Thursday, November 17, 2005
A good portion of the noise emanating from the WSIS summit in Tunis has been about Nicholas Negroponte's $100 One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. The hand-cranked machine is the latest attempt to bridge the once-sexy digital divide. There is a problem with the $100 number itself. My sources tell me that the laptop currently costs about $130 to manufacture and only a generous subsidy or humongous scale can bring the price down to $100.
More importantly, let's look at the cost-benefit aspect to this. Negroponte wants these laptops to become ubiquitous across the developing world, which means donors and governments will probably have to subsidise it. Let's assume there are about 200 million kids in India who will be targetted by the OLPC initiative. At a generous $100 per laptop, that adds up to $20 billion. This $20 billion is merely the hardware cost. Heaven knows how much it will cost once you add useful services and software to the machine, which is a pre-requisite for the initiative to work.
I think you will agree with me then that this very large sum of money is probably better off being invested in primary education and upgrading current primary education infrastructure (including better pay for teachers to attract the best) than in lime-green laptops, not one of which has actually been manufactured yet.