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back to article Schoolkids given WORLD'S CHEAPEST TABLETS: Is it really that hard to swallow?

For some time now The Register has been tracking an effort by the Indian government to provide their schoolchildren with low cost tablets. The subsidised cost of the devices for Indian families is slated to be 1,500 rupees (£14, $24), with the unsubsidised version available to the rest of the world for £30. The decision to …

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Anonymous Coward

I don't think you actually read the article...

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I bought something like that a couple of years ago when no-name Chinese models went down to $50. It was a learning experience to see what this kind of stuff was all about and see if it would be worth spending more money on a more capable version. I got my money's worth in that regard, but the device now is relegated to playing downloaded radio shows in the cottage.

However, the reason for that is that we have very capable desktop machines for more serious work. We're lucky. If we didn't, then that little tablet would be a godsend. As someone with an interest in vintage and minimalist computing, I can wring a lot of pleasure, education, and computing, out of some very old boxes that have one hundreth the power of these tablets. Even if we're lucky enough to have a surplus of computing power at our disposal, you better believe that these little tablets are indeed very capable devices.

And weevil, If you mean what you say, then it sounds like you don't have the energy, skill, or interest, to make one of these little things sing. I seriously doubt that is really true, and you just forgot for a moment just how spoiled we are in this part of the world.

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Broken Troll is broken. Nice try, but no biscuit.

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"Totally agree with the sentiment of this article."

You most certainly don't.

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Trollface

"I don't think you actually read the article..."

Doesn't it just bug ya when people don't read the damn article before running their mouth off?

Hey! Maybe the dude had trouble comprehending the article. Wouldn't it be just awesome if some country with a lot of poor people made a really cheap device, maybe a laptop or a tablet, which could help improve educational results for things like reading comprehension as well as giving it's citizens access to the wealth of info available on the internet. I mean, even if it's not the greatest bit of kit, it could help improve the lives of so many people.

Wouldn't that be great!

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FAIL

I'm currently typing this on a tablet that cost me £33 brand new (that included postage)

In fact, since my desktop went meh, *all* my El Reg posts over the last 6 months have been on either this, or my old mobile phone (a Nokia E63 back-of-the-sock-draw phone given to me by my brother) - I find the laptop a hassle to use on the sofa/bed etc, and now it's mainly used as a server.

The phone and the tablet run terminal emulators, SSH, VNC, and browsers.

With this same tablet, I've written / debugged, / patched, and enhanced various programs - earning a bounty from one, and fixing a problem in a core FreeBSD utility. I'm currently working on another.

"And weevil, If you mean what you say, then it sounds like you don't have the energy, skill, or interest, to make one of these little things sing."

Exactly!

It's funny - those who are snobby and try to prove their 'leetness' by saying kit isn't powerful enough for them are actually proving their lack of ingenuity.

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If it enables internet access

and doesn’t run flash games well it will be a winner for the kids.

If the Indian teachers prepare and share lessons in html format the average schoolkid in India will be well ahead of the Imac filled schools here that are all flash, video and little content.

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All the world's knowledge

Wikepedia (and the internet) don't quite offer access to all the world's knowledge. They /may/ offer access to all the world's information, but this is not quite the same thing. The problem here will be information overload - so there are 40 000 ebooks available, but which one to read? Knowing how to look, and where to look, and what questions to ask, is far, far more important than just having access to the information. This is not a problem limited to developing countries, it is just as valid for our first world offspring, who are increasingly growing up assuming that they can outsource not only remembering, but also thinking, to the web. Education remains vital to teach children to think, to question and to understand. Only with these skills is raw information of any use at all.

Disclaimer: I am a teacher myself, and despite the wave of news articles suggesting it, I am pretty sure that my job cannot be effectively outsourced to the web. What I offer is not simply information, it is a personal journey to understanding for each of my students (at least, that is what I strive for).

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Re: All the world's knowledge

As a teenager I was envious of my neighbour's complete printed set of Encyclopedia Britannica, which cost hundreds of pounds. Now I can get the whole thing on a DVD for £9.99. Forget Encarta or Wikipedia, use a real repository of knowledge.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

> I am a teacher myself, and despite the wave of news articles suggesting it, I am pretty sure that my job cannot be effectively outsourced to the web.

You know, I hate to burst your bubble, but....

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Re: All the world's knowledge

No-one is suggesting these replace the skills of a good teacher. A kid who can't read can't read an encyclopedia, however it is presented. But how can you claim to be a teacher but would deny a child such a valuable aid to learning as a tablet would be, with all that access to encyclopedic information, in the developing world?

