Open Letter to Nicholas Negroponte: Its Education Not Laptops

   
   
   
   
   

Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC

Nick, you may have the impression that some people are opposed to One Laptop Per Child because they speak of OLPC's latest activities in less than glowing terms. The criticisms can seem harsh but that is because they see matters that need to be corrected for the good of the program.

They, we, me, really believe that OLPC is a fantastic, exciting, and groundbreaking endeavor. That's why so many of us spend so much time thinking, talking, and writing about One Laptop Per Child.

I am writing to you because many great things have happened regarding OLPC, some sooner than I expected, and I believe these events require OLPC to change its strategy. The Age of Low-Cost Computing has arrived in large part do to your efforts. Job well-done. The Asus eee, Everex GPC, Intel Classmate (the horror!), KPC, and others flocked to a market that you created.

The entry en-masse of commercial companies also complicates OLPC's status as a non-profit organization that produces a good in direct competition with private companies. Non-profits are meant to address public goods not met by the private market. Soon this will no longer be the case.

Education, Not Laptops

It is time for OLPC to get out of the business of making laptops. Move to the next step in a grand strategy. Guide this market and make sure these new XO-inspired laptops help kids "learn learning." Here are my ideas on how to do this. You're a smart guy, you have probably already worked all this out and have a better plan on your blackberry.

Stop calling OLPC a project or initiative. It is no longer a short-term project but a global movement. OLPC should change its business model to reflect this. It should become the Learning Innovations organization. Do the R&D on kids, education, and technology that Everex, Asus, and Intel can't or won't do.

olpc dual mode screen
Focus on Sugar, not laptops

Keep producing the XO but use it as a conduit to spread to innovation to the rest of the industry. Don't compete with Intel. Subsume it. Make sure Sugar can run on hardware such as the Everex, Asus eee, or even desktops. Work with companies like IDEO and Lego to built out peripherals for low-cost science laboratories.

Killer App for Education

I firmly believe that every device and technology needs a "killer app," that is a tool so effective that most people can't remember how they lived without it. The killer app for the PC was e-mail. For some people, Skype was the killer app that made them choose broadband Internet. Laptops lack a killer app for education.

I can name that killer app for the XO right now, English literacy. If kids and adults can consistently use a laptop to learn English, laptops will forever become a standard part of education.

To this end, distribute the laptops on the open market. The more smart, creative people with access to XO's and Sugar, the more innovation you will see in education. Let the XO lead by example, not sales. Add $50 to the cost of the XO to cover the ongoing costs of R&D into learning innovation.

If you sell 250,000 per year, that will give you more than 12.5 million to fund your ongoing operations. There is so much research to be done on mesh-networking and social and collaborative learning applications for mesh networking. My mind spins with all the possibilities.

So there you have it Nick, it is time for OLPC to chart a new course. May you steer well.

Robert Johnston loves his XO. He loves Sugar more. He loves children the most.

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46 Comments

Wow. Great article. You've really said what I couldn't put my finger on. All along I've been trying to tell people, "The OLPC isn't a laptop, it's an education tool." When you think "laptop" you've got something specific in mind. The XO isn't that.

If OLPC focuses on what makes the device (whatever device it is) "not a laptop" then they will succeed in changing education.

- Djeef

That is the most ignorant thing I have ever read.

You don’t get it. OLPC is about a new approach to manufacturing. Imagine a non-profit car company you could DONATE to? One that worked off of donations and a break-even sales model. One that made cars like the new Indian Nano? Or perhaps like the electric car that was killed in the 90's.

Non-Profit manufacturing is the wave of true innovative hope for mankind. OLPC stagnates the bloated operating systems to improve basic usefulness while at the same time creates ground breaking screen design to push computing forward. Suddenly an operating system could become as stagnant and as open as a QWERTY keyboard. For profit companies must always “reinvent” technologies to have something to sell, or stagnate technologies that take away revenues from their current business models.

LONG LIVE THE NON-PROFIT MANUFACTURER!

I agree with the artical and William Harper. If OLPC never produced the laptop or left the market or only sold limited numbers business would have ignored the market for more profitable computer sales. OLPC needs to produce as many XO as possible to create competition and a market for low end laptops.

In the artical the author states that the XO is missing "kill" app and for sure it is, but not from a app not being ready to use but because the killer app has been ignored. The "Killer" app is an office like product and a schedule product like outlook calandar. Sorry to say the education laptop is missing some of the basic foundations of education software, a good word program, spreadsheet, powerpoint and schedule.

