OLPC Nepal Using XO Magic to Change Education

   
   
   
   
   

Shankar Pokharel, OLPC Nepal
Are you wondering what's happening with OLPC Nepal? How a spirited band of volunteers led by Shankar Pokharel and Ankur Sharma, both Nepal Engineering College graduates, is convincing a nation that One Laptop Per Child can change education. Wonder not, for according to INAS they are using Negroponte magic!
A magic more enchanting than any of the Harry Potter tales will sweep through Nepal soon, thanks to a pair of students who are working to take $100 laptops to children in the country's remotest and most underdeveloped villages, where there is no electricity or even books.

The 'magic pencil' that will write such plots is the XO-Laptop designed and developed by Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology media laboratory.

Until the 'Mero sanu sathi' - my little friend - finds a child who can write the next literary blockbuster on his Nepali and English character XO keyboard, OLPC Nepal is looking for funding with the education and sports ministry and major donors. One donor I suggest they consider is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Access to Learning Award, a $1 million dollar award that recognizes innovative efforts outside the United States to connect disadvantaged people and remote communities to information through free access to computers and the Internet. Just what OLPC Nepal is attempting to do.

Now before you recoil in shock that a One Laptop per Child program that has Open Source as a key principal could be funded by the founder of Microsoft, remember that Nicholas Negroponte has said that Windows runs on the OLPC XO, so Bill and Nick may not be hating on each other anymore.

Add to that, Bruce Einhorn reports that Nicholas Negroponte might be making amends with the Intel Corporation too:

Negroponte has repeatedly criticized Intel for what he considers its hardball tactics. And yet the rivals may be ready to bury the hatchet: BusinessWeek has learned that Intel and OLPC executives are in talks regarding how they can work together.

It's unclear what the cooperation might involve. It's also not certain the two programs - either individually or in some kind of joint venture - will improve education or succeed in spreading useful technology through the developing world.


Nepali children + OLPC XO
So here is a dream perfect for July 4th, United States' Independence Day.

A dream of little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers learning learning on the Children's Machine XO, regardless of processor, regardless of operating system.

A dream of children united in education, focused on improvement, for themselves and their country.

This is my dream. What is yours?

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26 Comments

I stuck in the line "Shankar Pokharel and Ankur Sharma, both fourth year students at Nepal Engineering College"

But they are are not 4th year students but they have graduated from Nepal Engineering College last year,

My dream is that Rick Weinstein's dream comes true soon and the XOs help bring about such a change (They help students learn and get educated that they eventually become teachers and teach other students, when they grow up)
:)

"My dream is to see the poorest kids in the world attending nice little schools, with one good teacher for every 20 kids."

Nice dream. But you need 60 million teachers worldwide for that.

Any concrete ideas how to supply the 20+ million new teachers needed to get there?

Even in my very wealthy country they can't get one teacher per 20 kids.

Winter

Winter wrote:

"Nice dream. But you need 60 million teachers worldwide for that.

Any concrete ideas how to supply the 20+ million new teachers needed to get there?

Even in my very wealthy country they can't get one teacher per 20 kids."

That is my dream, Winter. Everything is possible in dreams.

One thing is clear, though: kids will not get an education with laptops alone - no matter what laptop it is: Intel, XO, Asustech, etc.

Kids - even in rich countries like yours - still need teachers and schools in order to get an education.

Therefore, money must be used to build schools and hire teachers. If there is some left, I'm all for investing some on getting computers, internet access, etc., to enrich the ongoing education program.

That's what everybody in the world does - even rich countries like yours: first, schools and teachers - then, the rest.

What is my dream? Peace on earth... no ignorance, nor poverty! And for now: many, many wise adults, that work toward a brighter future for our children...

What is my dream? I'm dreaming my dream won't stay a dream, but become reality...

I have studied in Germany and Russia. While Universities were good at pointing you towards what to study, most time spent at the university (college) was useless. I studied out of books (mostly ebooks from the internet)and used the college time to ask specific questions for clarification. All of this can obviously be done with the olpc and a structure which integrates teachers and those kids who know what others don't.
I, for myself, do not underestimate the potential of selflearning.

Regards,
petr

"That's what everybody in the world does - even rich countries like yours: first, schools and teachers - then, the rest."

Developing countries have tried for half a century to get enough teachers. It didn't work.

Your suggestion now is to abandon all hope? Give up on these children? Would you think so if these were your children?

