Open Letter to Amazon.com

   
   
   
   
   

I have just sent this to an Amazon IT manager.

I know that you are primarily concerned with networking technology for Amazon's global activities, but I assume that you know the people planning those activities. I would like to pitch an opportunity to them, in three parts.


More than One Kindle per Child
  1. Fund global education initiatives based on one-to-one computing, such as One Laptop Per Child

    I can talk about the points of maximum leverage, where a modest investment will have the greatest impact in speeding up education deployment. That point, in my analysis, is not the golly-gosh gee-whiz hardware that everybody talks about. It is replacing printed textbooks in primary and secondary education with lower-cost hardware plus e-learning materials under Free licenses. Amazon still gets to sell higher-level textbooks to a much wider market.
  2. Help to spread microfinance globally, so that these newly educated children and their families and friends, newly on the Internet, have the earliest possible economic opportunities, allowing them to escape subsistence farming and other forms of dire poverty, and begin to invest in their future.
  3. Put together the global portal to sell the newly non-dirt-poor everything that they need. Now we're back to you.

The critical path can be fully funded for a few million dollars, making the changeover a no-brainer: better education at lower cost. The rest comes out of existing and aid budgets. It is not at all necessary for Amazon to provide all of it. Breaking through these roadblocks leads to many billion dollars of opportunity over time, and to trillions of dollars of economic growth for the rest of the world.

Is this something your management would be interested in?

Niels Bohr said of Heisenberg's and Pauli's nonlinear field theory of elementary particles, "We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct."

It is sometimes asserted that I am crazy. But am I crazy enough?

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5 Comments

Your intentions are noble, but your implementation is demented. But let's assume that the un-thinkable happens: Amazon says,

1. "yes we want to give your idea some thought; do you have any concrete evidence (beyond some unverifiable feel-good anecdotes)that the best way to advance education in poor countries is by handing out laptops instead of building more schools or hiring more teachers or improving the existing schools/infrastructure?"

2. "why havent's rich countries embraced your proposed approach - if it produces good results in places lacking the necessary infrastructure, imagine the incredible effect in places where support and resources are plenty?"

3. "Have you heard of OLPC and Dr. Negroponte? Why has he repeatedly failed in his 30 years of trying these ideas?"

4. "Do you have any idea of the astronomical cost of developing educational materials and educational software - and who will pay for it?"

5. "Do you have any personal experience in this field or with the ideas you propose?"

Irv, I'd ask you to refrain from consistently insulting other people in your comments.

There is nothing insulting in my post - unless you consider the sobering perspective of an unbiased spectator insulting (but that's *your* problem, not mine).

I do understand where you're coming from: you'd rather accuse me of imaginary attacks, because you don't have simple, clear answers for the questions posed.

I'll continue to post the truth and you're free to ban me if you think it harms your business. It's your call, as always.

Good Morning,

I've just read your open letter to Amazon IT Manager. Up until last Saturday I would have been right with you.

I have a OLPC and see how it's slowness might be improved by moving to something closer to the Kindle. I also own a first gen Kindle. I have been thinking about getting a newer Kindle -or an an iPad and have been eagerly awaiting the 3G OLPC - which sounds as if it will be close to an iPad?

Last Saturday I heard (on NPR) the results of some research using Kindles in classrooms in high schools and colleges (I believe). Kindles were too slow to be effective and were not as learner friendly as previously believed.

I'm with you on the paperless delivery of educational materials- but the Kindle isn't the BEST way for student to learn. Since I live in a part of the world where I have to leave town to get cell, Wispetnet (Kindle) , or iPad service I probably won't be in a hurry to add to my electronic delivery of books- but wanted to let you know that- as much as I am a Kindle FAN- I believe it deserves the poor grade it got in the classroom field trial.

Hope you are still working on the other prototype for the world kids?? I APPRECIATE your mighty efforts!

I suspect the right answer in the US (not third world) would be a cross between a Kindle 3 wifi and Ipad. This would be especially good for k-5 and above.

1. Price of the Kindle 3 wifi ($139)

2. Battery of the Kindle 3 (1-3 weeks)

3. Size of the Kindle 3 (8 oz)

4. Ability of the device to talk to a central area which would be the teacher's main device (to receive results of student work)

5. Flexibility of the Ipad (email, programming applications, almost full web especially when HTML 5 is common)

6. Speed of the ipad

7. Ability of ipad to electronically send the teacher results of independent work, quizzes, timed practices - hopefully directly into a "gradebook" like program but also includes work samples of individual students

8. The touch screen of the ipad. This would need to be expanded to the ability to write using a stylus or like.

9. The ability to add a keyboard for mass entry of information such as writing papers or entering math answers.

For K-5, I can see an Ipad/kindle used for textbook reading, highlighting, bookmarking, and text to speech for kids with disabilities. In addition, the device would cut down on worksheet printing and paperwork. For instance, it could take math worksheets and have the student work out problems, enter in answers using a number pad for each math problem, and correct math errors on the spot. The results and actual work samples would be sent to the teacher. Math facts would be practiced on the device, timed "check outs" would be recorded and sent to the teacher. Writing and literature worksheets would be sent to the teacher.

All these programs could, for a small sum, be created and given away or sold for a reasonable amount ($1 each?).

The problem I see is the hardware is not there yet and the programs I see right now are developed by programmers who don't know how to design curriculum or know little about teaching.

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