Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Last Person

Tom Friedman writes about a cool under-$50 iPad-like device developed in India to help poor students:

The Aakash is a ray of hope that India can leverage technology to get more of its 220 million students enough tools to escape poverty and poor teaching, but it's also a challenge to the West.

In terms of hope, I was struck by a story that Kalra's wife, Urmila, told about a chat she had had with their maid after the Aakash was unveiled on Oct. 5. As Urmila recalled, her maid, who has two young children, said that she had heard "from the night watchman that Mr. Kalra has made a computer that is very cheap, and is so cheap that even she can afford to buy it. The watchman had given her a picture from the paper, and she asked me if it was true."

Urmila told her it was true and that the machine was meant for people who could not afford a big computer. Added Urmila: "She asked, 'How much will it cost?' I said, 'It will cost you around 1,500 rupees.' [$30.] She said: '15,000 or 1,500?' I said, '1,500.' She was sure that if the government was doing something so good for the poor, it had to have a catch. 'What can you do on it?' she asked me. I said, 'If your daughter goes to school, she can use it to download videos of class lessons,' just like she had seen my son download physics lectures every week from M.I.T.'s [OpenCourseWare]. I said, 'You have seen our son sitting at the computer listening to a teacher who is speaking. That teacher is actually in America.' She just kept getting wider- and wider-eyed. Then she asked me will her kids be able to learn English on it. I said, 'Yes, they will definitely be able to learn English,' which is the passport for upward mobility here. I said, 'It will be so cheap you will be able to buy one for your son and one for your daughter!' "

That conversation is the sound of history changing.


November 12, 2011

The Last Person


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