Back in 1982 I attended the first lecture of my Educational Broadcasting degree and our lecturer wheeled in a trolley with a Laserdisk 2000 and video camera on it. These were highly exotic beasts back in those days and we oohed and aahed over them.
However, he then reached under the trolley and pulled out a slate and a chalk, proclaiming “this is the best education technology ever invented; it’s cheap, easily available, does not need electricity and can be used by almost all of the world’s schoolchildren.”
That was quite a lesson, and as you can tell, has stayed with me even as I have spent my life trying to innovate ever more complex technical systems (currently largely in education).
But times have changed and in project after project in the UK, in the US, in Asia and in Africa I come across the same problems: children’s access to technology.
There have been plenty of initiatives to try and get second hand technology into the hands of kids - many of them worthy and successful, but none that emulate the success of food banks. Now, of course, you could argue that food banks are an indication of the failure of society to look after our poorest and most deprived and challenged, but it is a reality that works - a practical charitable initiative often run by religious institutions as part of their outreach or by the communities they serve themselves.
So, is it time to take a similar approach with technology ?
Lucky, well off people like my wife and I have a surfeit of devices (and bandwidth). Why can’t we give away some of those devices and share some of our bandwidth ? It would be great to go to our local Tech Bank, watch our devices being wiped or reformatted and then put into a pool and perhaps even be able to then see and track what happens to it (with permissions, of course). Equally, it would be good to set up a public hotspot for locals to use, or, where geography does not allow this, get credits from broadband providers that can be used by those without decent connectivity ?
There are plenty of layers that can be added on top of this once the devices and bandwidth are in place as well as better education - improved healthcare provision, online community engagement, although, of course, the real beneficiaries will be Big Internet who do little or nothing any more to cater for this impoverished market.
The problem is that the gap between the geeks and the needs is great and it’s difficult to see how it can be bridged at scale. Perhaps it’s time for me to follow my North Wales predescednants and get back to a slate mine, or perhaps I can do something about this ?