Boston Globe Editorial / October 11, 2011
"The Aakash Tablet"
[India’s $35 computer: The Aakash Tablet]
The One-Laptop-per-Child initiative, which was founded in Cambridge and has spent years trying to bring low-cost technology to schools in developing countries, could be forgiven for viewing the Aakash tablet introduced in India this month as an upstart rival. The new tablet, available to Indian schools for $35, is aiming to meet the same need, even as One-Laptop-per-Child is developing its own low-cost tablet.
But instead of bearing a grudge, Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT professor who heads One-Laptop-per-Child, offered Indian officials full access to their technology, a letter outlining the lessons they’d learned, and an invitation to Cambridge.
Negroponte deserves credit for putting cooperation ahead of competition, especially since Indian officials had earlier decided against buying the program’s computers. The more groups tackling the global digital divide, the better; variety ensures there will be a multitude of approaches. For instance, One-Laptop-per-Child’s tablet is expected to cost a bit more, but will be solar-powered, an enormous advantage in many developing countries, and place greater emphasis on student engagement. As the different approaches develop, what wouldn’t be productive is pointless competition when the unmet needs are still so great.
Indeed, India is a particularly dramatic case study in what a yawning divide remains. A nation of 1.2 billion, India has only 18 million Internet users — compared to 500 million in China.
Driving down the price of the hardware needed to connect them all has been much more daunting than once expected. Indeed, the original goal of the Indian initiative was to make a $10 computer, a goal which proved infeasible. Such setbacks underscore the continued need to work together — and not to let rivalries get in the way of closing the digital divide.