We all know OLPC as an amazing educational tool for primary school children in the developing world. But is it appropriate for high school students? Will teenagers flock to the XO's kid-friendly design and child-centric Sugar OS?
We're about to find out, as Plan Ceibal just bought 90,000 XO-1.5 high school edition laptops for Uruguayan teenagers with a 25 year loan of $6 million from the Inter-American Development Bank.
XO-1.5 High School Edition
Now what makes a "high school edition" XO-1.5 laptop, and how is it different from an XO-1? The press release says:
The XO high school laptop (XO HS) has the same industrial design as the original XO 1.0. Based on a VIA processor, it will provide 2X the speed of the XO 1.0, 4X DRAM memory and 4X FLASH memory.
The XO high school laptop is designed with a larger keyboard better suited to the larger hands and fingers of older students. It will feature the learning-focused Sugar user interface on top of a dual-boot Linux operating system, with Gnome Desktop Environment that offers office productivity tools.
In addition to all that, high school XO's will come in a new color - blue and white for Uruguay. But will it be enough?
Will teenagers adopt high school XO's?
With the high school edition of the XO-1.5, the OLPC team is trying to have the XO laptop "grow up" with its users. To that end, Claudia Urrea, Education Director for OLPC Latin America says:
"Students who grew up using the XO 1.0 in the elementary classroom will feel very comfortable moving into the XO high school edition laptop."
I love the XO for younger children, but I have great reservations that it will transfer successfully to teenagers. Plan Ceibal has tried XO's for middle school and while we don't know the results of that experiment, I think Plan Ceibal will have problems with high school XO adoption for three very simple reasons:
XO's are "children's computers"
From the beginning, OLPC worked hard to have the XO seen as a child's computer. Everything from its form factor to its operating system and marketing positioning has been effective in linking XO's to young children. And it's been an amazing success - there are few reports of theft, even theft by older siblings or parents.
And that's the first major hurdle OLPC faces with a high school XO-1.5 - convincing image conscious teenagers, who are trying every way to look older, not younger, to adopt a "child's computer". Yes, even if they were using one before, and maybe especially because they used an XO in grade school, I see Uruguayan high school students wanting something different than an XO in blue and white.
Sugar is not teenager-centric
The Sugar Learning Platform rocks the world of young children. The Sugar Labs team has done a great job at exciting children to "learn learning" - I even see my own daughter loving Tam Tam almost as much as ripping off keys from the keyboard.
But it doesn't excite me much as an adult user. Nor does it hold the attention of teenagers who've tried it at our many OLPC Learning Club events. Oh those that want to code are intrigued, but the rest are looking for flashy games or a high-powered text editor that can easily print out a term paper - neither which Sugar can do.
Teenagers want employment skills
As much as we want teenagers to explore and learn with an XO, they (and their parents) have a much more practical hope - to get a job when they graduate. Now some are looking at college, but many will need to have employment skills ready the day after matriculation. How is the high school XO gonna offer that?
OLPC says they'll have age-appropriate learning programs adapted to the scholastic needs of secondary schools. I say they'll make Gnome, not Sugar, the default operating system for teenage XO users. Its there that teens can access office automation tools that are in work-world demand.
Or better yet - iOS4 on the XO!