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OLPC shuns Indian founder after anti-tablet screed

That guy who thinks cheap student tablets are bad idea? He don't work here no more

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The One Laptop Per Child Association has posted a statement distancing itself from Satish Jha, an entrepreneur who founded the Association in India.

The Association's beef with Mr Jha relates to what it describes as “certain recent statements”.

It seems highly likely this piece about India's Aakash project, which aimed to give millions of students a tablet computer at the subsided price of around $US25, is what so offended the OLPCers.

India planned to make that price possible by creating a spec for a tablet, buying them in their hundreds of thousands and then selling them back to students at below cost price. British outfit Datawind scored the gig to design and arrange manufacture of the tablets, but has not had an easy time of that task, running late and over budget.

Jha pulled no punches about the efforts of all involved last week with this screed in which he wrote “Anyone who saw and tested Aakash, unless driven by a jaundiced view, simply found it wanting as a product.”

India's government also comes in for plenty of criticism, with this sample typical of the tone in Jha's piece:

“Aakash is an embarrassment that India did not have to go through but for want of expertise in developing public policies that may help the poor leapfrog to join the times we live in.”

Here's another of Jha's objections to the project:

“So what the government began doing was something a high school senior in the US would not be proud of submitting as a product. Even they are supposed to imagine something that extends the knowledge frontier, in howsoever small a way.”

Jha is also critical of the idea of a simple computer as having utility for students, writing “Anyone with any sense of what a tablet for poor students must look like would know that they need something robust that works regardless, is rugged and runs applications intuitively in ways that learning becomes easier and affordable.”

At the end of the story Jha is credited as being “chief mentor, Indian Centre for CSR, and chairman, OLPC India Foundation.” But the OLPC Association wants it known Jha's now got nothing to do with its project, in India or anyhwhere else. The Association's post says “Mr. Jha does not represent OLPC or any of its affiliated entities and the views expressed by Mr. Jha do not represent the views of OLPC or any of its affiliates.”

It then goes on to say it “applauds the efforts of the Government of India as it continues to examine new and innovative ways to educate the children of India.”

Jha thinks those efforts were misguided and, worse, the stuttering performance of the Aakash project has harmed India's reputation for technological expertise.

“All that IIT-Bombay professors tried doing was crowdsource specifications,” he wrote. “That underlined the gaps in India’s product-creation experience and they appeared like huge, disconnected holes.”

Then comes a real zinger:

Clearly, if there is any nation that deserves the credit for making the cheapest computer, in more sense than one, that is China. All that India is trying to do is hog the limelight and mislead the world that it has the capacity to imagine, design and manufacture something that it actually bought from the rejects of the Chinese market.”

Evoking another unsuccessful Indian cheapo-PC project, the Simputer, he concludes that “By losing a dozen years in running after the mirage of a cheap computer, India may have done its poor a great disservice just as it has shown that it has not yet learnt to learn from its mistakes either.” ®

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