I woudl also contend that OLPC wants to sell as many XO as possible to create a market force for DRM free eduction textbooks.

Johnston is clueless. A non profit organisation is going to make laptops which are cheaper, more open, and better designed for this task. What's that? You think I'm wrong? Then why is the Classmate designed by Intel more expensive and less appropriate than the XO-1?

I would love a future where companies competed to make laptops destined to run sugar, but the reality is that no one is interested in doing this at the moment. Intel want to make a laptop for developing countries that runs Windows, and Microsoft, their partners in this are ideologically and financially required to be opposed to what OLPC is doing.

Listening to Johnston at this point would be poisonous to the project.

The XO allows full access to all of the source for everything that is on the computer and it is all written in Python, a very substantial but easy to use programming language. If the kids think it needs a powerpoint application, they will write one. If they think it needs a spreadsheet, they will build one. The central idea is to promote discovery and creative use. Any child who masters the XO will be able to use Word, PowerPoint and Excel without any training. They will have learned to discover how to use computer programs.

I think Dr. Negreponte should continue the G1G1 program all year long, promoting a vast interest in the US and Canada, and as the cost of manufacturing goes down, he can use some of the funds for more educational research.

Since all of the software is open source, contributors from all over the world are participating in creating and improving it. Six months from now, the Activities may look entirely different, simply because of contributions of interested programmers. It is really quite exciting.

Think, for example, of what could be accomplished if Bill Gates had put his 40 programmers on an assignment to work in the Open Source World to improve Sugar and and Activities.

OLPC is a great program, the XO is a formidible little computer, and when you realize that you can reflash it in a few minutes, or can rewrite any portion of the code yourself, it is a remarkable teaching tool.

I wonder what would be the price of the XO if it was manufactured and distributed the "consumer way". Probably much more than $200, with less free software and open hardware involved. Anyway, lets wait and see what PixelQI will have to offer.

About literacy, we should talk about mother tongue literacy, not only English literacy; it might sound bizarre to imperialist united-statians, but empowering all cultures is *the* Killer App. Yes, south-american kids have strange names. Fedex had problem finding my street address in Canada because of one accented letter that was replaced by "+"; apparently, the U.S. shipping infrastructure still can't deal with more than 128 characters...

How arrogant do you have to be to think that you know better than Nicholas Negroponte how to run his own project? Let me suggest how Negroponte would respond to you if it wasn't for the fact that you are obviously an attention sucking whore who would go crying to the media if he did: go f**k yourself. Seriously, what have you achieved in your life that even begins to compare to the work Negroponte has done? Show some respect.

I would like to thank Mr Lavallée for his use of the term 'united-statian'. The term 'american' lumps us in with a lot of people with whom we have no interest in being identified.

Wow. So many negative rebuttals for one man voicing his opinion. My opinion: the OLPC was meant to be both. Before the OLPC, we had nothing integrated in helping children to learn.

We have the hardware platform stabilized at first Generation 1. Now, we either try to reduce the cost of the components of Gen1 or we try to push the design more agressively for a second Generation. Clearly, the OLPC is very new and the market and after market (including the not for profit companies) have yet to bring their ideas of adding to the OLPC. We should keep Gen1 in the channel for at least two to three years and allow for 3rd party support and growth.

The OLPC foundations should now move ahead but here I see should split there expertise and pursue both tracks equally as best they can. Track 1 is to improve hardware and lower the manufacturing costs. Track 2 is to improve the software and learning experience. This also could include how-tos for improving the hardware. Just think of a village repairing or improving their own batch of OLPCs.

Clearly, track 2 could branch out of the OLPC platform and apply Sugar to other hardware platforms. Just like Ubuntu strives to be a Linux distro for the people, so to should Sugar. Also, the educational programs must be improved. I disagree that a 5 year old needs to learn spreadsheets and document management. I think learning tools about the weather, irrigation, crops, and zoology are much more important to a developing nation's youth than Office. We need to think much more basic here and much more from the ground up in what needs to be taught, or more importantly - - what can be learned.

