MHRD India Should Stop Attacking One Laptop Per Child


As Satish Jha was quoted, OLPC India would like to support any initiative of the Indian Government to bring down the cost of delivering quality education to its poorest. Then why is Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) hell bent on attacking One Laptop Per Child?

The announcement of the MHRD showcasing a $35 laptop is intriguing to say the least and designed to spite OLPC.

Let's look more closely

Initially MHRD dismissed OLPC saying the "pedagogy of learning with laptops is suspect". Then it went on to announce a $10 laptop that turned out to be a magnified USB, instead of the regular 1x2.5 cms it was 12.5x19 cms in size and added a functionality to see the file names.

That announcement embarrassed India in the world community. The new announcement may suggest that someone in MHRD does not get the message that India has no track record of product creation and all such announcement have achieved one thing: depriving 25 million children that enter the school system every year of an opportunity to learn the way the developed world learns for a percent of their cost.

The idea of affordable, connected, rugged laptops that worked regardless of infrastructure and teaching quality availability constraints with "learning learning" rather than rote teaching was launched by One laptop per Child initiative of Nicholas Negroponte in 2002.

Calling OLPC just a laptop is a bit like a human being made of a pair of arms, legs and a torso. Relative to that the $30 device showcased by MHRD is what China has been selling for some time, a CPU, a keyboard and a screen slapped together with little by way of educational applications, or ruggedness that works under infrastructure challenges, nor the pedagogic capabilities we need for learning.

Its not clear who will make it, how will it be productionized, what range of applications will be offered, how does it aid education, what will be the real final price. In fact, considering MHRD has displayed a kind of iPad without calling it an iPad or something along those lines and declaring it as a laptop raises suspicion about its about real nature.

In fact someone from within the Government informed me that the price quoted is for millions of pieces. They are going to spend 2 billion dollars (ten thousand crores) to reach millions of students with a subsidy component of one billion dollar. I don't know which IIT did the research.

Some RTI activists must take the initiative to get the full details. What some feel is that they went to China (one IIT Director and another undersecretary) bought some pieces, sat together and wrote some specifications and asked the minister to release the specs and the gadget.

In fact the bill of material for a cheap laptop in China is already under $50. But that laptop has little of any capabilities that OLPC has for the villages. That does not have the ruggedness, the screen or the range of applications that work with OLPC laptops and are designed specifically for that.

It would seem that rather than reduce the duty, that alone is more than the claimed cost of the laptop, and bring the cost of the real thing, OLPC, in India further down, MHRD decided to create something that may create an impression that something is being done without actually producing it. OLPC has been transforming the way education is delivered for 32 months now.

Its been adding more than country a month to the movement of offering the most marginalized children an opportunity to stand up shoulder to shoulder with the best educated peer in the world. Its been analysed, experimented with, tested, improved and now it has the next version will the applications that will cost $100 or less by January 2011.

Rather than embracing that, a desire to produce something that has not been tested yet makes the government's motive questionable, to say the least. While it will produce little, it will impact the ability of people to make up their mind and move ahead with what is available today.

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OLPC has been tried and tested in 40 countries for education. 2.5 million children have transformed their lives with the help of OLPC.

Time value of money is a basic concept in finance. It works in education as well. A child denied that access at the right age will unlikely make up for that as swiftly as MHRD may think. But then 63 years of keeping India ignorant was not possible without making announcements year after year that had no legs. While we sincerely hope this one is not one of the same, at best it looks like a poor imitation, hastily announced to stall some major decisions that may have been in the offing.

MHRD may want to appreciate that "not invented here" syndrome killed many a thriving corporations. Untried and untested ideas in fields that are rather new may not have any different results.

Bundled with all that OLPC has, the MHRD laptop may not cost less than $500 as we speak. By the time someone produces it, adds the logistics, margins etc, it will be still touching $100.

By the times someone organizes the applications needed and considers distributing it, its prices will fly many times higher. In that sense, the announcement is at best premature, at worst a design to deprive the students starting school now an opportunity to leapfrog a few generations ahead for just Rs 10 per day when midday meal scheme alone costs about Rs 7 a day.

Soumitra submitted this as a comment on "The Real $35 Tablet from India: an OLPC Complement, not Competitor"

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That is all very well. But my state ordered 1000 laptops 9 months ago. It paid by LC 5 months ago and OLPC cannot even deliver 1000 laptops. Negroponte should take a look at his own organization. If Negroponte decides to just showcase ten sites with 1000 children following his values, it might breakdown the barriers. But OLPC is busy spurning India. It does not like to market. It thinks it has found all the solutions. Its OLPC that is responsible for the response it gets. Let Negroponte know that Indians will listen to him but he cannot behave like he is from another planet. If Microsoft and Apple spend billions on marketing, he has to do it as well. He needs to invest in at least 10,000 children in India to get 250 million on board and give Satish Jha some organizational strength to manage it. Poor chap has spent his own money for a couple years to keep Negroponte's flag flying with not even a thank you in return. The only thank India understands is show it what OLPC can do. Let 10,000 children demonstrate it.

Sir Negroponte visioned of laptop for children 10 yrs back, we seeing it in INDIA from past 3 yrs appx. The same vision of laptop for students is now seen by MHRD, instead of helping iin the developing the product suitable to local standards competing the developed countries why some one feel bad. As both goals & vision for children and both products are babies in INDIA, why not think of collaborate activity/ sharing knowledge.
INDIAN software developers ruling world wide, water the buddiing computer production units, INDIANS can make any thing for any price quoted supported....
Not missing Any development project/program is success only when it is haded over to the public/ GOvt.


The Indian $35 laptop does offer value, since it can view YouTube videos. I can not see how well, since I am using my XO laptop that just shows that site in just a choppy way. With YouTube requiring upgrades to Flash, it is challenging for the hardware in the future to use that site. Using videos saved on a memory card could aid in teaching students when the internet is not available.

I do not know about MHRD, but OLPC with NN himself offers all the help they can to the India tablet!
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