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Thailand Government Cancels OLPC Participation 196

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the roll-a-hard-six dept.
patiwat writes "Thailand's new junta-appointed Education Minister has cancelled Thailand's participation in the One Laptop Per Child project and scrapped a plan to give a 2B1 laptop to every primary school student. He has also cancelled plans to roll out computers and a broadband connection to every single school in Thailand. The cancellation of half a million scholarships for needy students is being studied. He cited the lack of readiness of teachers and the need to focus on basic education standards. "We will not focus too much on technology and materials. We will focus on substance," he said. This comes on the heels of the cancellation of the Thai government's open source policy."
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Thailand Government Cancels OLPC Participation

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  • by lecithin (745575) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:46AM (#17012372)
    "He cited the lack of readiness of teachers and the need to focus on basic education standards."

    This guy needs to manage my Data Center. It is a well known thought (from a sysadmin point of view) that throwing hardware at an undefined problem may mask the issue for a time, but it does not 'usually' solve the problem.

    High technology CAN be a liability if it isn't managed correctly.
  • by alshithead (981606) * on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @01:56AM (#17012444)
    I don't see cancellation as being necessary. Perhaps a more moderate, phased in approach would work. Start with magnet type schools and go from there. Taking time to do it right makes sense but to outright cancel seems extreme.
  • by rwven (663186) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:13AM (#17012532)
    I think what the guy has realised is that a cheap laptop is certainly not going to be some silver bullet in the heart of bad education. It's going to take far more than a flashy new piece of hardware to turn around a stumbling educational system...

    Even if the technology is managed perfectly, most of the kids are still going to look at these laptops as new toys and expensive nightlights...
  • by Bellhead (236422) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:13AM (#17012534) Homepage

    With respect, I disagree: I don't feel that children in developing nations need a chance to learn about computers nearly as much as they need encouragement to dream of and plan for ways to improve their society using their ideas and their heritage.

    Perhaps the "Great White Hunter" metaphor isn't the best choice, but no matter how it's expressed, the fact remains that computers are a product of, and therefore cursed by, the legacy of an industrial economy that wants people to buy things whether they need them or not. I don't think that "we" (the all-knowing, tall, white guys like you see on TV) have any right to tell the rest of the world that an abacus isn't just as good as a computer for counting.

    The Western nations might desire "cheap (computer literate) labor", but what we need is visionary talent willing to risk new and different ways of solving our problems. Genius doesn't come cheap, no matter where it's from, but it's always cheaper than trying to convince the rest of the world to copy us and our way of looking at the world.

    FWIW. YMMV.

    Bellhead

  • by sien (35268) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:20AM (#17012590) Homepage
    How do you know the OLPC program is a failure? What criteria were set for it to be a success that it hasn't met yet?

    It hasn't even started yet. It may be a failure, but to declare it a failure is like declaring who has won the 2010 World Cup today.

    The OLPC may go to more places than developing countries. There are a number of places that are doing a trial of the system.

    With Libya's order going through they have enough to get serious volumes being made. Once they show that then other countries, including richer developed countries may be interested. OLPCs may work well as text book readers. How much does the average school system in a US spend on textbooks per student per year? Who can say now whether some of these uses will take off.

    The OLPC may fail, but it hasn't failed yet and it is silly to describe it as having failed before it's even been tried.

  • Re:Steel ones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:22AM (#17012602)
    Which part of "military coup" did you not understand?

    More likely, he is canceling this because the last thing a military dictatorship wants is informed citizens.
  • Re:Steel ones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:29AM (#17012656) Homepage
    What surprises me is how few people really disagree with you here. I think there's a growing sense that OLPC is a boondoggle, and it is to their credit that more and more geeks are realizing it.

    It occurs to me that one of the stories told about widespread internet use is that people would be able to do things like "look up how to fix their irrigation systems on the web". Well, I've been using the web since Mosaic 2.0, and I'm much less able to fix a truck, repair an irrigation system, care for a garden, or do a whole bunch of other things that I know a lot of other people who aren't using the net know how to do. If I want to learn how to fix a truck, I might use my laptop to find a school or a place to do it - but then I'm just replacing the yellow pages. I'm more likely to find someone in my own personal social network who has the skills I want to acquire, and hang out with them.

    The one practical thing that net connectivity has given me is access to recipes for cooking that I didn't have before. If the OLPC enables children in the developing world to cook eggplant parmigiana, I guess that's a good thing, but it's probably a lot less ambitious than what the creators had in mind.

    The early zeal of the project isn't even a matter of "having a hammer and seeing every problem as a nail," it's more like "having a cantaloupe and thinking it's a hammer, and then throwing your cantaloupe at vaguely nail-shaped kittens."
  • by SmokedS (973779) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @02:32AM (#17012668)
    OK.
    So, after a military Coup a major education project under way is canceled along with a reform of the countries IT policies, and teachers in the south of the country start to spontaneously grow bullet holes.