Winter

"...remember that Nicholas Negroponte has said that Windows runs on the OLPC XO, "

At the moment all evidence suggests that MS can't get XP to boot on the OLPC. They lost the know-how to write the device drivers needed. Their only option seems to be to outsource porting XP to the XO to another company.

But that would mean they would extend the life of XP indefinitely. But MS wants all XP users to move to Vista.

I think they will only do that if the OLPC laptop takes off.

Btw, XP on the OLPC would be insecure, unstable, and practically useless.

Winter

Old timers like myself will recall similar educational pipe-dreams associated firstly with radio(1940s-50s),then TV (1960s, calculators & VCRs (1970s),then classroom computers(1980s)! Apparently even text books in the Victorian era were viewed through similar rose tinted glasses. Sigh- we can dream I guess...

That Nepalese account has been widely mentioned,but they're still following $100 OLPC prices! Surely they're aware of the hike to US$176 ?

My dream is to see the poorest 20 kids in Nepal attending nice little schools, taught by Rick Weinstein.

The airline ticket to Nepal - when/if it comes - is a bonus given by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Old timers like myself will recall similar educational pipe-dreams associated firstly with radio(1940s-50s),then TV (1960s, calculators & VCRs (1970s),then classroom computers(1980s)! Apparently even text books in the Victorian era were viewed through similar rose tinted glasses. Sigh- we can dream I guess..."

I don't think anyone can complain if the OLPC XOs are as influential as textbooks.

I am not sure how rose colored these glasses must have been, but the children I know cannot imagine life without any of these.

And personally, I do think textbooks and graphical calculaters have improved education, just as the internet, radio, and television changed learning and homework beyond recognition. Just try to follow a modern student doing her homework assignment. Even group assignments are done without actually needing to meet each other (which saves large amounts of time).

Winter

Stan,

I know that the OLPC Nepal crew is aware of the $176+ cost of the XO computer, but often the press likes the "$100 laptop" angle to generate interest in the article. Great initial marketing on Negroponte's part.

Stan SWAN,

you put textbooks, radio, TV, VCR, and 80's-computers all in the same basket of overestimated technical gadgets and imply that also modern school computers might end in that basket.

In one point I agree with you: teachers can never be completely replaced in the learning process. However, the important question is how technology can change the role and the effectiveness of teachers in the learning process of the students.

All of the above technical devices - including the 80's computers without network access - only provided one-way-communication. The exception is two-way radio e.g. very successfully used in Australia's radio schools over many hundred miles distance.

The COMBINATION of modern computers providing two-way multimedia communication with modern learning approaches, that put the student back in a more active and more independent role, can lift the effectiveness of teachers to never seen levels. Teachers need no more to repetitively deliver the learning content by lectures. They can be freed from hand-correcting most of the students' work. They can concentrate on questions the students ask and on helping the students to stay on their path. They can even do this remotely from very distant places. How much the new approach can stretch the teacher/student ratio needs to be seen. But IMHO there is potential that one teacher might tutor more students that way than is possible today.

>including the 80's computers without network access

Sorry, the first networked computer-based education system was PLATO in 1961. The system ran in 1961 and while it's had some modest success since then that's still 45 years. That ought to be enough time to develop into a viable and economically justifiable education tool. Here you go:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLATO_system

> The COMBINATION of modern computers
> providing two-way multimedia communication
> with modern learning approaches....

That's yet to be determined unless you know of successful installations. If so, please post information about them.

I've been interested in the potential of computers to enhance the quality and lower the cost of education for a long time and haven't seen anything, with one exception, that's in the least innovative or even that interesting let alone successful. The one exception to that dreary description is the Hole-in-the-wall computer - http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/MIE.html - and the value of that is yet to be determined as well.

The project is blessedly short on arcane edu-babble and seems to have a strong preference for measurable results. Those are refreshing qualities and also suggestive of worthwhile insights since you want as many people as possible to understand those insights if they'll stand up to inspection.

"I've been interested in the potential of computers to enhance the quality and lower the cost of education for a long time and haven't seen anything, with one exception, that's in the least innovative or even that interesting let alone successful."

The Netherlands based a large educational reform (the infamous Studiehuis) on internet connectivity:
http://www.kennisnet.nl/

http://www.ictopschool.net/
(Sorry, Dutch, if you are really interested, you can find someone who can read it)

The reform was combined with rather large funding cuts (never a good combination)

By and large it works, and is cheap.

Winter

allen,
thanks for your interesting link on Plato.

