7 March 2012
Child in Rawa Community School, WA, phot supplied by One Laptop Per Child
- One Laptop Per Child is a social enterprise changing Australia’s educational landscape with specially designed laptops for children in remote communities
- Company CEO Rangan Srikhanta gave up a role at Deloitte to pursue his not-for-profit dream
- Srikhanta's former lecturer Laurel Evelyn Dyson nominated him for the Elizabeth Hastings Memorial Award for Community Service
Rangan Srikhanta is the Chief Executive Officer of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Australia. The not-for-profit social enterprise is aiming to change our nation’s educational landscape by distributing specially designed laptops to children in remote communities. Senior Lecturer Laurel Evelyn Dyson recently received a UTS Learning and Teaching Award for her work in the School of Software. She taught Rangan and nominated him for his Elizabeth Hastings Memorial Award for Community Service and more recently, last year’s UTS Alumni Community Award.
I knew I wanted to have a big impact on the world, but I didn’t know what the ‘unique something’ I could do was. After graduating in 2007 with a double degree in business and computing, I took a graduate analyst role at Deloitte. I used to want to be a top-ranking CEO of a major corporation. However, as I visualised myself in that position, potentially earning millions of dollars, I questioned whether it would really lead me to happiness. That’s always been the kind of filter I apply.
Education is part of the solution to most of the world’s problems. From poverty, to peace, to issues around health, education has a major part in solving all these problems. The best place to start is where you have the most fertile ground, and that’s in the minds of children who are still developing their world views. Then you get to a very interesting conundrum – if world education is your mandate, how do you achieve it in the 21st century?
Technology has a very pervasive nature. It allows you to get out to as many people as possible, and that’s how OLPC was born. We needed a device that could be used in any condition and could be fixed by a child. The whole premise of OLPC is that a child with an innate curiosity could be the catalyst for their own continued learning. We just need to give them an environment that’s conducive to that. That’s what the OLPC XO laptop is: self-empowered learning.
Australia is a country full of opportunities. This really resonates with me and my world view. My family and I fled Sri Lanka because of war in 1984 when I was two months old. It seems that what separates opportunity is circumstance, and in some ways, unfortunately, a postcode. The funny thing is, here in Australia our Indigenous people are marginalised, and that’s like a silent war. The war is more about access to opportunity and that’s what we’re trying to equalise.
Equality is about redefining the paradigm of how education is delivered. We’ve created an online network connecting teachers to other teachers across borders – something no one has been able to achieve. A small social enterprise like ours with only six employees can be a lot more nimble compared to massive organisations that operate in silos and aren’t able to cut across state boundaries and jurisdictions.
I’ve got to the point now where I think social enterprise is my thing in life. In the future there shouldn’t be the need for charities; it should be business as usual for corporations to be providing public goods in partnership with government. That’s where I think it should head, but there’s a lot of work that needs to happen before that.
Laurel Evelyn Dyson
I can’t remember all the students I’ve taught, but Rangan just stood out. At the time he was studying, he was also getting the OLPC program established in Australia. He’s always been someone who really thinks about others and wants to use his knowledge of IT and business to make a difference, rather than just thinking about making pots of money.
I hope I’ve had some kind of influence on the direction Rangan’s taken. I was teaching a final-year ethics subject which got IT students to think about what their responsibilities as IT professionals would be and how technology impacted on their clients and people in society. The students had to go beyond the classroom and talk to people who were using IT for the betterment of humanity. That’s how I found out about Rangan’s aim for OLPC. He said the subject gave him a framework to start thinking more clearly about what he was trying to do, which I thought was really nice.
I’ve always had an interest in the ‘digital divide’. One of my colleagues, Professor Toni Robertson, had the idea that we should open up IT as a field of study for Indigenous Australians via a policy and an active program. I think we only had one Indigenous student in IT – the one Indigenous student studying at UTS at the time. Most universities didn’t even have one! Now I’m the IT liaison with Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning and provide support to six students enrolled in the IT Indigenous Participation Program.
My commitment to this area began when the reconciliation movement started in the late 1990s. At that point I joined the Eastern Suburbs Organisation for a Reconciled Australia. There are lots of things wrong with society, but that issue meant the most to me. I can’t really live in this country without doing something to improve the lives of Aboriginal Australians; we’ve taken their land and we’re now enjoying its fruits.
I think there’s a lack of Indigenous role models in the IT industry. They tend to look at all the wonderful role models in law, education and business and follow those paths. We’ve been able to slowly make some achievements; we’ve had five graduates and we’ll have another this year. It sounds very small but that’s better than any other university in Australia as far as we’re aware.
Education seems to be a good way of improving Indigenous people’s lifestyle, income and health outcomes. I’m really passionate about doing my part to help. I do some work in a Cape York community and kids at the school have got the gorgeous little XO laptops, so I’ve seen it on the ground. Rangan’s doing such a good job and he’s only 27 – he doesn’t need my lectures anymore.
Marketing and Communication Unit