Welcome: $35 tablet for education

India’s HRD Minister Kapil Sibal spoke recently of a $35 tablet for Indian students.  In response, Nicholas published this open letter to India.  (Read it also in Hindi, Spanish, French, and German.)

One Laptop per Child applauds Minister Kapil Sibal for promoting a $35 tablet. Education is the primary solution to eliminating poverty, saving the environment and creating world peace. Access to a connected laptop or tablet is the fastest way to enable universal learning. We agree with you completely.

Please consider this open letter OLPC’s pledge to provide India with free and open access to all of our technology, and our experience with 2 million laptops, in over 40 countries, in over 25 languages. As a humanitarian and charitable organization, we do not compete. We collaborate, and invite you to do so, too.

In the meantime, let me offer the following six suggestions.

  1. Focus on children 6 to 12 years old. They are your nation’s most precious natural resource.  For primary school children, the tablet is not about computing or school, it is about hope. It makes passion the primary tool for learning.
  2. Your tablet should be the death of rote learning, not the tool of it. A creative society is built not on memorizing facts, but by learning learning itself. Drill and practice is a mechanism of the industrial age, when repetition and uniformity were systemic. The digital age is one of personalization, collaboration and appropriation. OLPC’s approach to learning is called constructionism. We hope you adopt it too.
  3. Tablets are indeed the future. OLPC announced its own eight months ago. However, caution is needed with regard to one aspect of tablets: learning is not media consumption. It is about making things. The iPad is a consumptive tool by design.  OLPC urges that you not make this mistake.
  4. Hardware is simple. Less obvious is ruggedness, sunlight readability and low power. We use solar power because our laptop is by far the lowest power laptop on the planet. But do not overlook human power – hand cranking and other things that kids can do at night or when it rains. Just solar would be a mistake. Rugged means water resistant and droppable from 10 feet onto a stone floor.
  5. Software is harder. Linux is obvious, but whatever you do, do not make it a special purpose device with only a handful of functions. It must be a general purpose computer upon which the whole world can build software, invent applications and do programming. We know that when children program they come the closest to thinking about thinking. When they debug, they are learning about learning. This is key.
  6. More than anything, of all the unsolicited advice I have to offer, the most important and most likely to be overlooked is good industrial design. Make an inexpensive tablet, not a cheap one. Make it desirable, lovable and fun to own. Take a page from Apple on this, maybe from OLPC too. Throw the best design teams in India behind it.

India is so big that you risk being satisfied with your internal market. Don’t. The world needs your device and leadership. Your tablet is not an “answer” or “competitor” to OLPC’s XO laptop. It is a member of a family dedicated to creating peace and prosperity through the transformation of education. In closing, I repeat my offer: full access to all of our technology, cost free. I urge you to send a team to MIT and OLPC at your earliest convenience so we can share our results with you.

Nicholas Negroponte
Founder and Chairman
One Laptop per Child Foundation
Cambridge, Massachusetts
USA

64 thoughts on “Welcome: $35 tablet for education

  1. Now that more than 9 months have passed since India’s human resources minister (you guessed it, there are no people in India. they are simply “human resources”) pronounced his grand plan to distribute $35 laptops, got his face time with the media and trashed India’s credibility to even understand what a “laptop” means twice over, can we ask the minister to stand up and be counted for misleading the world?

    Why is it that smart and successful people get away with blatant lies? Misleading not just one person but a whole nation? The whole world?

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  6. Now that more than 9 months have passed since India’s human resources minister (you guessed it, there are no people in India. they are simply “human resources”) pronounced his grand plan to distribute $35 laptops, got his face time with the media and trashed India’s credibility to even understand what a “laptop” means twice over, can we ask the minister to stand up and be counted for misleading the world?

    Why is it that smart and successful people get away with blatant lies? Misleading not just one person but a whole nation? The whole world?

    Where is your laptop Mr Minister? Of course you may not have time for it any more. You may have interest in getting one portfolio after another, more face time on TV, some more trees burnt to print your name and pictures while the world wonders about your next move to keep your promise!

    But you have accomplished a great deal: keeping a couple generations of India’s poor children from embracing their rightful future.

    They will bless you and your children for letting them live in peace, not troubling them with learning and knowledge, eating a little less, swimming in ignorance and not being a threat to the new rulers of India who are busy lining their pockets for the next generations..

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  8. Hello everyone, Jamasi Methodist Junior High School is looking for sponsor this project for our school. The school is having only one desktop computer for about 120 students.
    We are appealing to all philantropist who want to assist us in this project to Contact the school International Partnership Coordinator. ICT is a major subject now in Ghanaian schools about two years ago, but not a single computer giving to schools in Ghana.
    Help us to build our children with modern technology. You can email our school on: jamasimeth_jhs@london.com

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