'Information overload' is just another 'first-world-problem'. How is a library not 'information overload' too, when you can't possibly be expected to read every book in it? As you say, you need the appropriate skills to navigate such volumes of data. Adults and kids manage and adapt all the time - it seems to me you're the one struggling to cope!

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Re: All the world's knowledge

Knowing how to look and where to look and what questions to ask is useless if you don't have access to the information to begin with. Why not take care of the easy part first? Sometimes, it's not about asking questions, it's about getting lost in the information until you figure out what questions there are to ask. I remember one of the first websites I discovered was howstuffworks.com, back when I first got onto the internet. I never "asked" how half the stuff I read about works, I wasn't curious enough to actively seek out the information before I knew I had access to it. Once I did have the access and plenty of spare time (so much free time!), I read that stuff until my eyes bled.

I'm sure you try hard to create a personal journey to understanding for each and every student and that's quite admirable (no sarcasm), but is that even possible when talking to a classroom of 20-40 children? Do even half the teachers you know care enough to do this, or do they just go through the material, throwing the information out into the classroom and expect it to stick? (That's not rhetorical by the way, I'm curious to know). I would never argue that teaching can be outsourced to the web, but it can make this personal journey you speak of a reality for the student who cares enough. The internet came pretty late in my school years and I can't begin to imagine how much easier it might have been if I could look up that one bit I didn't quite understand in class on the web and read 15 different explanations, until I could finally fathom the concept.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

> can't begin to imagine how much easier it might have been if I could look up that one bit I didn't quite understand in class on the web and read 15 different explanations, until I could finally fathom the concept.

Is there a Stackoverflow for education?

Seems to be a good idea, if not.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

"Disclaimer: I am a teacher myself, and despite the wave of news articles suggesting it, I am pretty sure that my job cannot be effectively outsourced to the web. What I offer is not simply information, it is a personal journey to understanding for each of my students (at least, that is what I strive for).

Technology has a place in that journey. It's not a teacher-replacement (although it can be if the kid is bright/self-motivated enough or the teaching is poor quality and/or non-existent). There are still skills to be taught; like how to extract the nugget of information you need from a universe of facts; and how to weigh conflicting facts and opinions. If you feel threatened by that then you might not be the right guide for the journey. You need -if anything- to be more literate than previous generations have got away with to survive today.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

When I wor a lad - I lived in a town where the only bookshop was the corner newsagent.

A bus ride away was a town with a WH-Smith that sometimes had a computer magazine with programs I could type in on my Vic20

Now a kid in rural India has MIT computer science lectures on their tablet, all the source code to an operating system free for the download and sites to ask millions of other people questions and learn from them.

If that doesn't make a difference then I'm an Anonymous Coward

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Re: All the world's knowledge

Just to wade back into the debate. At no point do I state that computers have no role, or that information is bad. I simply believe that information /on its own/ is not sufficient. It is not enough to simply expose students to information, and hope that they will absorb it, as if by some process of osmosis.

Technology does indeed have its place, and I use it with my students, as a tool, and as a part of their wider learning. My concern is that technology and easy access to information is seen as a replacement for thinking and understanding. The skills that moiety describes above are crucial, and are exactly the sort of thing I try to teach on a daily basis. They also happen to be the sort of thing that students by default are not able to do, and without guidance, generally do not seem to learn on their own (there are of course exceptional students who will thrive no matter what, but they are not the majority).

As for Achilleas example of teachers going through the material, throwing it into the classroom, and hoping that some will stick, that is no better than pointing the students at wikipedia and ordering them to learn. That kind of teaching is becoming less and less acceptable, and its demise can only be considered a good thing...

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Re: All the world's knowledge

The skills needed for life are changing somewhat. When I were a lad, back in the late 17th century, a LOT of time was spent memorising facts - a thing which computers are much better at. This was necessary at the time to give context; but is far less necessary now, as those facts are available to pretty well everyone in the UK; pretty well all of the time. Time spent memorising dry lists of facts is -in a modern context- wasted. The time could be much more productively spent these days by teaching how to winnow out the facts you want; critical thinking; fact-checking and the like...as those skills can be applied to any set of facts anywhere about anything.

As an example a slightly more mature technology is calculators. As a direct result of their use in classrooms; where my education stopped, my kids blew past that aged 12 and spent the rest of the time doing interesting and rarefied stuff that makes my brain hurt. I probably do have an advantage in intuitive grasp of what the results should be for simple calculations; but my kids are way better at maths as a whole; at a deeper level than I will ever be.