The OLPC is a great start. We have for profit companies looking to dismantle or marginalize a not for profit because they have shown there is a niche (albeit very small) for new computer/software sales. Theuy want money and anything altruistic, if there is any thought to it, is very far down on the list for a company like Intel or Microsoft. (Currently Intel is in a suit from AMD who claims Intel is leveraging other means to remove AMD from potential markets - like what Negreponte is alleging. Also, Microsoft is supposed to pay the EU billions of dollars because they engaged in monopolistic practices - again much like what Negreponte is accusing them of.)

But arguing amongst ourselves, the people who believe there is a choice besides "none of the above" is wrong. We should not naming calling or blasting someone by calling them ignorant. The more we remain divisive or antagonistic to each other, the more of a foothold these other companies will enjoy. They by their very nature are unified and of one goal: to dervie profict by establishing themselves as the sole or overwhelming source for product.

It is okay to disagree and to feel that one direction is better than an other. But once a course has been taken, we must band together to help realize these goals. And that is probably the best thing we can teach the third world how to be really successful - to be one in goal and to achieve such.

All this is about advancing the human race.

Mr Beef, you should forward your friendly comment to OLPC; maybe they won't offer XO-2s to Canadians like me who have no tax credit for giving and getting. I also have no interest to be identified with a country who treat a whole continent as their own (thanks to NAFTA).

"killer app"? "I can name that killer app for the XO right now, English literacy. If kids and adults can consistently use a laptop to learn English, laptops will forever become a standard part of education."

comment from olpcnews /content/localization/learning_language.html

"twext is a great tool. This is what the OLPC needs, a killer application that shows what the XO can be used for. Scratch is another one that lets children create stories, animations and games without programming. Posted by: Jason on May 23, 2007"

thanks, Jason.. see http://wiki.laptop.org/go/WiXi#scratch

google cash to the rescue? for a Computer Science Student there's a great chance that Google, Inc will host the Summer of Code program in 2008. SOC can pay you to improve Twexter, maybe make it work with Scratch.. successful execution a.) connects you with google, b.) pays you $4500, and c.) delivers a killer app for language learning kids using the xo (and many other internet platforms)

see http://twext.cc/go/news#0110:_GOOGLE_SUMMER_OF_CODE_2008
solution simple, risk low, rewards may be many, spam over and out..

Marc, i agree that mother language literacy trumps english literacy and love the quote "empowering *all* cultures".. (so Alexandre believe it or not we are on the same page here)

if you look at twext's design, any language (or dialect) is an independent hub for translation to/from any other.. in no way (other than software traffic control) is twext english centric..

still, i strongly agree with Robert Johnson that focus on english literacy is the killer app and key selling point for the xo.. practically speaking, if xo proves to help the world learn english, world peoples and governments will want more and more of this xo..

human demand to communicate fuels gigantic "communications" hardware infrastructures, phone, tv, radio, internet.. the next big thing is good old wetware: common natural human language.. quiero ex facto lingua franca.. so we can all communicate..

if we integrate xo apps to help us grow multilingual, and help us learn to communicate in a common language, we will deliver a real powerful punch of xo value.. demand for the xo (language education project:) will grow and grow..

english literacy is the killer app for the xo.

Since the OLPC is all about 'empowering' people, shouldn't we ask them if they 'want' to learn English before we decide that they 'should' learn English? Isn't it up to the user to decide what's most valuable to them?
We've alredy decided they shouldn't have XP, or Intel chips.


This kind of talk is why United Statians get accused of cultural imperialism.

"Killer application" for XO ?

That's an obvious one. (Text)books are foundation of education no matter what country or teaching model is. Yet they're expensive to buy for the kids in developed countries and even more so in developing ones and that's regardless of the language. With cost of paper increasing we can expect this to get even worse. On the other hand, XO has a screen (and other features) which uniquely makes it suitable for an excellent eBook reader in many ways better one than the existing dedicated ones[1], not to mention much cheaper.

So:

1) create an e-reader Activity not just focusing on PDF standard but catering for alll open standards (based on FBReader perhaps),
2) e-reader should point to free libraries (eg Project Gutenberg),
3) show teachers how to create (and copy existing paper ones?) local e-textbooks,
4) show how easy it is for kids (and teachers) to collaborate in creating and sharing 'books',
5) show XO to anyone who will listen what a great replacement for traditional paper based books the laptop is (very few reviewers seem to be aware of that) and point out (figures!) to the educationalbureaucrats (and parents) how much they're going to save !

