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BBC films OLPCs in Nigeria

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26 comments or Leave a comment
warsop From: warsop Date: November 30th, 2007 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)
The cameraman following those two kids around with pristine and unused (well, all of the laptops in this are pristine and unused, and continue to be unused throughout the whole infomercial) is kinda creepy.
adric From: adric Date: November 30th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)


I think it's Launch Day, since the sensei is asking them questions about touchpad use.

Also, Nigeria is not (yet) a sponsor nation, so this may be a test deployment of some sort.
faire_raven From: faire_raven Date: November 30th, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

I'm concerned about the implications of the project - may be my inexperience and lack of education in historical topics but it seems like a modern day take over by Western society. I remember novels about the British swooping into Africa and trying to convert the barbarians (in their eyes). We see the lives of african families as different from ours, and therefore disadvantaged. I have no doubt that certain areas *are* struggling with poverty, disease, and malnurishment. I'm not sure that introducing western technology to kids is the perfect fix...
cosmiclola From: cosmiclola Date: November 30th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

European colonialism of the African continent has left a dark legacy of corruption, ecological devastation and economic subjugation. But personally don't equate this with that. This project is supposed to be about access to new type of educational tools; about "what potential could be unlocked in every child?"
adric From: adric Date: December 1st, 2007 04:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

It a controversial program.

However, I don't think your characterization is correct. Rather than renewed colonialism or mercantilism, picture this as a way of helping developing nations skip over as much of the agricultural and industrial ages as they can. Dragging them, ushering them into the Information Age as fast as is possible, fostering democracy and relative peace ...

Children + XOs - > Adults with computer skills
Adults + skills -> economic growth, participation in international markets

Also, don't confuse the selfishness of the motivations behind it. In short we all live here (...). In addition to the immediate intended causes, there are a lot of potentially beneficial side effects that we may get. For one, the program is not restricted to the developing world. Alabama is in talks, as are Maine and Massechusetts (sp). We may accidentially (oopsie) destroy the textbook publishing monopolies that have crippled our (US) public education system, for instance. Who would pay 100 dollars each for the ninth edition of a history textbook when Wikipedia contradicts it and is updated faster?

(( Eurpopean distribution seems to be stuck on regulatory compliance for sale of electronics in the EU re: warranties and recycling ))
warsop From: warsop Date: December 1st, 2007 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Doesn't this assume that the Information Age is where everything should be?

Textbooks are not just about information. Textbooks are about learning. Using only Wikipedia isn't tenable for a first-grader. Wikipedia isn't going to teach a kid how to do algebra, or how to conduct a scientific experiment, or how to put history in context. (This isn't to say that there aren't massive issues with textbook companies. That's a wholly separate discussion.)
adric From: adric Date: December 3rd, 2007 07:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

It does, because we like it, and because it seem to fulfill Churchill's praise of democracy (the worst idea, except for everything else we tried).
This is a very nerdy geeky political idea, but it's popular, and not just in scifi (Stephenson). For all it's myriad flaws and failures the American system of the late 20C has created a world that many of us live in with almost no scarcity. I'd like to share that with anyone who wants in, and expand it so that it hangs around (Doctorow). It's insane, it'll never work ... but it seem like a good idea to try.

And, yes, Wikipedia was just a buzzword in my sentence. The real danger to the textbook dinosaurs is MIT OpenCourseware, good ol' Gutenberg, and the library scanning projects.

Students still need teachers, and good textbooks are invaluable (look what old Saxon maths texts go for on the eBay). Crap textbooks that are inaccurate and overpriced, or worse, DRM laden are not needed.
warsop From: warsop Date: December 4th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

I have no problems with wanting to share our abundance (although I can't possibly agree with the assertion that 'the American system of the late 20C has created a world that many of us live in with almost no scarcity' - ten minutes at the National Poverty Centre should disabuse such naivete).

I question whether computers are the way to go about it. When there are fundamental problems in so many parts of the world, beginning with infrastructures that can at best be described as 'crumbling' and educational systems that barely exist, I think that expending resources on computers is wasting resources. Let's get these people food and water first, then some stability, then jobs. I don't believe in the digital divide for American schools (kids are walking out of school without being able to write a sentence or do a math problem, so I don't care that they can't manipulate a spreadsheet), and I definitely don't believe in it for developing countries.
adric From: adric Date: December 5th, 2007 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Perhaps I misphrased. That's the world I live on the periphery of and I think you do as well. I'm not saying there isn't poverty and injustice. (I'm subject to both but it would be hard for me to starve or freeze to death ;) And yeah, our schools suck, and not just because of the textbooks I mentioned earlier.