However, you will probably agree that referring to 80's-computers generally means the majority of computers of that era that were not hooked in a LAN not to speak about a WAN like internet. Therefore, I don't think Plato is invalidating my point.

I agree that a lot of more pilots are needed for evidence. But my point was to show that OLPC's 2-way multimedia communication combined with constructionism brings a new dimension to the technological support of education that clearly sets it apart from Stan's examples. Of course there is still a lot of room for wrong implementations that could let OLPC end in the "lost dreams" basket.

Wayan's post contains an interesting link on Intel's school computing strategy and a possible collaboration with OLPC
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_28/b4042045.htm
While Intel's strategy is described with interesting details nothing is known yet about the collaboration with OLPC.

What could be expected and what would make sense?

What are the strengths of the two?
OLPC is innovative and capable of reinventing the laptop, its GUI and user collaboration. And it is non-profit. But it has scarce resources and is quite overstrained with diplomatic relations to governments, implementation especially teacher training.

Intel has huge resources and has proven to be capable to move quite swiftly in spite of its size if the situation requires it. Intel is very professional in marketing and delicat diplomatic relations. However Intel will rather sooner than later face conflicts between commercial interests and pure education and it will be forced to pursue the commercial side even if it means betraying the education side for the sake of shareholder value.

Do these profound differences allow a symbiotic collaboration? Or would such collaboration eventually be doomed to harm the humanitarian cause of education and the fight against poverty?

Roland,

Like I keep saying: I see lots of hardware, but no real software. In the field of education lesson plans and class materials are where the rubber meets the road. Even for "distance-learning" with no teacher , like a correspondence course, lesson plans and class materials are still needed. What is the software supposed to teach? What are the computer exercises supposed to demonstrate?

Also computer-based learning does not have to be Constructivist or Constructionist. Universities in Sweden are working on behaviorist software for children (MagicWords by Comikit).

In America at least we have found that Constructivist education requires even more planning, because constructing knowledge in somebody's mind is on the edge of known science (like sending robots to Mars). It is possible and rewarding, but lesson plans and materials are a very involved scientific endeavor. I do not see this attention to detail in the OLPC. How can something like computerized constructionism/constructivism, which many times more complex than old-fashioned things like Montessori method, have so little planning?

All,

This is the type of Constructivism that is actually used in America. As you will see below it is very different from what Papert and Negroponte are advocating. You also see from reading below that Constructivism requires more classroom resources and teacher interaction instead of less. If you look at actual Constructivist teacher training, that there no way you can there by just handing kids computers.

Towson University - Baltimore, Maryland
Constructivism
Tricia Ryan, Instructor
Using Information Effectively in Education
Fall 2002


Cognitive Constructivism
It is based on the work of developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget’s theory has two major parts: an “ages and stages”, which predicts what children can and cannot understand at different ages, and a theory of development that describes how children develop cognitive abilities (Chambliss,1996). The theory of development is the major foundation of cognitive constructivist approaches to teaching and learning. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development suggests that humans cannot be “given” information which the automatically understand and use, they must “construct” their own knowledge. They have to build their knowledge through experience. Experiences allows them to create mental images in their head (Chen).Cognitive prospective theories focus on both what students learn and the process by which they do so (fosnot, 1996).

The role of the teacher and the classroom environment are important parts of Piaget’s theory. The role of the teacher is to provide a classroom full of interesting things to encourage the child to construct their own knowledge and to have the ability to explore. The classroom must give the students the opportunity to construct knowledge through their own experiences. They cannot be “told” by the teacher. There is less emphasis on directly teaching specific skills and more emphasis on learning in a meaningful context.

Creating a constructivist classroom

Along with having a constructivist teacher you also need to have a constructivist classroom. “Creating a constructivist classroom requires that the classroom teacher must be in position to: (1) Influence or create motivating conditions for students, (2) Take responsibility for creating problem situations,… (3) Foster acquisition and retrieval of prior knowledge…, and (4) Create a social environment that emphasizes that attitude of learning to learn,… The learning process not the product of learning is the primary focus of constructivism…”(Olsen, 1999, p2). The constructivist teacher has to guide and not tell. The student has to make their own meanings and decisions. They are not to be handed to them by the teacher. To facilitate real learning, teachers need to organize their classroom and their curriculum so that students can collaborate, interact, and raise questions of both classmates and the teacher.

The whole idea of a constructivist classroom is characterized by the mutual respect between the teacher and the children. In most classrooms the respect is one way. The children have to respect the teacher. A constructivist teacher respects the children by allowing the children rights to their feelings, ideas, and opinions. The teacher refrains from using their power unnecessarily. A characteristic of constructivist education is that the responsibility for decision making is shared by everyone in the classroom (De Vries & Zan, 1995).

