Computing for Everyone!

Budgetting for computing facilities is an odd area sometimes. As many will point out, the cost of the outlay can be quite high (although it is reducing), and the ongoing cost of maintenance can be very difficult to meet (schools in Australia are seeing the negative consequence of bad planning in this area). However, it is also noted that computers can help to save money too, whether by reducing the need for printed material, or allowing colleagues to meet ‘virtually’ instead of having to travel great distances.

Some people have the budgetting fairly well sussed (or just have a big budget!), to the extent that computers practically seem to be a dime-a-dozen for many of us, which is a wonderful privilege. The perceived value of computing facilities is evident in the very fact that initiatives such as OLPC and Classmate PC exist.

Unsurprisingly, education is a major proponent of computing facilities, given the ease with which so much reference material can be stored and searched using a computer (I often wish books had a ‘search’ button!), as well as the effectiveness of word-processing assignments over hand-writing, and so on. I have no idea how many computers my university has, for example, but given the number of students across the campuses, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is into the thousands; there are numerous labs for all students, and it is expected that everybody (no matter what they study, from art to nursing) has some IT literacy.

However, it is worth remembering that not all people are so fortunate in their budget for such things. Computer prices in Pakistan have seen a 20% increase lately, which is adversely affecting educational institutions, which need to increase their tution fees in response, which in turn puts more strain on the students. Worrying too is the situation at the Eastern Ilinois University, where the campus computer labs are too expensive to keep open, so some students are required to buy their own laptop for use on campus instead. Meanwhile, some teachers in Ireland are struggling simply due to apparent strange spending priorities.

Clearly, it is an important area. There are drives to press forward the goal of “computing for everyone”, especially where education is concerned. I am certainly in favour of more people having the knowledge and access required to use things like the Internet, although I wholeheartedly agree that too many people are not educated properly about computing (even those who are regarded as ‘computer literate’ seem to lack fundamental knowledge sometimes).

Having said all that, I doubt there is much that can really be done to rectify the present problem situations, except to learn from the mistakes that are already being made! Maybe make plans more realistic, and remember to help people make effective use of computing opportunities.

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