Access to computers itself may not be so vitally important as hackers believe, but the access that computers and the Internet can provide could make up for a lot. Medical information.

Your arguments are strong, but I would point out that the program only developed and offered the technology. It's up to the local governments to buy it and adopt it. Whether other peoples governments or our own are capable of making such decisions wisely is a Big Problem, one that I think can be mitigated with education and access to information. Meanwhile I think XOs are a boondoggle that might help some people and do represent an investment in a nation/states' infrastructure. Still, if you want to print t-shirts for (eg) "Don't Buy Computers, Build Water Treatment Plants" I might buy one :) Campaigning for a Fair Tax and reduced pork, or campaign finance reform, in other democracies (?) ... might be a waste of time.

And: What has Wikipedia done to piss you off so bad? :P Or is the just that so many people seem infatuated with it and overestimating it's value? I'm sure Murdoch would offer 5 zillion dollars for it if thought it was for sale...
warsop From: warsop Date: December 5th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

I find it rather naive to claim that giving people computers somehow make up for anything. What does a computer do if you're illiterate, other than provide you with something that you can sell on the black market? If you're in Rwanda, you have a one in ten chance of having HIV/AIDS. What does access to medical information give you that helps you with your disease? If you're starving, how does the ability to search for recipes on Epicurious make a difference in your life?

Further, I think that it's avoiding taking responsibility by saying 'we are just building it, they have to choose to buy it'. (It's also untrue, given the link that you have repeatedly provided for the 'buy one give one' campaign.) The OLPC project takes attention (and, worse, resources) away from the things that will actually improve the quality of living for the targeted countries.

It's not Wikipedia that bothers me, per se, but rather the blind faith in Wikipedia. The articles on Wikipedia that I used yesterday have no references to their sources, they simply state things as fact. That is not acceptable. Wikipedia is often incomplete and inaccurate, with no way of following up on the assertions made therein because references are lacking. Saying that it can be fixed by anyone doesn't make a difference when someone goes there for information Right Now and it's wrong. Jaron Lanier wrote a fantastic essay about the hive mind of Wikipedia, and I think that he's nailed it: Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism.
adric From: adric Date: December 6th, 2007 07:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

I'm leaving both our day work out of it entirely... and thus declining to discuss the "we are just building it, just following order" bit... *dodge, roll* Skip to the donation bit, and here's where you argue that giving things that may be useful is bad? Because we should be trying to give/sell things that are definitely useful? Sounds great but it won't sell. Meanwhile our (same us) argobusiness conglomerates are 'giving' them sterile seed corn. And our religions ... *dialtone*

I will cede the issue of media (press) attention. There are full out thousands of people dying every day wars in lots of countries, and we don't hear about it much. I'm not sure what I can do to help, without going over there and meddling directly (doesn't seem to work for Bono and he can afford it better than I). Starving people have crappy governments or bad agricultural technology, and maybe increased literacy will help them right that. HIV/AIDs is hard to get once you understand how not to get it, this is clearly an issue of education and access to information. In either case, increased access to information technology could help.

I'll read your hive mind link, sound interesting. As a part-time Discordian I find Wikipedia a useful symbol. Anyone who didn't pay attention in class and is willing to base any important decision on data with no citation and not even the veneer of authority ... gets what they deserve (sacking, generally). The Talk pages are often more interesting than the articles, anyway :) Blind faith is a bad idea.

And, I would like to suggest that if we are to continue this potentially interesting disagreement we either stipulate some axims, or otherwise agree on a common origin. We definitely seem to have some different assumptions, and since you understand this technology better than I do (something I'd not say lightly) ... well, I may well be wrong about something important. Put differently: all still in good fun, yes?
warsop From: warsop Date: December 6th, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

To answer the last question: Absolutely no hard feelings. Healthy debate is always good and interesting, and talking to someone who disagrees with me is always a good way to spend some time. :)

I don't consider myself an expert on the OLPC. I have done some reading to learn about the technologies and ideologies behind it, and I tend to read news articles about it when I come across them. (To be fair, some number of them come from Fake Steve Jobs, so it's possible that I'm coming across more criticism than I might otherwise.) I have done some reading about various issues in Africa (specifically sub-Saharan Africa, since countries like Egypt don't necessarily have a lot in common with the rest), in a sort of 'hmm, that is interesting' way, and I suppose I vaguely keep up with news in the region. I can't claim expertise in anything here.

