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The Brits give their poor kids free laptops & broadband. US wouldn’t.

A couple of weeks ago, US House of Representative member Jesse Jackson Jr. was the subject of muck flak and ridicule for drafting an amendment to the US  Constitution, H.J. Res 29, that would mandate equal education for all.  The language of the amendment reads “all persons shall enjoy the right to a public education of equal high quality.”   To enforce that right, Jackson said in his floor speech, which you can viewhere, that the government should put technologies like laptops and tablets in each classroom.  As a result, Jackson Jr. was called everything from a socialist to delusional.

I get the concern.

First, the radical proposal came at a time that the government is struggling to make spending cuts to balance the budget, so certainly any new calls for that amount of excessive expenditure would not be ripe.  Second, there is already a growing frustration among Americans about government intrusion and overtaxing, and the costs of equal education most likely would be borne by taxpayers.  Third, the suggestion would be an example of the government picking winners among private sector companies, especially if the government really did purchase Apple iPads for every child as Jackson Jr. suggested.  It would be the government padding the profits of Apple over Motorola which creates a competing tablet product, the Xoom, for example.  Fourth, many of today’s digital products are manufactured in China and not the United States so the proposal would only be bolstering the ever growing economy of the  Chinese, who are already America’s biggest creditor.

And then finally, there is that nagging concern that in our country of individualism and accountability, many people do not feel it is their responsibility to enable a child of a poor household to get a benefit they cannot afford.  Among some conservative thinkers, hard work and education enable a parent to provide for a benefit such as a high tech device for his child.  Those who put in that work should not be forced to subsidize those who cannot and have not, notwithstanding how inequities that have been created by decades of unequal government policies and practices fostered a pervasive underclass.  The “it takes a village to raise a child” philosophy which cradles this type of proposal is not accepted by all.

Notwithstanding all of that, I also understand that Jackson Jr.’s proposed amendment and impassioned speech, which you can see on YouTube, seemed to be channeling the spirit of FDR call for a Second Bill of Economic Rights in his 1944 State of the Union address, as noted by the TechPresident.  Both are about building a nation of more economically stable citizenry for the future.

All that being said, what many opponents of Jackson Jr.s proposal may not know is that the part about giving poor children technology has already been done in Great Britain.  Before leaving power, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown passed a program that allocated £300 million to purchase computers and a year’s worth of broadband access for 250,000 poor British children.  The computers came embedded with software that was usable by the parents to get better skilled for jobs and to use the computers themselves to apply for jobs.  By the time the Home Access program, which was implemented by the Department of Education, ended last year, it had given 250,000 families computers including 9,000 special needs children who used the software embedded in each computer to give them a leg up.

“Families who are most in need cannot be left behind in the digital revolution we’re seeing in education,”  UK’s Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls said. “Being online at home provides educational, economic and social benefits that cannot be ignored…. [c]omputers are no longer a luxury for the few, but are as essential a part of education as books, pens and paper.”

So while we laugh at and poke fun at proposals like Jackson Jr’s, could the US be falling farther and farther behind?

After all, as the UK Department for Schools, Children and Education notes, the UK  now leads the world in technology for education and that its education and skills exports are worth around £28billion annually, making the UK a world leader in meeting the accelerating demand in this dynamic sector.”

Granted, the UK’s economy is and has been suffering, partly for funneling money into programs like this, but in the end, will they “win” by having a more educated populace that is not as dependent on the government for basic sustenance as so many in the UK and the US are now?

That will be an interesting topic to broach in the coming years as the beneficiaries of the free computers start to graduate high school and go into the economy; and their parents start to use it to find jobs and educate themselves with it.

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