Last month in Technology Review there was an article on the HDL, or hundred dollar laptop. This is a project by Nicholas Negroponte from the MIT Media lab to create a low price laptop for children in developing countries. It is a very neat idea. In this month's edition included a couple of letters to the editor that provide some good insight into some of the limitations of the project.

While an HDL would be a boon to our world, simply making the Internet available to the masses is a far cry form actually educating them. I worked with my children's local school district through two technology tax levies to help ensure that money wasn't thrown at a problem without a plan to use it intelligently. Getting information to the children is only part of the solution. Providing guidance and structure to learning is every bit as important, if not more important. Providing teachers with education on how to use the technology for teaching was and is as important as providing the computers and Internet access. Also, will providing the technology instruction actually prepare these youth for the world that they live in?
Keith L. Breinholt, Letters to the Editor, Technology Review, Vol. 108, No. 10
It's more important to address the issue of content analysis than offering inexpensive laptop computers. What good is the Internet for kids who can barely read, and therefore can't discriminate between authoritative information and trash? Without such discernment, all this effort will be lost to chat rooms, porn, and games. I'm Mexican, and I've seen which sites Mexican kids surf in cybercafes - and it's not ones like Project Gutenberg.
Rosina Bucio, Letters to the Editor, Technology Review, Vol. 108, No. 10

Of course, with any project with volunteers you have to go where the people are willing to take you. It's probably easier to get donors excited about cheap laptops and Internet access than more teachers for reading. American schools definitely have that problem. Grants for computers, but there are still 45 kids in the classroom! Really, we need both.

Update: Now on Slashdot, so you know it's real!

posted Sep 29, 2005 | permanent link