Simple Computers for Simple Needs

A lot of focus is drawn to the rural communities in Philippines this week, because of the floods that are raging through certain areas and in some places, even destroyed bridges that are critical for the continual supply of food and other essentials.

These communities that are located in far-flung locations, already established lifestyles that do not require electricity but they will still need to have access to food supplies, medical aids and at least reliable communication channels that enable them to reach out to international organisations and local governments during emergencies.

Children who are living in these communities, are inducted into a way of life that’s very different from what one would expect in an urban setting. Usually they would continue with their lifestyles without a second thought of what they could achieve in the future, unless they are made aware of what they could aspire to. This period will be very testing for those children who want to change their lives through the education pathway. On top of the floods, there’s also the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic with its ever-changing variants.

Logistic, transport and many other sectors are being disrupted therefore it is also a trying period for those who are contributing their efforts in the international organisations and NGOs. There are some out there who are still carrying on with their aid operations by supplying these communities with solar systems, food supplies, battery packs amongst other essential items.

These solar systems and battery packs are critical to ensuring reliable and constant communication and also to support hybrid learning. Traditional face-to-face learning has to be mixed with online learning in order for the children to continue to learn and more importantly, to stay motivated.

The solar systems and battery packs can only supply that much electricity because it has limited charge capacity and the energy source has to be shared with many devices. I did a quick scan and noted that there are companies that have started to churn out products that are integrated with solar panels. For examples, we have solar fans, solar computers, solar televisions, etc.

Basically many common electronic devices are being pair up with an integrated solar panel and rebranded as a new product. Some market these products as a back-up tools for small and medium enterprises. Electronic systems can continue to function even if there’s power outages due to unforeseen circumstances.

The concept is certainly solid but I feel that it is not just about supplying the electricity. We might also need to think about reducing the energy requirements of the electronic devices. Recycling computers to produce new computers is not a new concept but we don’t always have to produce increasingly powerful computers with new features, functions and video capabilities that consume more and more electricity.

I am using an Acer Aspire V laptop that’s more than 12 years old. I don’t play games. I do a lot of research and occasionally use my writing and email software. I completely turn off my laptop when I am not using it and sometimes survive on a full charge for about 2.5 days.

Maybe we can recycle old computers and produce new ones that have the basic functions to enable online learning. To be honest, I also have a simple Intel computer stick that requires very little electricity and I combine that Intel computer stick with a wireless keyboard with built-in mouse pad and external rechargeable batteries. This combination used to be my go-to when I pack for overseas trips. I plug my computer stick into whatever television set that has HDMI ports and off I am to my research, emails and work.

That’s why I like the Chromebook a lot even though I haven’t started to use them. I don’t like to buy new things especially when the existing ones are still working fine. These Chromebooks are so light on resources, run on a Linux-based operating system, cheap and enable the user to rely on the entire suite of Google cloud-solutions.

I am not saying that Windows-based computer systems are bad. I use computers that run on Windows. What I am saying here is, there’s a market for simple computers, maybe for those children who are keen to continue to learn especially during these trying times.

After I’ve finished typing this article and pressed the “publish” button, I’m going to shut down this computer and read the book that I’ve just borrowed. It’s really weird. I always read the books that I’ve borrowed and those that I bought, I leave them on the shelves.

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