I know that some people find it surprising that I'm a software engineer (and for this company!) but I'm not a supporter of computers in schools. Technopoly by the late Neil Postman, while amusingly out-of-date with respect to the technology, captures much of my concerns about computers in the classroom. For a country like America, I can't get behind the idea of pouring millions of dollars into hardware and software (even though my company would almost certainly directly benefit) when I see high school graduates unable to write a reasonable sentence (let alone the dreaded five-paragraph essay) or be able to do simple math in their head (say, calculating a 10% off sale).

For a developing country, my concerns are magnified when the literacy rate is low (I consider low to be anything below 80% for any subpopulation within the country) and when hunger and disease are running rampant. In Nigeria, where the annual income is $300 (according to the Carter Center), $200 in cash (the current cost of an OLPC) would make a sizeable impact to their standard of living. Further, I think that the $200 in cash makes a much larger long-term impact that than a computer and access to information can do.
adric From: adric Date: December 8th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Ah, so we are still both amused, good show, wonderful!

You are an expert on software, much more so than I. I probably know more about OLPC/XO than you, as I'm kinda otaku over there. I know a speck about sub-Saharan Africa. It's a big ol' mess, generally. Oh, what did Fake Steve say about XO? I have not read him.

Ah, so you are stopping at computers in the classroom, then. We should spend some time on that first. (How much is up to you.)

I don't have a well-developed position on it, but I guess I've always thought of it like some technology on Star Trek, sort of a "if humans survive long enough we will colonize the galaxy" kind of technological inevitability. This also makes the point that my ideas about computers in classrooms are mostly based in scifi and anecdote and not in academic study. There was some work done (and is) on it at Tech, for instance, but I wasn't involved. I haven't read your cited book. The first work that springs to my mind on that topic is Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow and that's not a balanced or entirely heartening account ;) And the Vinge I just read (Rainbows End) also assumes it (in the form of wearables rather than tablets) and the teachers seem to have adopted. There have long been ways to not pay attention in class, probably even before windows and classrooms. Certainly since pigtails and ink (Twain). And pop quizzes and other technology have developed in tandem. And Ritalin, unfortunately. Paying attention in class is overrated, but no one should take advice on school from me, since I'm soooo bad at it. :)

So, having not read your source, and refuting none of your (or his) learned arguments *g* I agree that computers in the classroom are less important than good teachers, other infrastructure (heat!), and quality texts/resources. And thus you fall into my trap (haha!), because XOs or similar technology are the best way going to get textbooks (previously heavy and expensive) to these poor children (in Alabama and Africa :). They still need teachers, and classrooms are a good idea... Also, I would wish for them to have parents. This is often overlooked, since it is the primary problem with (at least) the USA public schools.

If we equivocate Wikipedia with the Funk and Wagnalls they sold in individual volumes at Winn Dixie in my childhood ... and gravitate more towards OpenCourseWare and smart teachers using access to original sources (Gutenberg, archive.org), then I think we can avoid a few mines.

There are probably some studies that argue whether computer use increases or decreases literacy. My inclination is that the mechanics of the technology could, but the content could reverse it. Perhaps: Console video games can help you learn to twitch your thumbs and fingers faster, but if you only ever play the same kind of games, you'll end up forming bad habits that make it harder for you to perform tasks that differ versus Using word processing software is about as likely to teach you literacy as mechanical typing is (generally), but IM and MySpace could revert all that if not properly categorized.

And now to your final arguments this round. First a very silly rebuttal: If everything you assert is true, then they sell the laptop, invest the money and their lives are improved as is the case of the cash donation. Ha!

Yeah, so, low literacy is really bad, and represents a major failing of everyone upstream of the children (school, administration, parents, government, and any relevant deities). Here in the USA we are suffering for the effects of an uneducated populace on democracy.

and jumpline due to lousy DB schema choices...
adric From: adric Date: December 8th, 2007 05:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree part 2

I will take a stand against giving folk, even those in real trouble, money. To amend a classic saying:
"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish (responsibly) and he'll eat for awhile, and maybe he'll feed his family or teach others. Give a man cash and he'll buy liquor, cigarettes, porn, crack or some other passing pleasure.

It's a rough stand to take as it invites accusations of noblesse oblige, bigotry, classism, imperialism, and other bad isms ... but I believe it pretty strongly (Of course I also favour noblesse oblige, and chivalry, although not prima noctre...). Also, I think (cynically) that's it is somewhat more likely that a child gets a laptop than that any cash could find its way, both possibilities seeming pretty far on the outside chance.

