This post was originally posted by James N. Shimabukuro on February 13, 2009 in the Innovate blog, which has since disappeared: see the Internet Archive version saved on February 13, 2009. It was then reposted automatically on the etcjournal.com blog, when the content of the Innovate blog was transfered to it. I am reposting it as it was, except broken pictures have been removed or replaced
By Claude Almansi
Jim Shimabukuro’s India: $10 Notebooks for Students post (February 2, 2009, with several updates) well illustrates the misunderstandings caused by the misleading description of the Sakshat device as a “laptop.”
If a toddler expects savory rice and is served sweet rice pudding, chances are that s/he’ll spit the first spoonful. And that’s what most reviewers of the Sakshat device quoted by Jim Shimabukuro did when they found out it was not the laptop they expected, instead of discussing the actual potential of its several connection means (ethernet, wireless, USB) and its use in the context of the Sakshat program.
Something without a monitor and without a keyboard is not a laptop. However, a device that can work with a TV monitor and with a printer may well be a very interesting alternative to a laptop for distance education in places where internet connectivity and money are scarce. Moreover, as Harry Keller says in his comment to Jim Shimabukuro’s post, “It’s not the hardware; it’s the software” that counts, and Sakshat is first and foremost an education program, with a resource and interaction portal in http://www.sakshat.ac.in/ . The device is just one tool of this program but might be of crucial importance for students to be able to work at home, without an internet connection, on material either printed or saved in digital form.
The brouhaha about the Sakshat device reminds me of precedent misunderstandings due to misnomers, for instance:
In December 2006, a €50 package comprising a USB key with OpenOffice, Thunderbird and Firefox, plus a 5-year subscription to a storage site and web e-mail got touted as an “ecoPC,” with high-sounding arguments about ecology and free software ethics, though the USB key only worked with Windows computers and, of course, a USB key is not a PC by any stretch of imagination. Moreover anyone could install these software on a USB key, and there already were heaps of free and for-free online document storage and web e-mail options.
In fall 2007, the online “IT-Fitness” test, purporting to assess people’s competencies in the use of information technologies, was launched in great pomp: in Germany by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and in Switzerland by Minister of Economy Doris Leuthard. The idea of the test was first aired by Bill Gates in Ingolstadt (DE) in 2006, and therefore the criticism first centered on its Microsoft bias – staunchly denied by Ms. Leuthard in the same interview where she said she had not taken the test yet. While most questions do indeed bear on MS products, the main problems were elsewhere: the test only assesses knowledge about some IT features, but not people’s capacity to use them. Above all, there is no verification of the testee’s identity: this is stated in very small font at the end of the “certificate” one can download and print or add to an e-portfolio, but not in the assessment report. As I write this, 1,152,247 people have taken the test in Germany and 20,996 in Switzerland, “qualifying themselves for the future” as the respective www.it-fitness.de and www.it-fitness.ch sites misleadingly state (further links gathered in http://www.diigo.com/user/calmansi/itfitness).
Now there is a big difference between these last two misnomers and calling the Sakshat device a laptop. The “ecoPC” was just expensively redundant, the “IT-Fitness test” is useless at best, and maybe dangerously misleading if employers take its certificate seriously. But the Sakshat device, integrated in the Sakshat education program, does open new possibilities, even though, or rather precisely because, it is not a laptop.
Before the misunderstanding was cleared, Jim Shimabukuro asked in his India: $10 Notebooks for Students post: “What impact will the $10 notebooks have on education?” The question still obtains, with a slight rewording: “What impact will the $10 computing devices have on education?” Let us hope that the disappointed reviewers and the educational community will address it, bearing in mind the whole context of the Sakshat program. For instance, suggestions might be made about the http://www.sakshat.edu.in/ portal: there are far more usable and accessible Content Management Systems than the 2003 Visual Studio .NET 7.1 presently used: an inner search engine and the tagging and description of external links, for instance, would facilitate the search for specific resources.
Such small details could more easily be fixed if there is a discussion based on the real thing, instead of focusing on the hype “laptop” word. When toddlers get reconciled to the existence of sweet rice pudding, they sometimes come to appreciate the stuff for what it is instead of spitting it out. Let’s hope tech reviewers show the same learning curve.
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