In a recent letter (Sunday Stabroek April 17th) Dr Roger Luncheon argues that the One Laptop per Family (OLPF) policy is transformative. Dr Luncheon came to that conclusion mainly because the PPP has a peculiar notion of what it means to transform an economy and society. A hand out of a sophisticated item such as laptops is seen as transformative even though no mention was made of the potential of the policy to lead to the emergence of a new industry. Indeed, the architects of the OLPF programme are yet to tell the Guyanese people how many jobs will emerge after US$30 million is spent on a product which typically lasts for about three years.
For the Alliance For Change (AFC) transformation implies the formation of high end industries and rapid income growth. We agree with President Jagdeo and the PPP that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are transformative.
However, we part company on how to deploy ICT. The job multiplier effect from the OLPF will be negligible. Transformation must mean income growth. We see very little chance that within three years Guyanese will use these computers, which are not business class laptops that have a longer lifespan, to generate incomes. Therefore, this policy is more akin to a political handout. For the AFC transformation means income growth that will position the masses of Guyanese far above subsistence living and away from the dependence on handouts.
Questions remain as to what kind of software will be loaded onto the computers. For example, who bears the cost for the spreadsheet and word processing software? Will the computers be loaded with Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point and Publisher? If not, will the poor villagers be in a position to pay for the software?
Or is the government going to require the poor to use open source software? If the poor are expected to use open source, how easy will it be to share files with people in Guyana, the Caribbean and afar who use Microsoft programmes? We are not seeing the answers to these questions. In addition, the stability of the power supply and the availability of the internet will be a problem for the effective use of the computers.
Everyone wants to see children and families obtain computers. Therefore, the alternative to this policy would have been to place desk top computers (typically more durable than low-end laptops) in schools and community centres across the country.
Then make sure that adequate teachers are available in the schools to teach the children information technology and computer use. The only way this policy to distribute low-end laptops would have made economic sense is if the company selling the computers had agreed to set up a manufacturing base in Guyana. In that case, the government’s purchase of the computers would have been a worthwhile subsidy.
The company would then need to use the Guyana base to export to CARICOM, Latin America and North America. We know this is not the case with the OLPF policy. This would have been truly transformative and Dr Luncheon would have been correct. By the way, such a move by the PPP would have been consistent with the AFC’s idea of being transformative.