OLPC to Replace Books in Thailand


Yesterday, we learned that Thailand's Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced his country will test 530 laptop prototypes in October and November.

Today Malaysia's Star is reporting this interesting quote from Prime Minister Thaksin:

"Each elementary school child will receive a computer that the government will buy for them, free of charge, instead of books, because books will be found and can be read on computers''
Huh, so with the OLPC laptop there will no longer be a need for books in Thailand's schools, eh? Am I the only one deeply uncomfortable with that idea?

I am no Luddite, I love me some technology and I am even considered a Geek professionally, but do away with physical books? Now that's crazy!

From the very basic, the book being able to transmit knowledge without the need for electricity, screens or even an operating system, to information security, as its hard to re-write a book but easy to change the Wikipedia, books, and more broadly, the physically written word has been the foundation of knowledge since the invention of cuneiform a few thousand years ago.

And now to toss aside books so casually, to think the beauty of paper, the utility of print, the mobility of books can be replaced in the classroom by a laptop? Better yet, a cheap laptop? With all due respect, Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra you're smoking too much Thai special weed.

Oh and you better start investing in world-class optometrists, at the very least that next generation of Thais raised on laptop screen resolutions, dual-mode or not, are gonna be needing eyeglasses now that they will be squinting at flickering screens instead of solid print.

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The problem is that the schools in the remote areas have *no* books. So it's not really a case of books being tossed aside for laptops. This is, quite literally, better than nothing.

But are laptops better than books? For that same $140+ of purchase price, and untold $$ of maitenance, support and training, how many books could they buy?

Books that need not a training course to use, not a tech support to keep runing, and not a hand, foot, or string crank to read.

Books that I am sure will last longer than any laptop.

For $140 you can buy about two, maybe three hardcover textbooks in the U.S. Probably a few more in Thailand. Possibly as many as one child needs in one year. (Arithmetic, local language, foreign language, history/geography/other social studies, science, computer,...)

Anyway, who said anything about computers being better than books? Computers *and* books, that's the ticket. The school system gets to choose which books to provide physically, and which to use in electronic form. Much better than either alone.

How, then, does the Return on Investment for books compare with the ROI for computers, in terms of preparing kids to get real jobs, and also pay taxes (to pay for the next generation of books and computers)? Both are high, but the first computer is worth more than the Nth book. At some point the marginal value equalizes, and you put proportionally more resources into books again. But it's never Either/Or.

Edward, I agree, it should never be either/or books & laptops, but both. That is what concerns me about the Thai PM's quote. He seems to say it will ONLY be laptops.

I did a books/laptop cost comparison, and the difference? $100,000!!

wouldn't worry 'bout it. Probably never happen.

First off, books are really expensive. Now, one computer can read n books, all for free. But if we assume the 1 textbook equels $50 or upwards (my physics text is $80) then we have $(n*50) we have to pay for EVERY child. Now We assume that the child will get an elementary education (that's at least one language, maths, science, probably a cultural thing and finally, optional courses) That comes out at $250 for one child. All this with the laptop is $100.

I know which I'll choose.