    Call me crazy, but somehow I don't really think this new regime is honestly out to create the best education they can.

  • by twitter (104583) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @03:23AM (#17012938) Homepage Journal

    I didn't see my first computer until I was 11, didn't own a Pc until I was 13, and didn't own a PC with a GUI until I was 18. Yet here I am, a member of the "techno elite".

    Your schools could afford textbooks and libraries. That's why most of your peers are literate. Those things don't work where you can't afford them. Today, you consider electronic publications cheaper and better than paper publications. It's the same way for schools and that's the point of the OLPC program.

  • Re:Steel ones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by femto (459605) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @03:49AM (#17013064) Homepage

    It depends on the person.

    Some people aren't into DIY, so they use the web to look for someone to buy from.

    Some people are into DIY and use the web for things other than shopping.

    In my case, some of the things I have used the web for are:

    • Information on growing food in my garden: varieties of plants, propagating from seed, care of plants, ...
    • Information on caring for and chemistry of swimming pools.
    • Design of irrigation systems and rainwater collection systems
    • Investigating the feasibility of systems to supplement my house's electricity supply
    • Information on house maintenance and how to do various jobs
    • Furniture and cabinet making

    Probably not the things a person in a developing country might look for, but that is because I don't live in a developing country. It does demonstrate that the web is a useful reference library, and I contend that the web contains information that is useful to a person in a developing country, that they would otherwise miss out on.

    For example I've heard of villagers using the web to monitor world prices for various crops they grow, placing them in a stronger bargaining position when the people they sell to try to understate prices.

    I don't think there is any question that the developing world needs the Internet. The question is how to best get it to them. Many people seem to view the Internet as a luxury, which it is if used for entertainment or amusement. The flip side of the Internet is textbooks, meteorological reports, market prices and the like, which are necessities for anything but a subsistence life style. Maybe people in developed countries take these necessities for granted, so don't notice the Internet's role in providing them?

    If not OLPC what then? Information can be distributed on paper but as the volume and timeliness of information picks up the Internet is cheaper. OLPC seems like a cute misnomer for "Internet without infrastructure".

  • by Americano (920576) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @04:04AM (#17013174)
    How do you know the OLPC program is a failure? What criteria were set for it to be a success that it hasn't met yet?
    More to the point, what criteria were set at all for the program? All I see, looking at the laptop.org web site, are a bunch of fuzzy "Think of the kids!" generalities that talk about how wonderful it would be for the world's poorest kids in the remotest regions to have laptops. Not because there's hard evidence to show that having a laptop will substantially improve the quality of education for these kids, but because it'll make them feel good, and give them a sense of responsibility.

    Don't believe it? Go look for yourself. The OLPC FAQ page [laptop.org] brings us such disarmingly trite generalities as:
    Why do children in developing nations need laptops?
    Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think. They are a wonderful way for all children to learn learning through independent interaction and exploration.
    That's right! Little Juan, Choudary, and Byung-Sun need a "tool" with which to think -- and I thought it was called a "brain". No, they need a window into the world, and a way to learn learning through independent interaction and exploration! Never mind that all of that can be accomplished *without* a $100 laptop in the hands of each child. Want a window into the world? Get them a good library with a few current events publications, and a computer lab with a few internet connected computers. You can build a heck of a good public school library (or 2 or 3) for $50 million dollars

    But wait -- there's more in the FAQ [laptop.org]!
    Why is it important for each child to have a computer? What's wrong with community-access centers?
    One does not think of community pencils--kids have their own. They are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics. A computer can be the same, but far more powerful. Furthermore, there are many reasons it is important for a child to own something--like a football, doll, or book--not the least of which being that these belongings will be well-maintained through love and care.
    Where to begin?? To compare a $100 dollar laptop with a pencil that literally costs pennies is ridiculous. And the final argument, that warm-fuzzy-hot-chocolate-lump-in-your-throat claim... "It's important that the kids OWN something to maintain through love... and care." Awwwww.... how can we say NO to that?! Once again, footballs, dolls, and books don't cost $100 per child.

    Your final claim:
    The OLPC may fail, but it hasn't failed yet and it is silly to describe it as having failed before it's even been tried.
    Makes my mind boggle. By this same logic, anything that hasn't been tried, no matter how stupid, far-fetched, or wrong-headed, should be tried. After all, if it hasn't been tried, it's silly to predict that it will fail, right? Might as well just spend the 50 million dollars and see what happens!

