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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