The 4000-rupee computer shows up in Goa


OLPC

Rut Pinto Viegas Jesus (yellow, right), demos a model of the OLPC at Miramar.

PANJIM, Jan 30: Goa, a small state with some early initiatives at
taking computing to students and school, scored another early attempt
when the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) computer was demoed here at a
low-profile event.

The One Laptop per Child association (OLPC) is a non-profit
organization, created by faculty members of the MIT Media Lab, set up
to oversee The Children’s Machine project and the construction of the
XO-1 “$100 laptop”.

This tiny and unusual computer was demoed at the monthly meeting of
ILUG-Goa, the Free Software and Open Source user group that meets at
the Goa Science Centre in Miramar, last Saturday (Jan 26, 2008).

The XO-1, previously known as the $100 Laptop or Children’s Machine,
is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to
children in “developing: countries around the world, to provide them
with access to knowledge, and opportunities to “explore, experiment and
express themselves” (constructionist learning).

The laptops can be sold to governments and issued to children by
schools on a basis of one laptop per child. Pricing is currently set to
start at US$188 and the goal is to reach the $100 mark in 2008.

But such computers are hard to come by here. This is more so as
India rejected the initiative, saying “it would be impossible to
justify an expenditure of this scale on a debatable scheme when public
funds continue to be in inadequate supply for well-established needs
listed in different policy documents.”

Ms. Rut Pinto Viegas Jesus, a Copenhagen-based PhD researcher of
Goan-Portuguese ancestry, managed to bring down one model of the
computer, while visiting Goa on holiday and a family visit to her
relations in Santa Cruz and Salcete.

OLPC, which has caused a lot of excitement worldwide, and promises
to take computing to children in the less-affluent world, espouses five
core principles — child ownership; low ages; saturation; connection;
and free and open source.

Incidentally, inspite of its small size and otherwise technological
low-rating, Goa has managed to undertake some initiatives in spreading
the use of computers, albeit with mixed results.

In the 1990s, expat Goans supported and launched the Goa Computers
in Schools Project (GCSP), which despite the odds and a number of
hurdles, shipped in a couple of containers of once-used computers, to
be refurbished and used in some local schools. Nearly 400+ computers
were distributed this way.

After the BJP government came to power in 2000, then chief minister
Manohar Parrikar launched the hi-visibility Cyberage scheme, which gave
almost-free computers to college students.

So far, the jury is out on the Cyberage scheme, with some questioning its priorities.

Critics focus on the shortcomings of a scheme which gave tens of
thousands of computers to students — sometimes more than one in a
family — without clear plans for using the same, even while school
computer labs and teachers sometimes lacked the facilities.

Meanwhile, the GCSP project was itself scaled down and wound up, due
to factors ranging from donor-fatigue and a lack of volunteers, to the
growing availability of computer hardware here, which was not as costly
as it once was.

Rut, visiting Goa this week, is doing her PhD in Copenhagen, on
issues related to the Wikipedia, the surprisingly-successful
volunteer-driven online encyclopedia that has built itself into one of
the top ten most-visited sites in the world.

Her to visit her grandmum and family in Santa Cruz and “to get some
sun”, she said: “I’m also keen to meet other Goans interested in the
stuff I am, and will bring my newly arrived XO-1 (OLPC) and that might
also be interesting.”

Earlier in January 2008, Free Software and Open Source campaigner
Venkatesh ‘Venky’ Hariharan shared his experiences in visiting an the
OLPC deployment in Khairat, which is around 55 kilometres outside
Mumbai.

This deployment is supported by Reliance, one of the largest industrial groups in India, and is the first in India.

“The deployment is two months old and the parents, children and
teachers are very enthusiastic about this project,” reported Venky.

At the meet in Miramar, local techies, educationists and others
showed interest in the computer-for-kids, while Rut Jesus explained how
the project worked. Her friends have been involved in the project,
which she praised as “very self-motivated”.

Some voiced disappointment that India had turned down the project
without giving it a good try. Educators decried the policy of keeping
students away from playing around with technology and hard-ware.

Others pointed to tools like Gcompris, a free software suite for
children between 2 to 10 years of age, and their potential to make
learning computing a pleasurable activity.

Some queries focussed on its innovative screen, the ability to use
it “as a book”, the XO-1’s ability to ‘mesh network’ with other
computers of its kind, and how young techies could get access to the
code and specifications needed for them to contribute software back to
the project.

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