There is No OLPC India Community of Any Form, Shape or Sort


In a recent post, Satish Jha, President and CEO of OLPC India asks How would you accelerate the adoption of OLPC in India?.

A primary issue with the effort around OLPC in India has been the lack of investment in building up a community around the project. While there has been breakthroughs around the deployment and proof-of-concept runs, there hasn't been a single sustained thrust in ensuring that there is a buy-in with a larger group of people who contribute. Which means that while there are significant areas where OLPC could do with community love, there hasn't been any plans made in public on them.

There is no community of any form, shape or sort around the OLPC in India when compared to OLPC efforts/initiatives and deployments in other countries (the nations that are so eloquently held up as shining examples of OLPC success). There is a significant lack of a downstream community of volunteers and participants and, more importantly, a lack of any sort of publicly discussed plans as to whether any educational institute would volunteer students for a while to keep the deployments going forward. Then of course there is the added discourse around availability of the actual XO hardware.

When I met Dr. Nagarjuna at GNUnify (that's February this year), he indicated that he was actively looking at using the Sugar Desktop Environment on standard COTS desktops available much easily from vendors because there wasn't much clarity about the how and when of the hardware availability.

In fact, this has been a murmur that has been around for a while - what specifically is the value add of the hardware if the desktop environment is available via a standard Linux desktop/distribution. Which is where an active group of developers working on activities that would be useful in the context of the deployment is a good thing to have. And for that to happen, there needs to be work on building a downstream community - contributors who use the artifacts provided by OLPC and Sugar to develop their own thing.

A distinct advantage that OLPC/XO/Sugar has is brand recognition. Anyone who is peripherally involved in doing things around Free and Open Source Software in India know these names. They may not fully understand the depth of work or, the roadmap of the individual projects, but the name recognition is a jump-off point that should be utilized much more.

For example, in a space like the College of Engineering Pune, which has a fairly active mailing list for FOSS related stuff, holding a 2 day event with the aim getting work started on new or, un-maintained activities, teaching the basics of testing/QA stuff would probably be more useful than just wishing about growing a community. I am fairly certain that there would be other institutions like CoEP where a day-long or, similar camps can be organized.

Why aren't they happening ? On that I have no clue.

Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay originally published this as How would you accelerate the adoption of OLPC in India? and About the OLPC 'thing'


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1 Comment

I think that the above formulation begs the question.

India has not invested in understanding what is education since it became independent. Its entire educational edifice is inherited, colonial, rather sub-standard and its for the world to check it out. What it has going for it is a bunch of very bright students who will be there in any society of a billion people with little opportunities to learn. That shows in the bright ones getting away to the land where their talent and capabilities are recognized and those who cannot do so for whatever reasons, stay behind and keep the nation pacing forward with a few generations time lag.

That said, even before creating an OLPC community, India has to invest in OLPCs. Its education secretaries are elitist. They will not offer a technology to the needy that their children are not happy playing with. They don't understand OLPC, just the GB, GHZ and the world that was handed down to them when they were growing up in their colleges or what they read in newspapers along the lines that resonates with their training.

Let us not call India's education anything other than rote learning or training and rather imitational at best.

The lack of any innovation is but one way to judge the impact of its education. A billion people do not contribute even a fraction of a percent to anything new happening in the world. Their educational system keeps them at a level where they simply do nit manage to look ahead. They see tomorrow through the glasses they acquired while getting educated.

So how do you create a community of OLPC enthusiasts in such a society or nation? Prof Nagarjuna is an exception. Satish Jha is an exception. Other OLPC volunteers are exceptions too. While India feels proud that its imitating well, several generations firmly behind the human evolution curve.

What do you say about a country that has been making a $10 laptop for 5 years and believes it can do it when it has no track record of doing anything of any kind so far, other than what its pay masters manage to teach it?

Let us bring in some balance in our discussions. If I have taken the contrarian view, its partly to set the stage for some balance.. May be the pendulum has been swung far enough to traverse some realistic territories as well.

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