Saturday, September 20, 2008

Refurbishing Old Computers versus One Laptop Per Child

Given that a 10 year old or so PC can be refurbished to be Internet ready for less than a hundred US dollars, is this a more cost-effective way to promote computer literacy to the world’s poor than the current one laptop per child program?

By: Ringo Bones

If the sight of seeing the plastic housings of old computers washing up on the remote beaches of some Pacific island, or the sight of poor people with no protective gear whatsoever breaking old PC s to extract the valuable metals breaks your heart. Then you should be reminding your local powers-that-be that there’s a much better way to deal with e-waste than just dumping them in some nondescript landfill to be scavenged under unsafe conditions.

There are a number of charitable organizations around the world who are busy refurbishing old computers to be used by their poorer brethren in the developing world. Some of them – like Caritas – even give computer literacy lessons to their refurbished PC recipients. Given that refurbished old computers are much cheaper than the laptops used in the current one laptop per child program, why aren’t they implemented more often?

The problem lies in the licensing of the operating system to be used in this refurbished PC s. Commercial operating systems software being installed in this refurbished PC s often costs 40 times as much as the “hardware” – i.e. the refurbished PC – that they are put into. While those in the laptops used in the one laptop per child are donated by IT conglomerates.

Older PC s can be power-hungry compared to newer laptops, that’s why they are only donated to regions with a reliable electrical grid. Also, refurbished older PC s can be prone to crashing because their decade old micro-processing systems are just on the edge if not already incapable of handling the contemporary Internet browsing capable operating systems.

But the laptops used in the one laptop per child had already spawned their own set of problems. Due to bureaucratic procrastination, the one laptop per child could be superseded by Internet access-capable mobile phones ones these phones come down in price. These Internet-capable mobile phones are way more energy efficient than laptops. If the one laptop per child program implementation won’t speed up, a time will come sooner – rather than later – that they’ll be calling their program “One Internet-Capable Mobile / Cell Phone Per Child”.