[1] TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home
( http://www.teleread.org/blog/2008/01/13/the-olpc-laptop-as-a-promising-school-and-library-machine-plus-detailed-e-reading-tips-for-people-lucky-enough-to-own-xos-already/ )

Duke wrote:
"the next big thing is good old wetware: common natural human language..
quiero ex facto lingua franca.. so we can all communicate."

Humans are not "wetwares", they can't be flashed like a BIOS...

Being forced to learn a foreign language to survive before mastering our own language can have profound negative impacts. People who already know and use their language very well will learn English (or Klingon) faster and better. The statistics about the world literacy are quite bad, so we should first promote native language literacy in all domains, including computer sciences.

I'm typing this on my XO and luckily I don't use my mother tongue (French, as in those 6 M folks in NE North America that are still struggling) 'cos I wouldn't be able to type a complete sentence for lack of an appropriate keyboard layout. So Marc, I'm the guy who got a Plone Conference 2003 t-shirt you brought back from New Orleans, drop by http://www.openplans.org/projects/olpc-sherbooke, which I'll switch to "olpc qu+bec" since I'm probably the only living soul in Sherbrooke that has an XO, and let's make a FAQ to help folks set up a locale *easily* ;-)

David,
Do you really think children that have never used a PC before that are 6 to 12 years old are going to study python and struggle to find documentation on how to write for the XO? Lets take a moment for reality. If you still think so then think about the fact that a Government buys the XO not a 6 year old and thankfully adults are partical. The laptop needs to come with software for children to use that fits current education models. Hoping somehow that software will get developed by 6 year olds is not pratical.

Hey Duke, post some more info about twext.

In some thirty-five years of following the use of computers in education twext is the only thing I've seen that taps into some of the power of the computer for education. Even if twext doesn't have applicability beyond language learning it still points out that there are ways of doing learning that don't require aping Socrates.

Since twext has some actual applicability to learning, that puts you one up on both Seymour Papert and Nick Negroponte both of whom are long on hot air and short on hard results.

holy frijole.. i'm not saying anyone should do anything.. just stating a fact of huge global demand for english.. the more we connect, the more the demand grows.. soon China will have the largest population of english speakers on earth.. doubtful they'll abandon the middle kingdom mother tongue.. they're just growing multilingual, getting smarter.. problem?

to say people should not learn english is for practical purposes like swimming updream.. in reality, people want to learn english.. people wanna communicate.. quiero ex-facto lingua franca..

do you want to sell the xo? try giving people what they want.. deliver a real, practical educational success story.. sell more xo.

obviously the xo is intercultural and multilingual.. learning language learning will help all of us learn any language we want, even learning forbidden language other people don't want us to learn..

delphi, text *is* the killer app.. can it get better?

marc, sorry the wetware joke bombed.. i don't wanna flash people or force them to do any thing, ok?.. i just want it to be easier to learn any language.. and sell xo's.. regarding mother language literacy first, just yesterday in a separate olpc post, i cited this link:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2005/12/same-language-subtitling.html

summary:
2.) i'm not telling anyone what to do with language, ok?
1.) if xo = world's best english teacher, then sell more xo

Lots of passionate responses here tonight! Lot's of good opinions to consider.

I agree that the XO has opened up markets that have been ignored in the past. If anyone doubts that all they need to do is reread the drama Intel not on board Intel on board Intel not on board...I am also hopeful that Apple, Dell and others will incorporate some of the technology ino computers available for purchase in the US.
The school I was at last year used Laptops and I had Huge issues dealing with them-
1. Dropping or sliding them off the table results in DEATH to the laptop-and guess what little kids move around alot. I actually pulled my back out last year driving to save a laptop that got pulled off the table because one of my little people forgot to take the headphones off. (Yep I saved that Gateway)
2. Schools cannot afford to replace computer batteries every year. After the first year our portable laptops all had to stay plugged in.
3. After year 5 the port on the back pulls away from the mother board and you can't run it off AC power either. Since Gateway made the ports out of black plastic-they couldn't be fixed with purchasing an entire new mother board.
4. Little people have sticky fingers. I can't tell you how fun it was to use a Q-tip and rubbing alchol to clean keys.
5. On the days I was not in the building, others used the computers, which basically ment GAME TIME which bored the kids so they would pull off the keys- Another fun job-reseating those darn keys.

What educators want are devices that kids can handle and use-and not worry about breaking. The XO showed that the technology out there is possible.

As for the futre of the XO?

