Friday, September 5, 2008

The Future Will Be Evenly Distributed

There was me thinking we should replace books with Kindles (or better still - Netbooks), when a piece in Wired pointed out the obvious: why do we need books in an age of Wikipedia?

I love the idea of open source textbooks - a forthcoming initiative from Flatworld Knowledge. Ironically, I've already come across such an initiative here in Ireland through the work of the third world charity Camara. They recycle and ship second hand computers from Ireland to various countries in Africa, loaded with Edubuntu software.

Africa will probably leapfrog the developed world (eventually) using mobile and open source technologies to equip their children with 21st century tools to acquire 21st century skills. And why not? A director of a major Far Eastern airline once put it to me that most of the 'third world' airports are now in the 'first world'. He'd just come through Dublin airport, but I didn't press him on it. So perhaps we'll see first world technologies helping third world children secure their place in our increasingly flat world.

Meanwhile our children will make do with the Shakespearean experience:
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
With nothing more sophisticated than a calculator in the satchel.


  1. I had a thought on this a while back while in an internet cafe in Kosovo - even though the kids hanging out there had the misfortune to be born in such an awful place they still were looking at the same internet as I was. Wikipedia is often slagged off for minor inaccuracies but for inquiring young minds in countries with useless politicised education systems it must be like Aladdin's cave. In years to come we will all benefit as the internet enables those kids to utilise their talents, especially if initiaves like this succeed. Getting them on to the web in the first place, now that's the challenge...

  2. Camara does great stuff, anyone wanting to dispose of an old machine (that is servicable) should contact them. If you are in Dublin I'm sure they'd appreciate some volunteer time too.

    Calculator? Slide rule surely? :-) Actually, can you get them these days? For nostalgia value.

  3. An interesting question about open-source sharing, especially internationally, is whether there are certain fields or kinds of learning that do NOT lend themselves well to the open-source model, primarily because they depend on textual material read out of context. More specifically: some fields may be tied to their cultural context by nature (e.g. the humanities, or the equivalent of the humanities in other societies). And some important skills may not be based primarily on learning from text at all (e.g. music, medical surgery techniques, teaching skills). For learning in these areas, the open-source model may only be partially successful at best.

  4. netbook is awesome :)

  5. The hardcopy thing is generational.


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