Machines will be used for some things because they are better at it than us fleshies. Remembering stuff by rote is one of those things. Calculating is another. It's going to happen and the pace is probably going to accelerate. You're still going to have to teach the skills to drive those machines, however, and I can't see that changing for at least my lifetime.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

It does not replace "teachers", it replaces "books". Or that is, it moves from memory, what we put on tablet, that which we inscribed on paper back onto a tablet (silicone this time). Also, if done right, putting what we previously had to remember onto paper, increases what we can refer to, instead of removing our abilities.

If we use it poorly, we looks both our ability to think and remember, if we use it well, we improve both.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

"That kind of teaching is becoming less and less acceptable, and its demise can only be considered a good thing..." if that is the case ,why are literacy and numeracy standards in general decline ?

Teaching is not something that can be taught. Good teachers are rare (and born - not made).

Unfortunately, anyone who has ever been to a school is well aware of this.

How many outstanding teachers can you remember from your childhood ?

Smart kids are easy to teach (they do it by themselves). The teacher naturally takes the credit for any smart kids in the class and we get a positive feedback situation where they get more and more attention to the detriment of the also-rans.

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Re: All the world's knowledge

You are assuming here that all children are the same.

I had always been interested in computers, and myself had Encarta on my first PC, a Windows 95 machine, which, as mentioned by someone else cost my parents a fair bit to buy for me. There was a feature in Encarta to connect to the internet, but it was always too expensive, so I spent hours reading through articles on Encarta, watching the video samples, etc. I always knew about this 'internet thing' but never actually got access to it until a few years down the line.

When internet became affordable, and my dad got us on AOL, my learning only increased. I became more fascinated with how it all worked 'under the hood', and I remember the first thing I did was find out how web pages were put together, viewing the source of pages, studying the HTML underneath and playing around with stupid pages that were full of horrible little JavaScript games :)

The fact that I'm a Software Developer these days probably isn't surprising. The medium in which I accessed this information (the 'net) is also not very surprising; I didn't spend hours in libraries, but the moment I got access to the internet, I saw it to be what it really was; an electronic library full of information with easy to use index systems (search engines). The technology behind it admittedly interested me more, but either way.

I was never spurred on by teachers to follow down this path, and in fact had teachers telling me that 'computers' and 'the internet' were 'just a fad'. I remember in secondary school being referred to numerous "careers officers" concerned with the fact that I had such an interest in technology.

My journey of learning was mostly a lone one; certainly, at least, the things that I know now and keep me employed in a reasonable job were learnt by myself through my own desire to just know how they work. This is still the case to this day. Secondary school teaching was abysmal, come to think of it: copying down passages of text into our own books which was written onto a blackboard by a teacher. We weren't even allowed to go near a computer, despite the school having a small Windows 3.11 network. The room was just locked up and never used. And this was about 15 years ago now.

To summarise, not all kids are the same. Some children, given a portal to vast amounts of information -will- just absorb it. Some will just not be interested in the slightest and would rather kick a football around outside, or consume Facebook on a smart phone, not caring how it works or how it's put together.

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Re: Just to wade back into the debat...

Yes, technology has its place, but as has been pointed out, this technology is not about replacing teachers, it is about replacing books - replacing massive libraries one can only dream of with a slim, searchable, self-illuminating, inter-connected slate. Teachers are of course essential, but they come with their own ongoing costs. Many villages across Africa are on terms where they can be supplied with a teacher, but only if they can provide a certain standard of accommodation for them for free.

Now the risk with all this accessibility to information is not that the child becomes over-whelmed, but that the teacher becomes over-whelmed by every child going off and studying on their own to a higher level of knowledge in any one field than the teacher has - now that takes a whole new set of skills to manage.

But it seems to me your problem is the age-old one of getting certain children to engage with any sort of learning - this is less of a problem in developing countries - the sort of disruptive pupil who does not want to go to school because of the influence of parents who see no value in it, simply aren't there in the classroom. The kids in these schools are those who want to learn; whose parents want them to learn; who go home and teach their parents to read; who find ways to bring light into their homes just so they can study into the evening. Not every one will be the ideal, angelic pupil, but they're generally a lot more eager to be there.

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A few simple tests of usefulness

Nobody seems to ask basic questions like 'is the software / content' useful against the backdrop of the curriculum? Can it offset costs in other materials such as regular books? Can work produced on the tablet easily be transferred to the teacher? Is the device management / lockdown good? Eyestrain issues? Device reliability / cost? Can it even print?

i.e. still blinded by the hypegasm of -give them tech and grades will magically get better-

They'd be better just to copy the UK and make the exams easier every year.

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Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

Given that a single set of physics textbooks for A Level can cost over £100, I suspect those basic questions have not only been asked but also answered.

