In his recent EduTech post How do you evaluate a plan like Ceibal?, Michael Trucano wrote,
"All of this comes with a cost, of course: a steep cost. Is it worth it? And how will we know?"
When you say that something is expensive, you have to say also, compared with what? This comparison cannot only be on price. You have to compare value received. What is the value of an education, then?
In crass financial terms, you can set a price on education based on the Net Present Value of expected earnings over a lifetime. You can design a government education budget around the NPV of the person's tax contributions over a lifetime, with due consideration for other expected public services.
But this is the lesser component of the value of education. The true value has to include the unpaid contributions that the educated person makes to society through volunteer work, perhaps in charities, perhaps in civil society organizations, perhaps in emergency services, perhaps simply by being adequately informed and active as a citizen. Creating and sustaining a society is far more important to that society than merely making money.
Even if we leave that aside, however, investing in your children's future has a huge payback, and the Return on Investment for one-to-one computing is increasing rapidly as costs decrease and capabilities increase.
Let us suppose, for purposes of illustration, that the MIT technologists are correct in saying that a second-generation XO can be made to sell for $75. Let us further suppose that students use them for three years, perhaps receiving them in grades 1, 4, 7, and 10. The cost for the computers then comes to $25 per child per year. Further investment is needed in electricity and Internet, at comparable levels.
But the entire community gets to use electricity and communications, which are both essential for economic development. There will be expenses for other equipment, for teacher training, for reworking textbooks into digital learning materials, and so on, but many of these are one-time costs, and all will also contribute to development.
Now let's look a little closer at textbooks. Even the poorest countries spend $20 annually per student on textbooks. Not necessarily $20 per child, given the numbers of children not in school. But close enough for government work, since it is a duty of governments to support every child, and someday each of them will. California has taken the lead in the US in moving to electronic textbooks, but other countries are moving ahead, and substantial grant funding is becoming available.
So, what then? So this. Is it a steep cost to save money on textbooks by buying computers, and by investing in revamping the textbook industry, teacher training, and the schools? Is that a steep cost for ending poverty in the next generation? How about for ending wars and global terrorism caused by poverty, ignorance, and oppression? Do you know how much we spend on those? Now that's a steep cost.