A non-profit putting together an educational program that uses the laptop as a learning interface has brought alot of discussion to the uses of technology in education. This is in and of itself, a great thing. There are many of us out there using technology in schools to enhance student learning. If anyone is interested just stop by the Classroom 2.0 ning and you can get a feel for what teachers and educators are doing.

My feeling is that the XO project has just begun-how it develops, expands, and deals with market place competition will be interesting.
As for right now-I can't wait until mine comes.

Jeremy said

"The "Killer" app is an office like product and a schedule product like outlook calandar. Sorry to say the education laptop is missing some of the basic foundations of education software, a good word program, spreadsheet, powerpoint and schedule."

Are you out of your mind? You think kids need Office, Outlook, and PowerPoint to *learn*? Calendar: go to school each morning. PowerPoint to ... what? make f***ing corporate presentations to the other kids in the schoolroom?!

I *think* you have won the award for stupidest comment I have ever read about OLPC, but please enlighten us if you meant something different.

Robert, this is a great post. It allows us to correct soo many misconceptions at the same time.

Your advise to Negroponte sounds exactly like when "analysts" adviced Apple to start making Windows PCS in the 90s. It just would destroy the market the OLPC had singlehandedly opened. There is no one standing in the wings to take over the XO, and we would remain stuck forever with these neutered laptops from Intel.

"I firmly believe that every device and technology needs a "killer app," that is a tool so effective that most people can't remember how they lived without it. "

Not really "need", but it helps. The mobile phone was a killer app all by itself. SMS was a completely unexpected cash cow. But your error is that you really cannot plan or design a killer app. No one has ever succeeded in that.

"The killer app for the PC was e-mail."

No, it was the spreadsheet. Email was the killer app for the original internet. Google (search) the killer app for the WWW.

"For some people, Skype was the killer app that made them choose broadband Internet."

So they will say. I bet on (free) porn movie downloads, just like it was for the VCR rental shop.

"Laptops lack a killer app for education."

No, I already see the killer app in the children around me. It is Instant Messaging (MSN) and Hyves/Youtube/Facebook. Children call (SMS) each other to log into IM.

Why this matters for education? Simple, that is the way they learn and do their homework in peer groups.

"I can name that killer app for the XO right now, English literacy."

Sorry to disturb your "united-statedness", but for most children in the world, Mandarin, Hindi, and Spanish literacy are much more important than English. And only after they mastered their local language. The importance of English in the world falls with the exchange rate of the dollar (actually, with the relative GDP of the USA in the world).

"If kids and adults can consistently use a laptop to learn English, laptops will forever become a standard part of education."

Make that Mandarin and Spanish, and I agree. But the book reader part is good too, and the communications and video conferencing might be nice too.

Winter

OLPC is pulling the industry in the right direction, but they need to keep the pressure for as long as it takes to completely revolutionnize the industry.

Everex, Gygabyte, Acer all say they are joining in on the sub $400 laptop business. That is great news. But they need to get down below $200.

And not only do we need sub $200 laptops, we need them to be sunlight readable, usable as ebook readers, provide with Mesh WiFi and HSDPA and WiMax built-in. Also we need them all to be fanless so they have a minimum of 10 hour battery life on an environmentally friendly battery technology as well as the whole laptop should be environmentally friendly in terms of it using absolutely no toxic materials.

OLPC needs to pull Apple, Dell, HP and IBM into this revolution. Then Intel will be forced to adapt itself and deliver low cost, low power chips.

It's about low cost, low power, as long as the whole industry doesn't get it, then it's OLPC's job to make the industry understand it needs to change.

Simple capitalism consists of maximazing profits, and the industry doesn't like to lower the cost too much cause that makes it harder to make a profit. Some intermediaries will be removed once prices are pushed below $200, that's how it is. We cannot maintain the digital divide just because of such intermediaries who want to keep business going as usual.

Good article except leaning 'English' part. Language has never been an impediment for learning & innovation, Look no further than Japan and Germany. Don't impose your ideas on others. Let others decide what's best for them. The OLPC program needs a killer 'Implementation' plan without which it would just remain as a tool.

Binay,
You nailed that one. Implementation plan, imagine that.

My second grader would like to plug into an online curriculum for math, spelling, grammar, research skills, etc.

It doesn't have to run locally, OLPC is a fine network client.

