Two’s Company, Three’s a Mesh Network – Logs are pulsing with OLPC searches

18 01 2007

From the numbers of hits I’m currently receiving, I’ve gathered that one of the most important issues in Australian education has finally hit the Main Stream Media (MSM). Good job MSM, you’re only four months behind.

However they did cover some good stuff (despite the misleading, attention-grabbing headline – news please MSM, not misinformation) “Dr Tim Aubrey, Dr David Davis and Mr Alex Gibson, part of UTS’ engineering department, said they would be incorporating OLPC projects into their undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and even working on developing the software themselves.”

This is a welcome development, as implementations in Australia will need local knowledge, as well as technical expertise with OLPC systems.

“Dr Davis, a senior lecturer, said he was drawn to the OLPC project because it would allow his students to take part in a challenging engineering problem that is also “socially useful”.”

“another challenge faced by Australian governments looking to deploy the laptops is the need to order large quantities, said Srikhanta…. In order to produce them for $US150 – the goal is to bring this price down to $US85 by 2010 – countries would need to order the laptops in one million unit batches. This poses difficulties for countries with smaller population sizes, such as Australia.”

This is where smaller nations need to band together and order them as a group, or as a sub-order through a larger size nation. Most of these kinds of problems are not unique to any government, yet they shy away from collaboration, seeming to prefer wastage, duplication and inefficiency.

Another primary need, not just in Australia, is for a decent emulator for the OLPC interface, so open-source developers can start contributing to local software now. Then volunteers can create and test code to run on the OLPC laptops, without having a unit themselves. This is also important when bug-free software is a requirement. Yes, bug-free software is possible, it just requires a severe raising of the bar from current (and slacker) development/testing standards. Not only will tight development control be required, but some kind of integrated support WILL be required. Support is never just of a technical nature, it’s also a natural learning process, applying technology to solve local problems.

There also needs to be heavy penalties for people selling these items for profit, including the item being confiscated. Without heavy penalties, these are going to become a black market item of novelty value, weakening the position of the manufacturers who don’t want this available to members of the general public, as well as weakening the program itself.

People need to understand the purpose of this project, it is NOT to bring cheap laptops to people living normal lives. The Queensland Education Department obviously doesn’t get it, as they have described the machines as “far below the requirements” of students in developed countries. Yes, they are, and that’s exactly what they are supposed to be, they are not for students in developed countries! However, these would be of great assistance in Australian communities without any access to education, medical care, electricity, telephones and financial assistance. Basic literacy! Basic medical knowledge! These are greatly needed in some areas.

For all those people searching for information (a shout out to the hard working teachers and public servants who do give a shit), here are some links that may help you out. If you’re looking for something else, comment here and I’ll see if I can find it for you.
One Laptop Per Child – Wikipedia entry
One Laptop Per Indigenous Australian Child? – OLPC News
OLPC Demo

If you believe that Australia needs the OLPC right here and right now, contact your local member of Parliament (and your local paper) and ask them what they personally are doing about this issue. It’s time for them to pull their fingers out.

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