One Laptop Musician Per Child in Thailand


Did you catch me last Sunday night on 60 Minutes? CBS News had a re-mix of the original 60 Minutes episode on One Laptop Per Child.

In my one minute of fame, I took Nicholas Negroponte to task for his disregard of teachers in OLPC implementation:

If you hand a child a violin or a piano they can make noise with it, right? But will they be able to make music? And if you give a child a computer, they'll be able to operate the computer but will they really be able to learn without having a teacher, whether it's formal or informal to help them along that learning path?
Now, no matter if you believe that OLPC is a cost-effective violin or not, I have a two uplifting videos we can all gather around and cheer. Amazing music videos of OLPC musician from Ban Samkha village in northern Thailand:
Better yet, here is a whole XO Band playing traditional Thai music with the XO computer:
Now exactly who thinks that either of these accomplishments came from a random TamTam activity without a music teacher to guide the children in learning musical scales, melody, tone, and temper?

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Wayan, I understand why you might disagree with Negroponte's apparent disregard for teachers;
we certainly could not drop a hundred XOs in a village and expect there to be instant learning, teachers and institutions are useful in that respect.

However, I think we could be mistaking NN's attitude for his high regard of children's intelligence, curiosity and ingenuity.

A great example of this is Sugata Mitra's work in the impoverished regions of India.
Please watch the following video to see how children, without the supervision of adults can flourish in the mere presence of information and collaboration.

PS. An RSS feed for the comments on each post would be nice :)


I am aware of Hole in the Wall - that's the 1/2 the point of my post. If you study Sugata's work, the children were able to operate the computers, and gain certain skills and knowledge, but even he cites the need for teachers (formal or informal) to advance the overall education of children.

So I too have high regard for children's intelligence, curiosity and ingenuity, and I have an even higher regard for how teachers can motivate and guide children with that native curiosity. And the last time I checked, Aristotle motivated over two thousand years of insight without even a PDA.

I for one am very happy to hear Wayan keep reminding everyone that any teacher will make those laptops tremendously more useful than no teacher at all. And in return the kids will rely less on the teacher as they learn more ways to use the laptop.
Here in New York City, I have seen store rooms full of new Mac iBooks that are idle because teachers don't have the time or training to figure out how to use them in their classroom. Then there are the 'technology' teachers who only teach kids how to open up a word processor document and save it.
We need to figure out how to make the laptop another classroom tool, like pencil, paper, and books, that every student uses every day.
Then both students and teachers will have been empowered.

Wayan: that second video was very cool--definitely illustrates how a teacher can be useful with an XO (as if such a demonstration was required!).

However, I don't think kids need training to learn how to work the machines. What to do with the machines once they've learned how to use them on their own--that's when teachers are required.

Oh and I think it's "tempo" not "temper" with music, although I've tried to be a musician but learning a musical instrument only managed to demonstrate how short my temper actually was.

BP: I'm with you, an RSS feed for comments would be great, or a way to get emailed after responses. Or, at the very least, a "remember personal info" checkbox that works. For me it doesn't and this is the only site where such a checkbox doesn't work.

I'm going to have to repost that second video. It's a great example of how the XO can be used for more than just basic stuff and to see kids doing it--that's great. Fatboy Slim better watch out for these kids!! ;)


We can agree that kids do not need training to learn how to turn on a computer or accesses its program, but to get to the finesse to challenge Fatboy Slim, a teacher will be needed.

And I will need help with MT3.2 if you want to get comment subscriptions. I have the plug in but no clue how to implement it or make the cron job that would publish it.

BP, I agree with you on one point, disagree with you on another:

Yes, an RSS feed for comments would be great! I like to check this site, and being able to do so using RSS would be convenient.


The Hole-in-the-Wall comparison points to exactly what is wrong with the OLPC movement.

"Minimally invasion education" is less than marginally effective. Mitra & Co. put computers into slums, and marveled that kids were able to use them without any adult guidance.

If you dropped a couple hundred dollars worse of crayons into the same place you would have seen a lot of spontaneous creativity, and maybe even some collaboration and inventive uses of the crayons. Drop a computer in and expect the same. That fact that kids can explore things on their own -- how does this surprise anyone?

This is no model for anything, let alone a model for education, other than on what might get when you put a few unattended computers into slums in India.

Now, at least HitW was a small pilot (or collections of pilots). Interesting experiment, little damage down. No harm, no foul. Negroponte may say he doesn't believe in pilot projects, but what we have going on right now in Uruguay, and soon in Peru and Brazil, if reports on this site are to be believed, is a massive pilot project -- only unlike with Mitra, there are no researchers attached to it.

