Food vs $100 Laptops: Which to Choose?

University of Minnesota PhD candidate, Krista Kennedy, recalls a conversation that took place in a class she taught following a student’s presentation about the $100 laptop project.

An Ethiopian student shared his perspective on the value of this soon to launch technology:

against the $100 laptop

He was a remarkably reserved man, but when he spoke this time, his voice shook with anger. “People who are starving do not need laptops,” he said in his softly accented English. “When you have not eaten for so long that your brain cannot work, that you have dementia, a laptop will not help you. Sending us machines does no good! You need to send food to Africa. You need to send doctors and medicine. Not computers!” He stopped then, not wanting to insult the speaker. She looked at me, along with the American students. Clearly, there was no rebuttal for his argument, and no opposition to his ethos.

He raises a fair point, but the same point could be applied to any form of aid that doesn’t specifically address immediate needs. For example, investments made in irrigation won’t help someone who could die of starvation this week, but could save the lives of thousands for years and years once implemented.

In the case of the $100 laptops, the knowledge gained through access to the world’s information has the potential to generate wealth in a community that could translate into local independence. Some of the kids receiving laptops will end up contributing to the world’s economy, bringing wealth to parts of the world that have gone without for too long.

Additionally, laptops that are connected to the world could be used to provide first-hand accounts of issues including starvation, drought, and genocide.

Would the time and expertise of the people behind the $100 laptop project be better spend providing food to a single generation of children, or working to create change the economies for the better in impoverished countries? The choice is obvious.

via Chuck Olsen’s Twitter.

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