    50 million dollars (500,000 laptops * $100) is a LOT of money to gamble with in a developing nation. I'd much rather see them spend that money on projects that have been shown to have a significant positive impact on educational quality -- smaller class sizes; basic health care so that kids don't miss weeks of school; upgrading school facilities with good lights, good water, and a reasonable amount of climate control -- good roofs to keep the rain out, ventilation to keep things cooler in summer, heaters to keep things cooler in winter. Save the OLPC project until it's actually shown that a laptop in the hands of each child will benefit them, rather than wasting money, wasting time, and putting yet another cement block around the neck of developing countries.
  • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @05:08AM (#17013500)
    I think what the guy has realised is that a cheap laptop is certainly not going to be some silver bullet in the heart of bad education.

    You're being generous. A cynic might suggest that this guy is trading away the technological future of his country's children at the behest of a well heeled international corporation.
  • by quigonn (80360) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @05:23AM (#17013580) Homepage
    The new Prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont, is a born-and-raised military man. He seeks to strengthen Thailand. I suspect that spending large sums on outside technology which will tend to increase the influence of outside media (such as the US and China) leads him to take a dim view of the OLPC project, along with the other cancelled and soon-to-be-cancelled educational initiatives.

    (Metaphorically) killing off great opportunities for better education, and trying to reach some stage of technological autarchy, all from a man with a military background... sounds like a mix of the Khmer Rouge agenda with the North Korean Juche system, without all the suppression and genocide, of course...

    No, I don't think that his goals will do his country any good.
  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @06:08AM (#17013886) Homepage Journal
    ``I hope that the government moves back toward democracy, but it looks like Thailand is becoming more of a Communist state.''

    I hope you don't mean to suggest that communism is the opposite of democracy, communism is totalitarianism, or similar nonsense.
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @06:09AM (#17013890) Homepage Journal
    Fortunately, there are no cynics on /., though I totally agree with your implicit analysis.
  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @06:47AM (#17014110) Homepage Journal
    ``No, I don't get why anyone would think that communism was inherently totalitarian and anti-democratic, let alone brutal and dehumanising, just because this has been true of every country with a communist government, ever.''

    First of all, "communist government" is a funny phrase, because communism was originally defined as a state where everyone is equal and there is no government, making "communist government" a contradiction in terms. Secondly, the governments you refer to weren't communist. They may have been called that in the west, or in popular usage, but if you look at the official terminology, they would be called "people's republic", "soviet republic", etc. In practice, these governments may have been autocratic, aristocratic, sort of democratic, or totalitarian, but certainly not communist.

    The larger point is that communism is not a system of government, but more an economic system. You can have a "communist" the-community-owns-everything-no-single-person-own s-anything economic system, and any form of government, including democracy.
  • by pryonic (938155) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @07:12AM (#17014228)
    You're fighting a losing battle here. The word and idea 'communism' was hijacked during the McCarthy era and now is synonymous with evil and wrong. It's a short circuit in most Western people's brains that's basically been programmed from birth. They can't think around it - communism == EVIL!

    The scary thing is the same is happening with "liberal", it's almost an insult to be called liberal these days.

    As for NewSpeak, it's doubleplusgood!
  • by professionalfurryele (877225) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @08:53AM (#17014832)
    Animal Farm/1984 are a warning against totalitarianism. Orwell hated Facism and Communism both because he felt they both lead to totalitarianism. The GP is trying to point out that it is theoretically possible to have the communist system of collective ownership under a democracy. It is not an American style liberal democracy because property rights have been widely violated.

    What the GP is also saying is that other ideologies can be subjected to the same treatment as Communism. Orwell warned us against totalitarianism, and the current US administration is drawing the US closer to a totalitarian system, under the banner of being liberal democrats (liberal as in the European sense, and democrats in the supporting a government subject to the will of the people sense). It is pretty far away at the moment. But one way in which it is similar is in the treatment of Communists. Communists are dissidents, and the government inspired reflex like hatred of communism that many Americans display would be a good example of the very thing you talk about in your post, that is, a government totally unwilling to tolerate an opposing view, and inspiring the population to do the same. Fortunately in the US it is only one opposing view, Communism. But that does not make the animal farm/1984 reference any less valid.
  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Tuesday November 28, 2006 @09:45AM (#17015358)
    I dont think there have been any 'free' communist societies. The main problem, and this is why people equate communism and dictatorships, is that when you livelihood comes from the government (they control all land and all business) its very difficult to express your concerns or even vote someone out of office. Its like voting against your boss, except your boss will probably know how you voted. Thats why so many communist elections are shams.

    Owning your own land and making your own living decentralizes power. These conditions usually lead to some kind of group decision making like a democracy. Having one entity control land and the means of production is centralization and there's no real incentive to go about and have a real democracy when you citizens are more or less powerless serfs.

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