Innovative Age: Technology for Education in the Developing World

By Diodato, Michael | Harvard International Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Innovative Age: Technology for Education in the Developing World


Diodato, Michael, Harvard International Review


With technology's growth over the last few decades, one obvious application of these advances has been in education. Software, television, teleconferencing, computers, and the Internet have been adapted to aid teaching throughout the world. The Internet alone has completely altered the way in which students research information, facilitated distance education, and led to an increase in the spread of ideas. However, as the developed world applies these advances, the less developed world is still struggling. Although some applications are being implemented in these countries, officials are still debating the best use of that technology. Considering the current attempts, one can see that officials are not utilizing the money being spent on technology in the most effective manner possible. This is often due to the limitations of hardware and software.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A Proposed Solution

In recent months, one of the most discussed technologies is a laptop, valued at US$100, being designed by the MIT Media Lab Chairman, Nicholas Negroponte. This laptop is being designed specifically for children in less developed countries. According to Negroponte, it is "an education project, not a laptop [project]." It consists of a low-power screen with two modes: a color mode that uses more power and a black and white mode that is designed to act as a book. It features a mesh wireless network, which allows the computers to connect to each other and then ultimately to the Internet, as opposed to a single Internet point. This allows the computers to be spread out farther from each other, which is important in the more rural areas of the countries being targeted. Electricity can be used to power the machine like any other computer, but a crank that would allow the laptop to be powered without an external electrical source is also included for those in rural areas without regular access to a power system. The hardware consists of a 1-gigabyte flash memory chip and a 500 megahertz processor. It will run an open-source operating system and use mainly open-source software.

This laptop has since been purchased by Libya for all 1.2 million of its schoolchildren, and it is scheduled to be delivered in June 2008. This deal also includes several other amenities such as servers in each school, technical support, and satellite Internet service. Its total cost will be US$250 million. Plans for Libya to buy laptops for poorer African states such as Chad and Rwanda are also being discussed. Other countries have tentative purchase agreements, including Argentina and Brazil. Clearly, this program has already attracted an immense amount of support from governments around the world.

Many private companies have attempted to bridge the technological divide in developing countries. One such company is BusyInternet, which set up telecommunication centers that allowed people in Africa to communicate with the rest of the world through the Internet. Although there have been several other similar programs over the last few years, acceptance has not been widespread. These programs are often limited to only a small area, such as Busy-Internet's primary focus on Ghana. Furthermore, these expansions are often not used for educational purposes but instead are attempts at bridging the digital divide between developed and developing countries through the provision of Internet and computer access. BusyInternet, for instance, claims that it focuses on providing "commercial services as well as social development." Thus, most funds that have been dedicated to increasing the use of technology in educating people of developing countries have gone toward the aforementioned computer.

Addressing Complications

Despite its promise, many problems exist with this laptop and its associated programs, all of which are not clearly addressed. One major problem is that of distribution. Ideally, and in accordance with the program, all schoolchildren will receive the laptop, which would be paid for by the government. …

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