Everyone Needs a Tablet

Care2 has an interesting article about people being offended by a picture of a poor Afro-American boy using an iPad [1]. It seems that people object to poor people having what is in many ways the greatest educational tool available because it can also be seen as a status symbol. I wonder if one of the cheaper Android tablets (at 1/3 the price of an iPad or less) would get the same response.

Dvice has an inspiring article by Evan Ackerman about an experiment where a large quantity of Motorolla Xoom tablets were delivered to Ethiopian kids who couldn’t read and didn’t know English [2]. The kids learned printed English and learned to hack the devices to enable all the hardware features! I don’t expect that kids in first-world countries would get the same benefits as kids in countries such as the US and Australia are distracted by TV, games consoles, and other forms of entertainment that aren’t readily available in Ethiopian villages. But the potential benefits for widespread deployment of tablets in the poorer parts of first-world countries seems significant.

I think that the government of every first-world country should give a voucher to every resident who is more than two years old for a $100 discount off the list price of a tablet. If someone is happy with a cheap Android tablet then $100 will cover the prices. If they want something better then they can pay more. I’m happy for wealthy people to get a $100 discount on the price of one of the more expensive tablets, it seems that “means testing” such government subsidies just causes political issues without saving much money.

Apart from the obvious educational benefits for people who own tablets (which means adults as well as children) there are also benefits in having everyone own a tablet. If everyone owned a tablet then the resale price of a low-end tablet would approach zero and the resale price of even more desirable tablets such as the iPad would drop a lot. This would reduce the incentive to steal tablets and allow people to use them in situations where there is less safety. If most people felt safe to use a tablet computer on public transport and started doing educational things instead of reading newspapers then it would improve the overall education of the population. Newspapers generally aren’t educational and in the case of News Corp publications and other tabloids you can become less well informed by reading them – I believe that on average newspapers have a negative educational value in Australia.

The cost of giving a $100 tablet voucher to every resident of Australia would be about $2,200,000,000 (plus administrative costs) which seems like a lot of money. But when compared to the costs of building infrastructure it’s not significant. I’ve just read some government announcements regarding transport budget which includes items such as $6,500,000 to determine the best route for a new rail line. So if we were to get 350 new rail lines (and we need more than this) then merely determining the routes would cost as much as getting a tablet for everyone in the country!

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