Friday, July 23, 2010

OEH: Open Education Hardware?

I have been very interested in the work that has been going on around the $100 laptop and Negroponte's "One Laptop Per Child." Unfortunately, this program has not been a success, and I think it has to do with the business model. Building an inexpensive computer is a hard thing to do here in America.

Access to computers and networks should be as fundamental as access to education. In some parts to the world, they are one and the same, or at least hand-in-hand. Wide-spread access to technology and networks is bringing teacher training and medical information to parts of the world where it is desperately needed. Access needs to be expanded. Not only in places like Africa, India, and China, but even here in Humboldt County, California where the infrastructure supporting much needed distance education is insufficient to meet the needs of the surrounding communities. One thing that stands in the way of this dream of open access for everyone is the cost of adequate and appropriate technology; low cost computers and access to networks.

There are very few in the computer industry who really want a $100 laptop. There is very little initial profit in that. Although, I wouldn't mind selling that contract to China or India. And speaking of India, it looks like they are the ones who are really going to make this happen. They have come out with a $35 tablet computer prototype running Linux. There is a real question about who will manufacture these computers. The Indian government is talking about subsidizing the manufacturing end. I think this is a good move. I would like to see a foundation take this on. A consortium, as in the case of the Sakai Foundation working with UNESCO and a couple of other stake-holder governments, could make this work. If we can have open source software like Linux and Sakai, why not open source hardware? And like the software model, no one will make money off of the hardware, but a company could do quite well for itself by selling support services to governments, schools, and other institutions.

I am glad that India did not wait for companies like Microsoft or Apple to come up with a "solution" because these companies are not interested in the problem and can't understand the problem; they are too busy protecting their brand and their bottom line. Let them. India is going in the right direction and leading the way.
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