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India may decline $100 laptop program

Scheme is 'pedagogically suspect'

India may not go in for the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) programme, which aims to deliver laptops priced at $100 (about £54) to school students, according to reports.

India's education secretary Sudeep Banerjee is reported to have written last month to the country's Planning Commission that the case for giving a computer to every single child is pedagogically suspect, and may actually be detrimental to the growth of creative and analytical abilities of the child, according to a report this week in The Times of India, the country's largest newspaper.

Banerjee was not available to comment on these reports as he is currently "on tour".

In the letter to the Planning Commission cited by the newspaper, Banerjee wrote that if it has the kind of money that would be required for the OLPC scheme, it would be appropriate to use it for spreading secondary education in the country, for which a concept paper has been lying with the Planning Commission for approval since November last year.

"We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools," Banerjee wrote. This is a view held by a number of government agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organisations), which hold that the focus on taking technology to India's poor overlooks other key requirements such as water, food, and basic education of the country's deprived sections.

The OLPC is a nonprofit organisation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, set up to research and develop a $100 laptop that is to be distributed to children through government initiatives. The low-cost Linux laptop initiative was first announced by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the OLPC, in January last year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Negroponte is on leave from his position as director of the MIT Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

If India backs out of the OLPC project, this will be the second time Negroponte encounters a setback in that country. In 2003, MIT Media Laboratory pulled out of Media Laboratory Asia, set up in 2001 in collaboration with the Indian government to take technology to India's rural masses. The government cited differences of opinion over the focus of the lab.


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