For those with fast internet I can picture some interactive educational web site that has "content bundles" that equal, say, Webkinz or Hot Wheels for access, addiction, and appeal. Thinkin' Things, browser edition?

I'll check out the Classroom 2.0 Ning.

For the third world distribution, there could be a server copy of that site's content that can be loaded up and planted in the mesh network?

What current web sites do readers' children use now for learning?

"Binay,
You nailed that one. Implementation plan, imagine that."

You know one for Nepal, Uruguay or Nigeria? You know someone who can make one? You know where the OLPC project could find one to make it?

All questions that need an answer before anyone can even start. But should we stop all development until we have completed it?

Winter

Skierpage
Yes Children need Word, spreadsheet, PowerPoint and calendar. Children need to learn to write, understand sentience structure, and language, and unless you want children to continue using paper and expensive text books then you will need a “write” like product with a better spellchecker. Spreadsheet for 6 year olds would be used for math and Earth science. Spreadsheets are not the domain of office workers alone, in fact the mother and father of the poor child could use spreadsheet to keep track of inventory, weather cycles, price for products, etc. You know the kind of thing needed to help uplift the poor from poverty. PowerPoint or Presentation is currently used in schools for public speaking, something the poor need to develop advocates for themselves. PowerPoint can also be used for step-by-step instructions on how to do certain tasks, like how to build water filters from local materials or instead of seeing the cow give birth recorded from an XO record program a child could show a slide show. As for calendar, students are assigned homework and group projects and class schedules, a schedule or calendar program will help students keep track of all the work they have to accomplish.

An office worker isn’t a sign of a tool but is a sign of economic capacity, the tools only help to grow economic capacity, lets give poor children the tools they need.

There is no silver bullet here. One has to make one, from scratch, and the one that takes local teachers and parents into account. Talking to the government officials is a non-starter. Winter, no, I don't know of one that exists. As I said before, one has to understand how education is delivered in the third-world. Unfortunately, for most in the US and other developed country, the OLPC is simply a 'geek project' but trust me once you are on the ground, where these laptops were supposed to be used in the first place, you would forget about the laptop all together. The OLPC program is doing this in a reverse way. Let me explain how!!! Imagine you plan to open a store to sell meat, what would you do? Do research to find out whether there is a need of such a store in the neighborhood that you intend to sell, talk to potential buyers, learn about competition(s) and understand pricing etc. etc. What OLPC has done, by simple analogy, is not only opened a store to sell meat but sell pork and after opening the store realized that the neighborhood is primarily Jewish and Muslim. LOL. I know this might be an extreme analogy but not very far from reality. For those who have experienced the education delivery model in the third-world, you know what I am talking about. Schools don't have roofs over, children are taught under a tree, no permanent teachers, teachers absent half of the time, teachers are not paid in time or not paid at all, most children don't attend school nearly 50% of the time as they need to help their parents out in routine chores etc. etc. These are some of the perennial issues of education in the third-world. What children need there are simple writing pads, pencils and trained teachers. In my opinion, that would be a humble beginning. On the contrary, the children in the US and other developed part of the world need XO laptop. Let them use the tools first, learn and perfect the tool, let geeks develop killer applications in the US and then think about introducing the laptop to schools in other parts of the world. I think we are decades away from this. Again, this is not to belittle the intent of the OLPC initiative, which I think is a noble one.

Winter, you ask:
You know one for Nepal, Uruguay or Nigeria? You know someone who can make one? You know where the OLPC project could find one to make it?

All questions that need an answer before anyone can even start. But should we stop all development until we have completed it?

--- Why didn't they ask Nepal, Uruguay and Nigeria what they needed, not just go in and tell them what they should use? And when they say what they need, give it to them (like spreadsheets for example). The people who can write the implementation plan are teachers and parents in those countries.

Story: I have friend from Jamaica. At the end of 8th grade you take a test. Pass and you get government paid high school, fail and you don't. If OLPC can't show exactly how the XO is going to increase the number of students passing that test what good is it? If they're testing algebra but I know phyton...

Also, children need to learn to write with pencil and paper. Penmanship these days is a lost art.

Binay,

"Schools don't have roofs over, children are taught under a tree, no permanent teachers, teachers absent half of the time, teachers are not paid in time or not paid at all, most children don't attend school nearly 50% of the time as they need to help their parents out in routine chores etc. etc. These are some of the perennial issues of education in the third-world. What children need there are simple writing pads, pencils and trained teachers."

