While watching David Hollow of ICT4D Collective present his evaluation of OLPC Ethiopia at the recent Africa Gathering I was struck by his observation that teachers were banning XO laptops from their classrooms.
David found a clear perception by teachers and even parents, that the XO laptop is a toy, not a tool, and children's usage of these computers was actually a detriment to their education. Teachers disliked them enough to ban them from the classroom and parents discouraged their use at home, thinking the laptops were taking away from study time.
Why XO Laptops are Banned
The Ethiopian school system like Rwanda's, is designed around rote memorization - the teacher copies material to the board and students write it down in notebooks. Then there is a national test that determines progression in the educational system - a test based on the ability to recalled the memorized facts.
This model is very teacher-centric. Teachers should have all the knowledge, and students, by cultural definition are there to listen, not to question, and will not be as smart as teachers until they have passed the national test.
Yet XO laptops were added this rigid system without extensive teacher training or tight integration into the national curriculum. So as the students progressed past the teachers in computing acumen, the teachers quickly felt threatened by this technology, and unable to control it, felt undermined by it, especially in the classroom.
Instead of memorizing fact, the students were playing. They were exploring and learning using TamTam and Record. From a Constructionist perspective, the laptops are a great success - children are self-directing their learning around the teachers. Yet from the teachers' and parents' perspective, that's play, not studying.
If the students don't memorize to pass the national exam, they will not progress in the Ethiopian educational system, no matter their abilities with E-toys or Browse. And while they might be smarter in a Western sense, relative to their own culture, they will be failures.
David's call for more teacher training & better integration of the XO into the national curriculum, is not alone. Miguel Brechner says, "if you don't include the teachers, the project will fail." I say we need an OLPC cultural integration plan to flip computers from an educational threat to a learning treasure.