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Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

"Can it offset costs in other materials such as regular books?"

exactly my thought. I'd also add the weight to carry all those books, as seeing from my kids' backpacks: 5 kg could be replaced by a 300g tablet. Considering that this tablet could also do other stuff - like displaying animations - and whose content could be updated regularly - as opposed to every 5 years - it would actually be cheaper and better than all those schoolbooks. And save some trees.

Only make sure it doesn't use Android or iOS, or any other commercial OS. Some pure Debian probably the best.

But one thing not to replace: regular paper for writing.

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Devil

Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

But a 300g tablet doesn't build strength in the back and arms like a 5kg bag does!

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Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

>UK and make the exams easier every year

That only becomes true if you repeat it often enough.

Exams are the prime metric of educational progress - what can you possibly measure them against?

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Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

That's easy to measure, you give the kids last years exam and the following day, the exam from ten years ago, then you compare the grades.

Mind you, I have no idea what the result would be.

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Trollface

Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

Re: But a 300g tablet doesn't build strength in the back and arms like a 5kg bag does!

But now they can carry a 5 kg sack of flour to market for their parents on their way to school, AND study a bit while theyre resting.

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Re: A few simple tests of usefulness

Right -- how am I supposed to smite my playground adversary with a measly tablet? Nothing says "no, fuck YOU" like a backpack with a handful of science textbooks swung over said adversary's head.

In other news, are these tablets being made with easily recycled/ repurposed parts? As was noted earlier, kids + technology = broken equipment and it'd be a shame if these ended up in yet another landfill causing potential groundwater contamination ... unless there is pent-up demand for small snack- and- drink trays.

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Surely India has bigger problems...

Unless these are being used to teach reading, writing and maths to the millions of Indian kids that don't come from a wealthy background that enables them to go to college or University then I'd say they are pointless.

A country where a girl is murdered by her own parents for marrying the wrong "type" of man is a country that has more fundamental need of reform and a look hard look at itself and social structure - rather than supplying tablets to schoolchildren where clean water, safe sanitation, a blackboard and some motivated teachers would suffice.

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Re: Surely India has bigger problems...

And what about another country, where a girl is shot for wanting to go to school? The first thing she does on recovering is to go back to school. And inspire thousands of other girls to do the same.

A child who has been educated in wider cultures that uphold human rights and equality will not grow into a parent who will murder their own children for cultural affronts. How do you think social change will happen? Spontaneously? By magic? Maybe praying for it really hard? Or could it be education? Better resourced education than before?

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Gav

Re: Surely India has bigger problems...

Education is an answer to all these things. Anything that improves education is to be encouraged.

Telling a country to "have a hard look at itself" doesn't really accomplish anything.

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Re: Surely India has bigger problems...

And you think that easy access to a broader world won't help change these attitudes? It's exactly what has changed them around the world in general...

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Trade not aid

We need to trade with third world countries and take advantage of their cheap labour. It's only by doing this that they will earn money, start demanding higher wages and become self sufficient and rich enough to be like us in the west. Keeping on giving them aid forces them to stay suckling of the teats of the west, it doesn't allow them to become self sufficient and independent. Yes it will take many years but in the long term its better than giving them charity money year after year. We've been giving charity to Africa for decades now and there has been no real sign of progress. It's all given to keep them on subsistence farms. What we need to be doing is what China is doing. Building roads and infrastructure, not giving them charity money. We took advantage of Chinese cheap labour and pretty soon they were having pay rises of 25% every year. They are now doing the same in Africa. It will be China that brings Africa up to first world levels, not the west.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

Hate to butt in, but I think the point of this article is pretty much getting lost and is....the following:

Give a (hu)man a fish and (s)he will eat for a day.

Teach a (hu)man how to fish and (s)he will eat for the rest of their lives.

A sentiment I whole-heartedly agree with.

Despite the many problems associated with infrastructure, web access and electricity there is still a lot to be said for providing low-cost internet and compute access to the world's poorest people.

Even if tablet distribution spawns just a handful of world class entrepreneurs, scientists and inventors in a country like India, it will be money well spent. The hard part is making sure these countries can actually leverage the tablets with some reasonable internet access and electricity.

In many African countries, dumb mobile telephone networks have already transformed local agrarian and subsistence economies by simply giving farmers quick access to the latest market prices.

No reason why cheap tablets can't do the same or better. I'm sure resourceful individuals will use them for applications we haven't even dreamed of because they need to address problems that we thankfully don't have to face on a daily basis like:

starvation, lack of potable water, civil war, drought, etc.

The key is to unlock the mind not control it.

Although not everyone can be a Bill Gates, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein or Gandhi, odds are that someone out there in that 61 % of the world population with no internet access has world-changing potential. I humbly suggest that they deserve a chance.

