OLPC: The $100 laptop DOES have potential


I think Alanna Shaikh's One Laptop Per Child - The Dream is Over post on UN Dispatch is a very myopic view on the potential for change OLPC has started.

If you had looked at the Apple2e computer I used when I was a kid maybe you would have only seen the basic programs I was using and not see what is possible today. We use the OLPC laptops in Cambodia and when I look at them in use, I see my Apple2e. It's very basic now in some ways, but that's the point. It's opensource. The people in the places that are using these can, will and are developing better and better programs for it.

OLPC XO in Cambodia via satellite.

I have been to the schools the Negropontes sponsor in Cambodia, which was our impetus to apply for laptops through the give-one-get-one program. Spend a day in one of their schools, and I guarantee you will change your mind, at least in terms of the potential for change, based on these tools.

If there was no word "laptop" in the name, they would have gotten a lot less press, but naming it a "learning tool" would have been a more correct choice and perhaps saved them a lot of criticism. It's not a "laptop" meant to replace what you and I are working on. It is a tool for kids to guide them through their own learning - when their teachers don't show up, when there is a huge differentiation between levels in one class, when there are too many students for one-on-one instruction.

I don't agree with Nicholas Negroponte that any child can pick one up and know how to fix the inside. I do agree with Alanna that, for the best learning environment, you need a great teacher or ideally facilitator, but that is the same for anything you are learning. I have seen in our students and the other OLPC programs we work with in Cambodia, that these tools are inspiring children to lead themselves into areas of education that they are not given access to in their normal government classes.

The word "lesson plan" is evil in the constructivism world of Papert followers and the child-led learning model of OLPC. No "how-to" guide is not an accident but was planned. I agree with Alanna that for most people, who have been spoon-fed their knowledge all their lives, they are not capable of making the leap and learning on their own.

XO promise in Cambodia

In a place like Cambodia some of the most educated young people I know are used to that: they teach themselves all they want to learn via the internet. We have found those people make great facilitators for the program and we don't follow all constructivist methodologies in our classroom, in fact we brought a researcher in to observe and analyze lessons our teachers had developed and to turn those into "lesson plans" (gasp!).

If you really believe "But it's not going to change the world, or even affect it all that much." you have not made all of the connections to all of the ways it already HAS changed the word. It has some of the newest technologies in environmentally friendly parts, screen visibility in bright light, battery life, mesh-technologies, etc etc... and all of those things are ALREADY changing the world as others take them and continue to improve upon them.

Here in Cambodia, there are groups of young Cambodians who meet regularly to translate OLPC programs into Khmer. The new versions we just got have Khmer script and we are now using Scratch in Khmer as well. Walk into a classroom where we work and see older students teaching younger students how to read Khmer via the animated Khmer testing program they designed themselves, and you will change your mind a bit.

Talk to our computer teachers, young Cambodians who taught themselves how to use the XOs, and yes, they will tell you there is a lot they don't understand, but they are effecting change. You can't see that from your office, but I can see it here. It's just the start! Each new version of the XO we get is better and better and will continue to be.

If you want to learn more about what we are doing with Scratch on the XOs or about the "lesson plans" our team developed to match the Khmer curriculum, contact us at PEPY. We had someone come in and do a research project on our XO program who helped to match the Cambodian curriculum with XO programs and come up with learning ideas.

This post first appeared on Lessons I Learned and is republished here with Daniela Papi's permission

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