But, y'know, call Sally Struthers (?) if you believe the give money, buy food model works. Or we could inscribe technological secrets of hygiene and agriculture that we (Europeans) learned the hard way on copper and silicon and send a copy to the kids. Gosh that'd be heavy, maybe we could just just send the the engravings of the address? And a gadget that can load those addresses.

In Contact (movie) the aliens sent the instructions, not the device, and on the Voyagers we sent the plates and the machines, but since UPS/FedEx and radio waves can get to Africa, Asia, America ...

[[ This comment was chopped in pieces due to surprising 4k char limit on comment. Also nesting is pushing this up against the right margin. I might like to start a new thread, or you may.]]

Edited at 2007-12-08 05:58 am (UTC)
faire_raven From: faire_raven Date: December 1st, 2007 05:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Very good points across the board - I love the idea of providing them for American children. I guess my impression is only based on that one advertisement. And like I said... based on my comparatively uneducated perspective, that's how I felt at the time of viewing that video. When I first heard of the program, I hadn't had that thought... something in that ad stirred up something. As for your point about textbooks - indeed! My budget gets raped for textbooks every semester... if only professors would quit requiring students to mindlessly read never ending chapters and instead look up reliable sources then maybe we'd actually learn something for keeps!
warsop From: warsop Date: November 30th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

I figured it was the BBC just staging a photo op. I'd like to see them go back in a month and show whether those laptops have seen any use, or if they've just been sold to provide something that would actually be meaningful to those kids (food, water, shelter, AIDS medication ... ).
cosmiclola From: cosmiclola Date: November 30th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Education, hope, wonder, All of these things are very meaningful too, especially to a child whether poor or not.
warsop From: warsop Date: December 1st, 2007 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Having a computer has very little to do with education, especially in a country which doesn't have a great literacy rate to begin with. If hope and wonder can only come from a computer, one has to wonder how the human race has survived this long.
adric From: adric Date: December 1st, 2007 04:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

I wonder that every day, and hope that we'll survive what Jodi Foster's character in Contact calls the "adolescence of our civilization". I kinda doubt it, though.

Put another way, I agree with Gandhi. When asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, Mohandas K. Gandhi is often quoted to have said, "I think it would be a good idea."
adric From: adric Date: December 1st, 2007 03:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

That's a known concern, and in fact the target governments for the programs are the ones that have food, water and some infrastructure, at least for the classrooms. The target countries are on the brink of crossing out of poverty, and access to computers and the internet can help carry them over.

Also there has been some interesting efforts put into developing theft deterrents, some of which are not fully implemented yet.

But, to be sure, no one at OLPC (not even Mr Negroponte) thinks giving laptops to starving folk would help them.
warsop From: warsop Date: December 1st, 2007 05:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

40% of school-age children in Nigeria aren't in school, according to the UN. With a number like that, I think that it's a much higher priority to get more kids in school first.
adric From: adric Date: December 4th, 2007 12:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

That number is terrible, true. Nigeria is not a active participant in OLPC, although there have been tests. They are on the ground in Uruguay and Peru's order was just increased substantially.

Other mentioned states are Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia, Rwanda. (That's the short list for where the one I paid for is headed).
warsop From: warsop Date: December 4th, 2007 07:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

Then it seems rather disingenuous for to film an infomercial for the OLPC in Nigeria.

According to your vaunted Wikipedia, the illiteracy rate in rural Peru is 28%, with a marked gender imbalance. The story in Afghanistan is even worse, with a literacy rate of only 36%, with an even more marked gender imbalance. (Of course, there are no citations for any of these figures in the oh-so-trustworthy Wikipedia, so we must simply hope that whoever included that data somehow knows what they're talking about but was simply too lazy to cite their source.)

With numbers like this, how can spending money on OLPCs be justified? Why isn't the money being spent on things that will help out more people, such as food, water, and better access to education?
adric From: adric Date: December 8th, 2007 06:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Agree

The trial notes are up on the wiki (Sorry, meant to link them in last week). Obviously these are OLPC advocates, so it is not quite journalism, but it is "on the ground" and the laptops do get dirty, break/have problems, and get repaired.

cosmiclola From: cosmiclola Date: November 30th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just donated one. Didn't buy on for myself though.
adric From: adric Date: December 10th, 2007 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)


The OLPC flamewar burned brightly for awhile on PCMag forums after Dvorak shot his mouth off. I caught the link from /. Many of the same arguments are taken up there. Also, many appalling things are said. Once or twice an interesting thing slips through ..

Also, I rethemed this LJ, and it's slightly less squished down there ;)

Edited at 2007-12-10 03:27 am (UTC)
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