafayette chauvinist, I nominate Lafayette's schools. Once we get municipal fiber, providing the wireless access to these computers that make the whole thing work will be a snap. Kids will universally have easy, inexpensive access to bandwidth at their homes. Part of a technology pilot program, often, is to let the new technology show off its capacities and to develop a model for the future. That is pretty much what this program would be about and the perfect place to develop a program aimed at the future would be in a place where the future has already come.

After a fiber rollout, Lafayette, and no place else in Louisiana, will be living at least 7-10 years ahead of everyone else...and will be the perfect place to test the utility of all sorts of technologies.

This might well be the first of many such opportunities.

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