True. But the lack of trained teachers is a persistent problem and not easily solved (otherwise it would have been done long time ago right? )- trained teachers are expensive...a kid's XO is always available for her/him...

Delphi,
if a child does not have those things it's because their government made a decision not to provide those things. I find it hard to believe that same government will decide to provide XOs and the infrastructure required to use them.

You know what, the ingeniousness lies in simplicity. You don't have to develop a out-of-the world gizmo to improve children's education in third-world. Start with good teachers and the rest would be automatically taken care of. We tend to think big when the situation doesn't warrant us to.

"Start with good teachers and the rest would be automatically taken care of."

And that is equivalent to just giving up.

Increasing the number of teachers has been the policy for the last half century. It failed, and failed completely.

You say there is no alternative, so we should just give up on those children?

Winter

Binay wrote:

> "Start with good teachers and the rest would be automatically taken care of."

Trouble is, that's not where a government education agency starts.

Where the agency starts is at the top - determining policy, apportioning resources, delineating lines of communication and areas of authority. Sooner or later they get to hiring teachers but that's after all the really important stuff is done.

Does that give you some idea of the relative importance of the lowest-paid professional employees in the agency?

Here's a question for you, Binay - How do you go about reliably and repeatably determining which teacher is good and which isn't?

winter wrote:

> Increasing the number of teachers has been the policy for the last half century. It failed, and failed completely.

> You say there is no alternative, so we should just give up on those children?

If there's no alternative then giving up is redundant. Education isn't happening so, educationally, those kids have already been given up on.

Giving up on an unattainable pursuit would also enjoy the moral superiority of putting an end to the waste of taxpayer's money.

delphi wrote:

> trained teachers are expensive...a kid's XO is always available for her/him...

True, but with a trained - and good - teacher learning will occur. I've yet to see any evidence the same can be said of the XO or, indeed, any computer.

To get back to the article that started this thread, Robert Johnston asserted that English literacy is the "killer app" for the XO. Unfortunately, that's where he leaves the idea providing nothing in the way of support. I wish he would provide some support because while I'm somewhat skeptical of the proposition it does have some validity. English is, after all, the language of international air transport, banking and telecommunications. But to make the leap from the role of English in those specialties to the killer app of the XO? I don't quite see it.

Allen wrote:
"If there's no alternative then giving up is redundant. Education isn't happening so, educationally, those kids have already been given up on."

Actually, the OLPC has tried to find a way out of the dead-end of a chronic teacher shortage. It found a willing ear in some political circles in the developping world who also want to change the dead-lock.

But obviously, there are many people who simply will refuse to stray from the one and only true path: More Teachers or Nothing.

What is the solution is not yet known. But I do hope there is some way out for those children.

But on OLPCnews we have seen people denouncing anything that is not More Teachers since the beginning. Without any sensible argument, though.

Winter

I am not suggesting one solution, technological, over others, human resources (teachers). I am simply making the order in terms of priority. Before you disagree, I earnestly urge all of you to spend a month in a village school in any third-world country and then we can begin an informed discussion.

allen ,

1) "delphi wrote:
> trained teachers are expensive...a kid's XO is always available for her/him...
True, but with a trained - and good - teacher learning will occur. I've yet to see any evidence the same can be said of the XO or, indeed, any computer."

See: Posted by: Maddie on January 12, 2008
"
http://www.globalvision.org/sample/videos/quicktime/how/aftermath.mov
(2 minutes)
from http://www.globalvision.org/program/how/how.html
very interesting. It's a different approach to the same problem but he also concludes that children can learn a lot on their own."


2) "But to make the leap from the role of English in those specialties to the killer app of the XO? I don't quite see it."

I agree. There's no doubt knowledge of another language can give kids an advantage in some situations (and later on in life) but I think the OTP is overemphasising importance, if any, of English for small kids' basic education (and it's important that we emphasise 'basic') in those countries.

Delphi,

This program proved that kids don't need special UIs (like Sugar) and they don't need to be 'taught' how to use computers.

Most of the kids in this program go to schools with teachers. His point was kids need access to the internet, not necessarily their own computer and definitely not that the computer replaces the teacher.

