OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Was Launched in Pakistan Last Month

olpc-launch-africaThe OLPC Pilot Project hit Pakistan last month without much fanfare. Infact, I don’t know of any tech blog that covered the event, and was told about the launch only by my brother. This came as a surprise considering that the whole world was uber-excited when the project was announced.

The OLPC guys have a wiki running here, but their page about Pakistan seems to be outdated as the last entries are two weeks old. Though Negroponte says criticizing OLPC is criticizing the church (?!) but I will risk being labeled a fundamentalist and criticize it nonetheless.

I don’t really see the criteria they used to distribute all 27 of the laptops (worth 5000$ or so – a huge fortune) among 150 children in the school – it is more like 0.18 laptop per child instead of one laptop per child. Also, if the laptops are to stay in the school (who in their right mind would let those starving kids take the laptops home, right?), then the kids can’t really have much fun with them, but If 27 selected children are allowed to take the laptops home, then I feel sorry for the remaining 123 (yea I know some of those are too young but still…). How do they use them, do they take turns? An hour every week per child?

I have been searching for news regarding the project every month to check on the progress of the OLPC project ever since it was announced, and I must say I am pretty disappointed. First, I found this post from Dr. Habib Khan “(PhD Harvard)” asking for people interested to help localize the English based OS, and then I found this page from CRULP which shows that they got together with OLPC to localize the PC, but the OLPC wiki mentions that the OS is still running English, which makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Did they have a deadline to meet, or did they simply not care? Or did they package each laptop with a universal translator right our of Startrek?

Some more questions that are bothering me:

  • What good will 27 odd laptops that don’t work and need Linux expertise to be of any use – do?
  • Did any ISP come forward and offer to provide internet connectivity to the school? What good is the laptop’s mesh technology without internet?
  • Has somebody Pakistani volunteered to teach those kids?
  • What became of the committee that was to be formed by our beloved MOIT to “study the feasibility” of the project?

The OLPC wiki says:

We distributed 39 XO localized in Dari and Pashto, official languages of Afghanistan.

Huh? I thought it was supposed to be a launch for Pakistani children – I do feel sorry for the homeless Afghan refugees, but don’t we have under-privileged children of our own, and didn’t Afghanistan get its own OLPC launch? The OLPC guys even imported two Afghan volunteers to help out with the launch as the kids can’t speak anything but Pushto/Dari. What about that CRULP project? Something is not right here. They call this a Pakistani launch, but it seems to me that the only thing Pakistani about the launch is the location.

Also, we have rich (lots of them) and generous (a few) people right here in Pakistan. Did anyone offer the Pakistani community the same “buy-one-laptop-and-a-third-world-child-gets-one-free” deal? I would have bought one for my child if someone had guaranteed that the other laptop would be used as advertised. Hell, I would even have volunteered for the project, and I’m sure there are more than 27 people like me out there in Pakistan. A simple campaign with a dozen Pakistani “stars” would surely have brought out the spirit of charity from the hearts a few of the rich.

But then again, perhaps the OLPC is just a tool to make a few thousand Westerners feel good about themselves – maybe all 27 of them can sleep peacefully after the knowledge that they have donated 100$ worth of stuff to the Afghan kids – the same kids whom they bombed out of Afghanistan not a very long time ago. Actually, giving laptops to Pakistani children would not have them the same bang for the buck as giving laptops to the poor Afghans, so yea, it all makes sense now. We need to get bombed back into the stone-ages before our children earn their OLPC.

So the hype around the OLPC project did get me excited when it was announced, but looking back, it seems wrong, almost evil. An ad featuring the OLPC will fit right into the Cordaid campaign (click on the image to see more), and this concludes my rant of the day.