Recently time magazine ran an article on efforts to provide one laptop for each child living in the impoverished nation of Rwanda. While practical problems remain, such as how the country can afford the $181 laptops, which cost more than have the average salary of a Rwandan; the program promises to help children have access to a wealth information in a resource poor setting. Though because the laptops are relatively expensive compared with Rwandan incomes, some parents do not want their children to bring them home, and some children have sold them for as little as $10, which is a moderately large size of money in the country.
The nonprofit organization behind the effort, One Laptop per Child, http://laptop.org/en/
, believes that providing a low-cost, but durable, laptop computer with special software for children in developing countries will help them “self-empower” themselves for future learning.
So how, specifically, could the laptops be used? Listed below are my thoughts on the issue:
1. Streaming video educational lessons for children.
While many children in Rwanda may soon have their own laptop, many have a low level of literacy. And given the fact that Rwanda has a shortage of teachers, aid agencies which would normally try to send a teacher abroad could use video streaming technology to perhaps accomplish the same goal at a fraction of the cost. This might also help the country complete its planned transition from teaching French to teaching English in schools, despite the lack of teachers fluent in English. An education major in college in the United States could perhaps teach a one hour class over the internet each day to a school class in Rwanda to obtain teaching experience and to help both teachers and students there learn English.
2. Continuing education for teachers in training. The Internet could also be used to train large numbers of teachers which Rwanda needs to replace those killed by years of genocide. Internet continuing education courses are already extensively used for doctors and other professionals in the United States. Such a model could be adopted with perhaps even greater success in Rwanda.
3. Development of social networks for business initiatives. What are laptop computers and the internet primarily to use for in the United States? Well, the Internet really is used for everything from booking airlines flights to, unfortunately, online gambling. However, a recent trend has been the accelerated use of online social media sites to connect large numbers of people. Such social media sites could help Rwandans stay connected, even if they do not have cell phones, and thus could help spur innovation and new businesses.
4. Public health education programs. Developing countries face a number of public health crisis, and the Internet could be used to deliver timely and important public health messages, in addition to important educational topics. This would of course involve making sure that participants knew about how to access this information via the internet. Public health non-profits need to make sure that their website, or course, has its own icon on these laptop’s desktop screens or otherwise users could get lost in the vast sea of in the internet without finding information made specifically for them.
5. Online university classes. With a population of million people, there are probably many who would like to have a university education who could not afford it, or cannot find the specialized training they desire. Online courses provided at a reduced tuition rate could do much to help the country gained the specialized technological expertise that they desire.
While providing an even internet playing field for Rwanda is a good idea, expecting children to simply pick up a laptop and educate themselves isn’t something that will happen overnight. It will take the involvement of non-profits interested in helping children in the developing world obtain a decent education. Nonetheless, the internet may help many developing countries industrialize and become prosperous much quicker than they would otherwise. And with manufacturers working on developing an almost all plastic tablet/iPad type device which would cost only $75, the future may be arriving faster than anyone imagined.