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Re: Trade not aid@ The Axe

"We need to trade with third world countries and take advantage of their cheap labour."

Only for a limited range of goods. Taking advantage of cheap labour hasn't really worked well for all those manufacturing workers in Europe who have seen their jobs transferred to cheap parts of the world, has it? Or for the IT and admin guys who have seen their jobs offshored to India. And maybe it explains why most European economies have unaffordable welfare costs, and 50%+ youth unemployment across southern Europe?

Free trade and wage arbitrage only works if the importing country has useful activity for the displaced workforce (or suffers from labour shortages and wage inflation), and clearly we don't. Virtually unfettered trade has been a boon to securely employed Westerners who want a cheap iPad, but anybody who doesn't count their job as secure might want to question the expansion of free trade to exploit cheap labour.

Historically we could expand trade, and then periodically use wars to reset flagging economies and reduce unemployment; With the automation, remoteness and smaller scale of modern wars we can't even count on the second horseman to purge a depressed economy. Maybe we should take the opportunity in Crimea to kick of a pan-Europe pagga, although personally I'm a traditionalist, and prefer "everybody versus the Germans" to "everybody versus the Ruskies".

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Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

Hate to butt in, but I think the point of this article is pretty much getting lost and is....the following:

Give a (hu)man a fish and (s)he will eat for a day.

Teach a (hu)man how to fish and (s)he will eat for the rest of their lives.

A sentiment I whole-heartedly agree with.

Reminds me of Pratchett. "Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."

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Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

Give a (wo)man a gun and (s)he'll rob a bank.

Give a (wo)man a bank and (s)he'll rob the whole country!

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Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

Give a (hu)man a fish, and (s)he'll eat for a day

Teach 'em to fish, and they will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

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Re: Trade not aid

>We've been giving charity to Africa for decades now and there has been no real sign of progress

There are legitimate criticisms of specific aid programs, but to suggest that none of them have had any positive effect is just pig ignorant. Most of Africa (apart from the bits that get into the news) is a hive of commercial activity - little of which existed 50 years ago.

They're still behind, because the West also developed over the decades. But without aid, they'd be in dire straits, a lot of the time.

China got where it is through discipline - Confucian/Maoist - little to do with any merits capitalism may have.

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Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

The modern version is: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and you turn a potential customer into a business competitor.

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Facepalm

Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

Giving someone a computer - no matter how powerful - is NOT "teaching a man how to fish"

I could give my watercooled 8-thread 32GB machine to my neighbor and she still would not be able to find Google.com with both hands and an instruction book.

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Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

Jerôme Kerviel, is that you? Lucky you don't have to pay back those 5 billion, eh?

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Re: Trade not aid Hmm... aren't we missing the point here?

> Teach 'em to fish, and they will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Teach a fish, and soon fish will go around in schools ...

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zb

Teach a (hu)man how to fish and (s)he will eat for the rest of their lives.

I can be a pedant too. I think you meant to say:

Teach a (hu)man how to fish and (s)he will eat for the rest of (her)his life.

Even then it seems to imply that humans are female.

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Heart Warming Article

Just as an eBook reader, it might replace expensive books.

I added a Bluetooth keyboard to my Nexus 7 for a similar experience to a netbook.

The film Beijing Bicycle might be worth viewing.

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I've worked on a similar project in Zambia (iSchool & ZEduPad); cheap tablets pre-loaded with flash-based lessons built around the curriculum and requirements of rural communities - localised into various local languages as well. Complaining about 'Not changing the world'; educating children about subjects like malaria, nutrition, farming as well as mathematics absolutely does make a massive difference on a local level. The sorts of children these projects are aimed towards simply don't care about transferrable IT skills, they care about leaving school with the best, broadest education they can have that can allow them to make better decisions in the real world, not necessarily 'Move the the big city and get a job'.

Tablets offer a lot more than just 'cheap', since they don't have moving parts, are easily secured, easily shipped (because PC's don't like being in the back of a pickup on a desert road for 2 days to get to the school) and are relatively dust/moisture proof they are far more useful in rural and remote communities than the equivalent cheap desktop - I've seen humid conditions in a classroom kill a cheap laptop in under 6 months - the fan pulled in so much mould and moisture the thing looked like a petri dish inside. Ditto with desert dust - PC's don't cope to well with sand, dust & 40c temperatures all day long. On the other hand my tablet tends to work just fine under those circumstances (although I think my model is held together with superglue now, and the battery only holds a minimal charge, but it's had three years of daily use). They can be charged off a car, generator or via solar power. They are fairly 'instinctual' for children of all ages.

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