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India’s $20 Laptop

In an effort to meet the educational needs of its considerable population (550 million and growing), researchers and computer scientists in India have designed a laptop that costs $20 per unit (expected to fall). This model vastly undercuts the much-hyped (but decidedly problematized) $100 laptop designed by researchers at MIT.

The secretary of secondary and higher education, R.P. Agrawal, expects these laptops to be made commercially available in six months, though no commercial partnership has yet been formed. The design features 2GB of ram and wireless connectivity- barely room for a Linux operating system, let alone the storage of any personal data. As such, all activity through these machines would have to occur on the web, which has some discomforting connotations.

Nevertheless, this is one of the most inspirational bits of news I’ve heard in awhile, even in this most inspirational of times (technologically, politically, and memetically…). I’m hoping this gets supported by some big-time philanthropist, and is spread quickly to the areas of the world that need it most. I think we’ll be needing to develop new platforms and volunteers in the area of distance learning. Open, global universities, like that being envisioned by my new friend and colleague Scott MacLeod- though I far prefer wikis to the heavy load of virtual worlds like Second Life.

The catch, of course, is participation. How to encourage participation? Wikipedia is a great model, but it’s also an anomaly in the world of wikis. Or maybe I’m just dejected about the fact that the bulk of my new wiki, Webnographers, is likely to continue being edited by me and me alone. Clearly, there is a need for more educational jobs through e-learning- and the more educators we get online, the better off we’ll be. Some financial incentive, O-bama?

Of course, India clearly prioritizes advancing technology over acquiring international educators, and as the US increasingly outsources tech jobs to India, this news comes as a quixotic quagmire.