Conclusion

Although constructivism is not a theory of teaching, it suggests taking a radically different approach to instruction from that used in most schools. Instructors need to realize that the best way to learn is not from lectures, but by letting the learners construct knowledge for themselves. People often say that everyone can learn. Yet the reality is that everyone does learn. Every person is born with a brain that functions as an immensely powerful processor. However, traditional schooling inhibits learning by discouraging, ignoring, or punishing the brain’s natural learning processes (Brain-Based Learning, 2001). In order for learners to be able to actively construct their own knowledge, rather than receive preformed information transmitted by others, curriculum emphases, classroom interactions, and classroom dynamics must change in major ways (Green & Gredler, 2002). Changing the traditional ways of schooling is not an easy task though. Just as students do not easily let go of their ideas, neither do school boards, principals, parents, or even teachers.

In the talk of education, Constructivism is a very common word. There is much debate on whether teachers should stick to the traditional way by lecturing, or should they teach in a constructivist way, where the child has to construct the knowledge for themselves. Some may feel that the constructivist theory, that was developed by many psychologists, is the best and most effective way for their child to learn. The students should have a constructivist teacher along with a constructivist classroom to help them discover new things for themselves. Constructivism promotes
increased social interaction and discussion in the classroom, both between teachers and students and between students.

Which is why I keep asking:Where are the lesson plans and class materials???

Robert Lane,

"You also see from reading below that Constructivism requires more classroom resources and teacher interaction instead of less."

The portion of two-way teacher interaction with the students increases. But the portion of one-way teacher instruction decreases.
The constructionist "learning cycle" seems to roughly consist of posing a problem, acquiring relevant information by exploration and/or experiments, combine it with prior knowledge and construct new knowledge out of it.
At young ages the students probably need shorter cycles (maybe 30-120 minutes) which requires more frequent teacher interaction. But with growing age and independence the students might work on their own on longer cycles (maybe one to several days) requiring less teacher interaction.

This suggests that primary school teachers might be overloaded and high school teachers underloaded. Therefore, the optimum student composition in one class might be a mix of several different ages with different needs for teacher interaction.

From the Business Week article:

"Intel's formidable clout with Asian parts suppliers lets it buy key components practically at cost, allowing it to shoot for a sub-$300 price tag"

Apparently Mr. Zhang is unaware that Quanta has similar clout.

""We have chosen to ride on the existing technology curve and drive down the cost that way," says Michael T. Zhang, Intel's general manager working on the project in Shanghai."

Apparently Mr. Zhang is unaware that the XO is riding the same curve down, and, since it is better designed, will always be a good deal cheaper than the Classmate.

"The portion of two-way teacher interaction with the students increases. But the portion of one-way teacher instruction decreases."

I see the OLPC way of using student-centered teaching as trying to increase the amount of student-student interaction. Obvious as there is no extra teacher time available. It is knows that peer-tutoring improves learing results. Also other peer-factors can be recruited.

Winter

Roland,
I don’t think you understand what I am saying…There are fundamental differences between the Teachers’ Cognitive-Constructivism (A mix and Neuroscience and Jean Piaget’s Constructivism) and Negroponte’s definition of Constructivism, which is really Papert’s “Constructionism”.

Negroponte and Papert work at MIT’s media lab: http://www.media.mit.edu/
Inside MIT’s media lab, Papert has a dept. called “Future of Learning”: http://learning.media.mit.edu/

They are actually seperate from the people making the "Scatch" software. (more about them below)

The Cognitive-Constructivist teachers have an association:
http://www.odu.edu/educ/act/index.html
(Association for Constructivist Teaching)

Here is summary of differences:
Piaget’s Constructivism, Papert’s Constructionism: What’s the difference? Edith Ackermann "What is the difference between Piaget's constructivism and Papert’s “constructionism”? Beyond the mere play on the words, I think the distinction holds, and that integrating both views can enrich our understanding of how people learn and grow. Piaget’s constructivism offers a window into what children are interested in, and able to achieve, at different stages of their development.The theory describes how children’s ways of doing and thinking evolve over time, and under which circumstance children are more likely to let go of—or hold onto— their currently heldviews. Piaget suggests that children have very good reasons not to abandon their worldviews justbecause someone else, be it an expert, tells them they’re wrong. Papert’s constructionism, in contrast, focuses more on the art of learning, or ‘learning to learn’, and on the significance of making things in learning. Papert is interested in how learners engage in a conversation with[their own or other people’s] artifacts, and how these conversations boost self-directed learning, and ultimately facilitate the construction of new knowledge. He stresses the importance of tools, media, and context in human development. Integrating both perspectives illuminates the processes by which individuals come to make sense of their experience, gradually optimizing their interactions with the world"

