Small steps towards the larger goal

Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
December 8, 2006

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In January of this year, news broke about a plan to sell $100 laptops to disadvantaged children of the world. At the time, this seemed to be a great bargain and an affordable way for many Guyanese children to benefit from the technology.

After all, only a small fraction of our children are exposed to computers in this the cyberspace age.

Since then we have been hearing about making computers more widely available to Guyanese but there has been as little movement on this issue as there has been on the liberalisation of the telecommunication sector.

As an aside, I have noticed that the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company is planning to connect a number of rural areas to the national landline grid. I congratulate the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company on this initiative even though, as I have said before, if we really want to move seamlessly into the information age the first prerequisite is that there should be phones (other than cell phones) in every single household in this country.

It will make a tremendous difference in the standard of living in this country and reduce the cost of transactions, and thereby make our goods and services more competitive.

Now that the telephone company is advertising their success in supplying additional landlines to areas without a service, I am hoping that they would tell the Guyanese people just what percentage of households in the country are connected to the national grid in this the sixth year of the 21 st century.

It would also be helpful if they publish in chronological order the areas that they have added landline services to since the company was privatised. That list I am speculating will tell its own story.

Readers will recall that the government had blamed the telephone company for the holding up of a major development project to be funded by the IDB which would have seen all schools in the country supplied with computers and connected to the Internet.

I do not know what has become of that project or for that matter that issue, but recent news about the $100 laptops for poor countries has awakened my interest in this matter.

Mind you, the $100 laptops are not knockdown offers. Rather these are specially built computers costing a mere $100 and are not for sale to the rich countries but instead are destined for poor countries.

I have just read an article which reports that those pushing the project are in discussions with a number of rich countries to purchase these computers for poor countries. It was reported that discussions are taking place with Finland to purchase the $100 laptops for Namibia , the United Arab Emirates for Pakistan and France for some of its former colonies.

If the Guyana Government is serious about exposing our students to computers, it should seriously consider approaching those involved with this project since for only a small sum we can reach a large number of students without having to go through all the elaborate arrangements of seeking funding from the IDB, funding that will ultimately have to be repaid and which will benefit those computer distributing companies.

The Peeper's suggestion is that we take fifty schools, not the top schools, but the schools that are usually reserved for those who perform the weakest at the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations. Each of these schools should be supplied with ten of these $100 laptops.

The total cost for these laptops would amount to about US$50,000, which I am sure we can fund since it only works out to about a $10M investment. This is a small pittance for the treasury to bear.

We really do not need to be going overboard with ambitious projects that would add to our future debt burden if we are serious about assisting our students.

The $100 computers are nothing spectacular in terms of their functionality but at least they would allow our students who are not computer literate to get a working knowledge of computers and also to be connected to the Internet, and can be networked to assist in the teaching of our children.

I throw this therefore as an option that the government should pursue in the early part of the new year. A small, manageable project like this can eventually pave the way for a much larger project like the one originally contemplated by the government and in so doing allow for the possibility of greater success in computer literacy in Guyana.