Tuesday, September 26, 2006

$10 laptops for children?

If MIT's Nicholas Negroponte can try and sell laptops to children at $100, Indians are aspiring to better him many times and sell similar laptops at an unbelievable price of $10, or Rs 450 each.

Having rejected Negroponte's offer of $100 (the real price was coming to $200) for children of less developed countries, HRD and telecom ministry officials and experts from IITs and Indian Institute of Science met last week to devise a roadmap for the indigenous laptop.

One official who attended the meeting said: " No one had any doubt about the feasibility of the project. Everyone is enthusiastic and wants a quick rollout. But we have given ourselves three years before the first $10 laptop comes out."

When the $100/laptop proposal had come in April, Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT, Chennai, had not only pointed out various problems relating to cost and technology but also offered to devise a much cheaper but equally advanced computer for schoolchildren.

As a first step, the meeting identified critical challenge areas and set up six anchor groups which would be in touch with experts in these critical areas and remove bottlenecks.

Institutions like IITs/IISc have been identified as anchor institutions for the project and entrusted with the task of research and development of cheap laptops.

The critical area that needs to be stressed is creating a low cost device which works towards digital literacy for all. Explaining digital literacy, one official said: "We are working on the premise that if illiterates can handle television and other electronic equipment, why not computers?"

The other critical area is training of mothers. "If the mother is trained, the entire family can become computer literate," the official said. The final critical area relates to standardisation of content and methods for vetting it. Officials working on the project say cheap laptops would mean nothing without a good bandwidth connection.

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