The people actually making the "Scatch" software are in MIT's "LifeLong Kindergarten Dept." within MIT’s media lab: http://llk.media.mit.edu/index.php

“The Lifelong Kindergarten group is fortunate to be located within the MIT Media Lab, a hotbed of creative activity. In one corner of the Media Lab, students are designing new musical instruments. In another corner, students are designing new social-networking software. This type of activity makes the Media Lab not just a good research lab, but a good place for learning, since people learn a great deal when they are actively engaged in designing, creating, and inventing things. Unfortunately, most children don’t get the opportunity to engage in these types of creative activities. In school, they learn specific facts and skills, but rarely get the opportunity to design things ?- or to learn about the process of designing things. Outside school, they interact with electronic toys and games, but they don?t learn how to invent new ones. “
In the Lifelong Kindergarten group, we?re trying to change that. We believe that it is critically important for all children, from all backgrounds, to grow up knowing how to design, create, and express themselves. We are inspired by the ways children learn in kindergarten: when they create pictures with finger paint, they learn how colors mix together; when they create castles with wooden blocks, they learn about structures and stability. We want to extend this kindergarten style of learning, so that learners of all ages continue to learn through a process of designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring.

This Lifelong Kindergarten stuff is based on the theories of Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of Kindergarten:

Friedrich Froebel created Kindergarten:The name Kindergarten signifies both a garden for children, a location where they can observe and interact with nature, and also a garden of children, where they themselves can grow and develop in freedom from arbitrary political and social imperatives. In 1837, having developed and tested a radically new educational method and philosophy based on structured, activity based learning, Froebel moved to Bad Blankenburg and established his Play and Activity Institute which he renamed in 1840 Kindergarten. The kindergarten was essentially tri-partite: toys for sedentary creative play (these Froebel called gifts and occupations) games and dances for healthy activity observing and nurturing plants in a garden for stimulating awareness of the natural world It was a search for metaphysical unity, in which the potential growth to wholeness of the individual child within the natural world would fulfil an harmonious ideal within the mind of God. Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul. To Froebel belongs the credit for finding the true nature of play and regulating it to lead naturally into work. The same spontaneity and joy, the same freedom and serenity that characterise the plays of childhood are realised in all human activity. The gifts and occupations are the living connection which makes both play and work expressions of the same creative activity. W N Hailmann

"I don’t think you understand what I am saying…There are fundamental differences between the Teachers’ Cognitive-Constructivism (A mix and Neuroscience and Jean Piaget’s Constructivism) and Negroponte’s definition of Constructivism, which is really Papert’s “Constructionism”."

And your point?

Piaget is dead. As are Froebel and Montesori. They cannot help us now and we have to do with their books. However, Papert and Kay are alive and can still adapt to help us. We will have to do with the people that can help us NOW.

Winter

Winter,

When all is said and done, Negroponte and Papert are just Product Developers. They make products; they have nothing to with real teachers that teach students everyday. Teachers already use Constructivist means, but it doesn't look anything like Papert. Real teachers are already using computers, but the types of computers they want don't look anything like the OLPC. We have 13 million children living poverty in America and most do not have schools. So, Negroponte going to far off places makes me suspicious. He doesn’t need to go to Cambodia; he can go 100 miles beyond MIT to see desperate poverty. In the real field of education Constructivist teachers are usually the more advanced teachers (Senior Level); they need twice the training. Scratch is a nice toy, but play time is nothing like constructing knowledge in a student’s mind. I have read their MIT papers. Scratch and LEGO Mind Storms were used in after school play time. How many subjects were actually taught with this stuff?

"We have 13 million children living poverty in America and most do not have schools. So, Negroponte going to far off places makes me suspicious. He doesn’t need to go to Cambodia; he can go 100 miles beyond MIT to see desperate poverty."

Whatever we want, neither Piaget nor Froebel are available to help us.

It is sad to say, but the OLPC is limited to governements that want to help their children. It seems the USA is not one of these.

And the ailings of the USA educational system are such that they cannot be ameliated by the OLPC. The problems in the USA lie in different quarters.

Winter

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