The $10 computer for education?

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a computer for 500 rupees? | image attribution at bottomOne of the first ever posts on the World Bank EduTech blog was about a purported US$10 computer for education in India.  While the hype around that effort has considerably cooled, efforts to provide a $10 educational computer have not gone totally cold.  PlayPower is exploring such a device -- and you may be surprised at how they are going about it.

As Derek Lomas explains in the accompanying video, one of the ways that PlayPower is able to cut costs is to utilize a technology available even in some of the poorest communities in developing countries -- a television.

(The idea to cut the cost of basic computing in such places by utilizing TVs as the display mechanism is not new; industry pioneers like Raj Reddy and Ashok Jhunjhunwala, among others, have championed efforts in this regard through the years, with varying degrees of success.)

Go to most any large market anywhere in the world, Derek explains, and you will find very inexpensive videogaming devices -- usually manufactured by companies in China that few have ever heard of --  that you can connect to a TV and play the type of 8-bit videogames that he grew up on in the 1980s. If you could make available for free a suite of educational games for manufacturers to include on such devices, which can cost as little as US$10, you could quickly reach a very large potential audience of learners in poor communities.  Derek notes that, for such people, the development of basic keyboarding skills can mean the difference between earning $1/day at manual labor and $1/hour as a back office worker.  

[Video courtesy PopTech, used according the the terms of its CC license]

It may be hard for many to believe that, in 2010, we can be talking about 'innovation' in the context of '8-bit computing' from the 1980s. In exploring appropriate, cost-effective solutions to providing low cost ICT devices for education in developing countries, it is clear that there is no 'silver bullet', one-size-fits all solution. Variety is the spice of life, and lots of complementary, piecemeal solutions can, in aggregate, add up to a lot. By riding on top of existing technologies already in wide use, and benefiting from existing sales and distribution channels, PlayPower is testament to the fact that there are many creative and inexpensive ways to utilize computers to aid learning.

Indeed --> One of my first reactions when I learned about PlayPower was to wonder:

What if mobile phones came with a set of
pre-installed self-paced learning applications?

Perhaps even more than televisions, mobile phones are already owned by people in some of the poorest, most remote places in the world -- places greatly underserved by existing education systems.

One of the people affiliated with PlayPower -- Matthew Kam, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University (USA) -- asked himself the same question a few years ago.  Matt, whose MILLEE project investigates the use of educational games on mobile phones, will be speaking at the World Bank on 12 April on Mobile Phones and Literacy in Rural Communities, sharing the results of some of his research.

For more information on PlayPower:

Please note: The image used at the top of this blog post comes from Mangesh Mayangade via the Playpower Foundation account on Flickr; it is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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