Election promises: laptop for every student – well thought out?

One laptop per child (2006) now at SFMOMAThe year 1995 was when I got my first laptop. It was made by Acer, came with a whopping 8MB of RAM (yes, megabyte, not gigabyte), and a 400MB hard disk (read more at an interview conducted in 2004). It shipped with Windows 3.1, but I shortly moved over to Linux when Windows 95 was announced – the laptop just didn’t cut it for the requirements of Windows 95.

The laptop cost an arm and a leg for those features. With PCMCIA cards, external CDROM drive, SCSI scanner, etc. I’m sure the total cost of ownership exceeded RM10,000. I was eleven years old then, but had been computing for over six years already (386 SX2, 286, 8086 – all desktops). I had really supportive parents, so I will always be thankful to them.

Fast-forward almost two decades later and a laptop for a student is used as an election promise for victory! Many view this offer suspiciously. Some wonder if it will cost the government RM40,000 per laptop (has happened before). Some wonder what learning software will be used? Which suppliers & contractors are getting it going?

What about the idea of a smart school, mooted sometime in 1998? I remember going to a school called Victoria Institution sometime in 2004 and installing Linux in a lab and ensuring that OpenOffice.org (Writer, Calc, Impress, Base) could be taught in schools. Later on it was understood that the syllabus (under the Official Secrets Act) was way too Microsoft-centric, which meant that generics of using a word processor, spreadsheet or presentation suite or even front-end database meant that you couldn’t use equivalents but had to mostly use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access). What a shame.

I’m all for children getting laptops or tablets to improve their education. Children of today are very, very lucky. I’m just not sure that the government is right in doling out a laptop.

This wouldn’t be the first time… they’ve already doled out many 1Malaysia laptops (some to the tune of 800,000) to students. Is our education system improving and making use of the new technology?

Many failed items in the past: EPF Computer Purchase Withdrawal Scheme (2000-2002 discontinued) and PC Gemilang / PC Mesti Beli (yes, I was part of the PC Gemilang project getting Linux on them) (2004-~2005). 

From a commercial standpoint, have we forgotten about the 1Malaysia laptops (link)? Or the 1Malaysia Tablet/Pad?

Remember a laptop isn’t the be all and the end all. The laptop goes outdated before the term of the government. Warranties at most expire at 3 years. Software tends to be obsoleted a lot quicker.

Ideas are all fine & dandy, but is there any long term thinking to this?