It is my understanding that there is no teacher training in Uruguay to help teachers how to figure out how to help children make these laptops relevant to their learning. It is my understanding that there is no curriculum developed for use on the laptops related explicitly to existing topics and concepts in the existing curriculum.

This would be laughable if it weren't so tragic.

It is my understanding that the kids are supposed to repair the laptops themselves. Even considering that this can be done (frankly I doubt it), what class-time is sacrificed to accomplish this sort of thing?

No doubt some of the fanboys here will say that time spent repairing laptops is not a waste of time, and can be educationally enriching. I fully agree with you there. But who helps explain to the kids what they have done? Who guides them when they are stuck? This seems a natural thing to take place in an afterschool computer club, and I hope that such things will spring up in Uruguay as a result of the OLPC initiative. But this points to just what the OLPC experiment is perhaps best suited to be, given the way it is being rolled out in real life: an extracurricular enrichment activity.

I just read the Wikipedia entry for the word boondoggle. I wouldn't doubt that this whole so-called education project finds its way into this Wikipedia entry in a few years as an example.

I am sorry if I come across as a troll here. I don't mean to. As a laptop project, a technology project, I have no problems with OLPC. But the premise behind this whole "education project", which Negroponte insists this really is, is just lunacy. Sheer lunacy.

Why are people so afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes?

Wasn't the whole point of the OLPC that teachers are great, but too scarce. And the XO is there to increase their productivity.

A class making music with the XO is a VERY good example. The music teacher can work with children that each have their own instrument and can work on it out of class. Before, they simply didn't have the instruments and the children couldn't practice without a teacher.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum
(my latin is bad, I know)


The number of straw men vanquished in this post is amazing. Check out the essays at Squeakland, the folks that make eToys, such as this:

Obviously Negroponte, Kay, et. al., are not advocating doing away with teachers -- they want teachers to play a different role. Not pouring knowledge into the ears of their students but mentoring as the students try things for themselves.

Give a kid a guitar,viola,violin, he will find it very difficult-slow to learn.

Why?, because teacher(a good one) carry more than a life experience using this music tool with themselves (their own and the people they have learn from).

There is a reason everybody needs to read to gain knowledge, knowledge from masters could be stored in books, and reading this books you can get the knowledge,everywhere,anytime, WITHOUT teachers, but WITH books.

More and more information is in Internet today, but we need digitalized books for people in asia to learn the same a german kid could learn.

"There is a reason everybody needs to read to gain knowledge, knowledge from masters could be stored in books, and reading this books you can get the knowledge,everywhere,anytime, WITHOUT teachers, but WITH books."

I am sorry, but learning is a social experience. Humans can learn exclusively from texts only with extreme difficulty.

For children, experience shows that on few, if any, children can learn from textbooks alone. Peer group learning is already a possibility (compare learned journals for adults).

That said, if you start learning, books are almost indispensible unless you can get Socrates himself you teach your child. But that is within a social learning environment.


I finally really get Negroponte's vision is after thinking about what Wayan had said on 60 minutes. I think we are both for OLPC and agree having able teachers is the ideal situation, OLPC all the better. However, I can see NN's vision that if teachers are scarce or even void, something like the OLPC will be better than nothing at all. And, comparing the OLPC to a violin is well, like you know what.

Imagine being born into a life where the most mportant skill, and all you are taught, is meager survival. Your elders put you to work. You are essentially isolated from outside influences of any kind, never mind having an opportunity at a formal education. It is more important to collect clean water to drink than to go to school.

When water is plentiful and you get a break, you as a young child might be amused with a violin if you have some time for yourself and you have one. You may or may not make music, eventually. Same with a pencil and paper. You may or may not make art. Even less likely will you make writing, without direction.

A computer equipped with educational software which guides students, and offers intriguing interactive activities that keep them interested by rewarding them with successes as they go... this is a far cry from a violin. I don't think the analogy works. The core vision for the OLPC is clear to me now... it is to be a surrogate teacher where none exists.

Of course, considering what you teach and how you teach it brings me back to Wayan's point of view. We need teachers. To make the OLPC really successful, the laptops must be customized in more ways than just language, they must be customized in lessons. They must target the intended students.

Getting a million OLPC's scattered out into the world will teach the teachers what they must do to codify their teachings for their respective regions. This will effectively put out there 2 to 20 more million less-than-satisfactory, but better-than-nothing surrogate eachers, where there are few or none.

I don't agree or disagree about teachers; theycan be wonderful, tho as we all know, teachers can also stand in the way of learning. Still, some of the greatest fiddlers in the world learned at home, without "fiddle teachers." So the model exists to teach the same way.

But what about getting trainers into areas with the XO to help entire families with the laptop? I coach soccer, tho I can't play it; parents can be excellent mentors given the chance. Most learning in the world takes place in homes anyway, so why not maximize the XO in families?