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This post is by no means meant to be cynical…

30 Nov

There’s a story in Lawrence Potter’s This May Help You Understand The World (2007) – see Book notes and footnotes – that prompted this, along with today’s Sun-Herald story NSW students to get promised laptops.

Lawrence Potter was at one time teaching in Rwanda.

The school I taught at had a link with a school in Australia, which occasionally raised funds for it. During my time, the link resulted in two improvements. A group of Australian schoolchildren visited and painted the school hall yellow, and twenty laptop computers arrived on the back of a truck.

I don’t want to be ungrateful, but it struck me that there might have been better uses for the raised funds than yellow paint and computers. The school hall had been a little dingy, but it was perfectly capable of doing its job, and was really only used by the karate club anyway. Meanwhile, the students slept two-to-a-bed in the dormitories (not out of choice), and most of the classroom windows were broken. And what about the computers? Well, I know that ICT is meant to be the solution to most problems, but it can’t do much if there is no regular electricity supply. Nor is it that helpful if nobody knows how to use it. The computers sat around in a room, to which visitors of the school were often shown. But students never went near it.

And I note: Rwandan Government to Digitalize Schools (22 July 2008).

The Rwandan government is moving to digitalize primary and secondary school curriculums based on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) plan, which aims to provide each student with a laptop computer.

Rwanda is participating in the OLPC roll-out program, which the government said will be extended to all primary school children within five years.

The initiative is a move away from the traditional chalk-and-blackboard methodology, instead using ICT in curriculum development and transmission to students, said Théoneste Mutsindashyaka, Rwanda’s minister of state for primary and secondary education.

Integrated science and technology in the education sector is one of the ministry’s priorities, Mutsindashyaka said. Rwanda’s ICT adviser is currently in India in order to adopt that country’s digital science content, he affirmed, as the two countries have similar curriculums…

While the ministry hopes for all schools to make use of e-learning, details remain sketchy, as Mutsindashyaka was tight-lipped regarding the deal with OLPC and its cost.

Last year, Rwandan President Paul Kagame confirmed that a deal had been reached between the Rwandan government and OLPC to supply laptops to schools. Under the deal, Kagame said at the time, OLPC would provide laptops and support to fully test its concept at no cost to Rwanda.

I am not knocking that story, though the juxtaposition with the previous one is intended, as it is with our latest Kevin Rudd and NSW venture:

EVERY senior NSW public school student will get to keep a mini laptop after a new funding deal was thrashed out at yesterday’s Commonwealth-state funding talks in Canberra.

Some will receive their custom-built computers, powered by a wireless broadband network, by the end of term two next year, with the State Government planning to seek expressions of interest from manufacturers as early as Wednesday.

The successful tenderer will produce laptops based on a prototype already developed by IT experts in the Education Department. Students will be able to keep their computers after they leave school.

The funding breakthrough came after months of bitter fighting over the Federal Government’s offer of $1 billion to the states to fulfil federal Labor’s election promise to give every year 9 to 12 student a computer…

the breakthrough in negotiations yesterday means NSW students will soon add a lightweight laptop to their schoolbags after Premier Nathan Rees secured sufficient funding to finalise a massive bulk buy with a computer company.

The Federal Government has coughed up an extra $3.55 billion in education funds to the states.

Mr Rees immediately pledged that NSW would lead the country by providing 197,000 senior public school students with the specially designed teenager-friendly computers. [sic!]

Half the state’s public high schools would have wireless internet connections by mid-2009, he promised, signalling the start of the laptop rollout. Mr Rees told The Sun-Herald NSW would receive $200 million from the Commonwealth for computers in public schools – and offered the other states and territories the chance to join NSW in a huge computer spending spree.

"We’re ready to push the button to seek market players as early as Wednesday and we can help other states get on board by being the national broker for the deal."…

Hmm. This may not be as good an idea as it seems. Think about it.

Very often foisting things on people because it seemed a good idea at the time is not the brightest thing to do, but it makes good copy and gives the impression of decisiveness. I would include the former Australian government’s Northern Territory Intervention in such a critique, by the way. In another era Disadvantaged Schools in NSW were at some time (I think in the 70s) all issued with carpet, because it was decided, not all that unreasonably, that this actually had certain educational benefits, noise reduction and insulation not least. However, it soon became a standing joke that you could always tell a Disadvantaged School because even the store rooms were carpeted… Carpet was just thrown at them whether they needed or wanted it or not, and had to be used for, well, something.

I have similar niggles about what Rudd and our Premier Rees have just stitched up. I can see the potential for all sorts of duplication and wastage here. I can, I might add, see why the schools don’t, it seems, get to keep the laptops. After two to three years of “teenager-friendly” use they will probably not be worth keeping!

Back to Lawrence Potter again. I love his ability to take a really fresh look at the issues he deals with, while clearly taking great care to check his facts – a point he does make in his introduction. Don’t let his “teenager-friendly” style fool you. He is hard-nosed when needs be, but it is impossible after reading his concise account of world finances and the developing world (a term apparently not quite politically correct in some circles) to escape the conclusion that Free Market Enthusiasm is itself a convenient delusion which has among its many advantages its power to relegate concrete human problems and real ethical and moral issues so that they don’t interfere with profit too much.

And on “teenager-friendly”: should we read that as a clue? See Hewlett-Packard to Unveil Teenager-Friendly Computer Line.

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Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Africa, Australia, Australia and Australian, awful warnings, computers, education, future schooling, globalisation/corporations, Kevin Rudd, NSW politics, Political, politics, weirdness

 

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