I was surprised by a recent article in the Australian press with a shock title: "Looking to laptops to lead Doomadgee children out of poverty". A photo showed a group of kids, mostly Aboriginal, holding up their machines for a corny staged shot.
There were several reasons for my surprise:
• It shocks me to see a newspaper headline stating explicitly that certain Aussie kids are apparently living in poverty. That's a strong word, which outside observers don't generally associate with citizens of Australia.
• The notion that laptops might be capable of "leading children out of poverty" is outlandish, and hard to believe.
• I'm familiar with the project entitled One Laptop Per Child, conceived by the US computing academic and visionary Nicholas Negroponte. I wrote a blog article on this subject, entitled Fabulous educational project [display], back in October 2007. I had always imagined that the children to be assisted by Negroponte's wonderful mission belonged to so-called developing nations. It's an almost unpleasant surprise to find scores of Australian children, throughout the land, included in the bunch of recipients of these low-cost laptops.
Readers should visit the website of the excellent Australian organization handling this project. You'll be able to reach your own conclusions concerning this project in Australia… and I'm aware that you won't necessarily react negatively, as I have done. I'm not suggesting for a moment that there's anything wrong with this plan to hand out cheap laptops to kids in Australia. I'm merely pointing out that it's a charitable enterprise, initially designed for Third-World inhabitants, and that it's weird to see my native land falling back upon international US-inspired charity in order to solve internal educational problems.
The spirit of such an initiative is surely the celebrated Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." What shocks me, I guess, is that it's not directly the Australian ministry in charge of education—assisted, maybe, by philanthropists and industry—who's teaching these under-privileged kids to "fish" with computers (and the Internet).
ADDENDUM: In my initial post on this subject, I suggested that, in Third-World villages in places such as Africa, electrical power for the laptops could be generated by cyclists. I'm happy to see that there's now a device on the market to meet this challenge.
Admittedly, if poverty has reached the point at which, due to malnutrition, it's impossible to find a sturdy cyclist, then we're stuck with a real problem. I must talk with Lance Armstrong, one of these days, to see if he has any worthwhile ideas on this question...