OLPC vs Rice?

John C. Dvorak claims that $200 worth of rice is a better idea than offering OLPC to poor countries. Dvorak feels that it’s better to have food than education. Well, my problem with the situation is that a lot of food was offered to Africa (for free) for over 30 years now, and yet we saw no ending in their hunger. If anything, the spread of AIDS made their situation worse. If we had offered them education instead, many more would have died, but the ones who would have survived would have built a better environment for themselves by now. New businesses, less violence, knowledge about AIDS etc, a new Africa.

I am a humanist, but I always try to see the bigger picture, and this bigger picture is not always compatible with the “humanist approach”. The poorest of all would die, the not-completely-poor would get education to help them rebuild their countries. It is more important for me to look at the future generations and how to eliminate the problem, rather than try to fill up bellies right now, make people happy short term, and potentially see no ending to the bigger problem.

Having said that, Dvorak makes the mistake thinking that all the hunger-striken Africans will get OLPCs, while this is not true. To get an OLPC, you need to be going to school, and the kids who go to school there, are not at the same fate as the ones who need the rice right now. Therefore, the OLPC makes sense, it reaches the right kids, and hopefully these kids will grow up and “fix” most of what is wrong around them.

Now, the real question is not ‘OLPC vs Rice’, but rather ‘OLPC vs recycled books’. If books are cheaper, then they make more sense than the OLPC. In that scenario, OLPCs are indeed a bad, insulting, joke to these people.


Donna M. wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 7:17 PM PST:

I don’t understand why Dvorak or anyone treats the concept of educating children in developing countries, and feeding people who are starving, as mutually exclusive. BOTH of these are important projects, and both endeavors deserve support.

Not every child in a developing country is in immediate danger of starvation. Obviously, the children who ARE will need the donation of food, not books or technical equipment. But what about the children whose communities have enough food to survive, but who live in an area where educational opportunities are limited, at best? Education can make the difference between seeing a child remaining in poverty throughout his/her life, or improving their lot in life. Don’t those children deserve what they need to make their lives better, too? If technology makes books (in the form of e-books) more available to students, it will be beneficial. If it helps students research material in ways that would have been unavailable to them, in the absence of having a well-stocked local library, so much the better. It’s important to lose sight that the XO is a TOOL, not the goal, and that the goal in this project is education.

BTW: regarding issues like tech support, repairs, etc. for the XO computer. Where naysayers see a lack of such things in communities where the XO is being deployed, I see the potential for a whole new set of jobs to be created in these communities. Full-time jobs? I don’t know. But if not, some people could surely do some work “on the side” as the local geek, helping neighbors master the use of a program or perform repairs, as needed.

I don’t see the XO as a way to solve all the world’s education problems. But I see it as a new tool that can be used to make people’s lives better, and I salute the people who conceived the idea and are working to put it into practice.

I also believe that as the project matures, it will continue to evolve to resolve any shortcomings that become apparent in the original plan. So I’m unwilling to label the project as a failure, when in truth it has only just begun to become a reality.

Ralf. wrote on December 10th, 2007 at 3:09 AM PST:

In fact I believe that the industrial countries are rich enough to give them both – OLPC + $200 for food.

Brendan wrote on December 10th, 2007 at 4:29 AM PST:

Its not only Africans that cause the problems.
Bizarre and unfair trade agreements have alot to do with Africa’s problems, don’t they? I don’t beleive food, computers or books will solve much.

Phil wrote on December 10th, 2007 at 5:54 AM PST:

I watched pictures of the XO being given to African children on the BBC. The question is will these computers improve their lives or would the money be better spent elsewhere in the educational system ? I have yet to hear exactly what significant improvement they will offer these people. It reminds me of the early 1980s when schools in the UK rushed to set up expensive computer labs because it was ¨the thing to do¨. For me the jury is still out, is this computing for computing’s sake, or something of genuine usefulness ?

memsom wrote on December 11th, 2007 at 6:03 AM PST:

A lot of the grain we sent in the 80’s and 90’s was GM and was sterile. The people could eat it, but they could not grow any more crops from it.

AIDs is now thought to have originated in Africa, which goes a long way to explaining why it is far more common in Africa. Why does South Africa have such a large AIDs problem, when it is a relatively affluent (by African standards) and Westernised country?

Education is a good thing, but blaming the African position on lack there of, is not correct. Education does not help unless economic and food aid is also provided – else, no one would be alive to use the education. Education does not feed people and if there is no means to create a better life through education, it is a pointless waste of time.

Having said all that, Western countries really ought to sort out their own mess first before interfering in other regions – e.g. US and UK poverty in minorities and metropolitan areas. There are enough children starving and living an extreme poverty in both US and UK to make one wonder why we are looking the other way on a daily basis.

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