Maddie,

There's much more to HiW project than "learn how to use computer" - basically, it's about research on the process of learning itself [1]:

"Minimally Invasive Education

The central idea behind Hole-in-the-Wall is that groups of children learn on their own without any direct intervention. This was conceptually explained by Dr Sugata Mitra, Chief Scientist of NIIT, as Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). He found that children using Learning Stations required little or no inputs from teachers and learnt on their own by the process of exploration, discovery and peer coaching. The idea of MIE has crystallized over a period of time based on observations and educational experiments conducted at NIIT. "


The results of the project show that kids who took part in it improved academically overall. That applied to both the groups attending school [2] and the 'drop-outs' groups [3]. The theoretical foundations of the project are consistent with constructivist learning theory (as in OLPC project) and the actual findings of the project validate its practical application...


[1] Hole-in-the-Wall, Minimally Invasive Education
( http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/MIE.html )

[2] Hole-in-the-Wall, Research Findings - Academic Performance
( http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/Findings.html#academic )

[3] Hole-in-the-Wall, Research Findings - Performance of Dropouts
( http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/Findings.html#dropouts )

Jeremy,
OK you're sheep-ishly using Microsoft's names for write, presentation, and spreadsheet applications.
Do you have an XO or have tried the OLPC build?

The Write and Browse activities have spell-check capability, though corrections are not currently exposed.

A web page is a thousand times better than PowerPoint for your "step-by-step instructions on how to do certain tasks".
I have high hopes for the coming MikMik activity.

FYI, this week's OLPC News on wiki.laptop.org says "Python-powered spreadsheet (PPSS) seems to be a good choice for integrating into the Sugar environment, while perhaps pulling in some features from GNumeric"

And to all the people blathering on here about how education ought to work and how roll-outs ought to work, go read the *real* news at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/News. "We have been meeting almost every evening with the strategic team of the Ministry of Education to provide feedback and sort out challenges. We met yesterday with the Ministry of Education team, teachers, principals, ICTA, content team and pilot research team to provide detailed feedback of how the project is going so far and to bring up things to be considered for the short and long terms."

Delphi,
Still proves my point that 1 on 1 is not the only way to get this result. These computers weren't even in schools and the ratio was more like 1 (computer) to 20 (children). I'm waiting to see OLPCs results.

http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/Solution.html
For experts, like Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, Hole-in-the-Wall is a ‘Shared Blackboard’ which children in underprivileged communities can collectively own and access, to express themselves, to learn, to explore together, and at some stage to even brainstorm and come up with exciting ideas.

For villagers, it is more like a village Well, where children assemble to draw knowledge and, in the process, engage in meaningful conversation and immersive learning activities that broaden their horizons.

And finally for children, it is an extension of their playground where they can play together, teach each other new things, and more importantly, just be themselves.


http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/new-way-to-learn.html

Integration with the school system - A big advantage of the HiWEL learning station is that it fits in nicely with traditional schooling and seeks to reinforce structured learning through peer discussions, increased curiosity and better retention.

In schools where the Learning Stations were installed, some teachers have reported improved retention and increased receptivity among children. There have also been early indications of constructive in-class behavior and better scores among kids using the Learning Stations. HiWEL Learning Stations thus seek to enhance the effectiveness of overall learning experience by integrating with the schooling system.

----
I found it interesting that their definition of 'collaboration' is 20 kids clustered around one computer whereas OLPC definition is 20 kids emailing each other.

Delphi wrote:
"There's no doubt knowledge of another language can give kids an advantage in some situations (and later on in life) but I think the OTP is overemphasising importance, if any, of English for small kids' basic education (and it's important that we emphasise 'basic') in those countries."

I think you will be amazed for how many children the elementary school language is their first "new" language. And not only in the developing world. And even more will have to learn yet another language to master the national administrive language.

As a well known example, the German Swiss speak an unwritten "dialect" that is mutually incomprehenesible with German (linguists would classify it as a different language). They will have to learn German at an early age, just to read and write. Then, very early on, they have to learn French and Italian (two other official national languages) and possibly, Retro-Romanic. In high school, they will have to learn English.

A company in Zurich once had to hire a person with near native proficiency in 6 (!) languages. They actually had a choice.

And this is a country with only 4 official languages. Many countreis have a hundred or more.

Maddie wrote:
"I found it interesting that their definition of 'collaboration' is 20 kids clustered around one computer whereas OLPC definition is 20 kids emailing each other."

I think Instant Messaging is a better definition, and more alike.

Winter

Maddie,

"I found it interesting that their definition of 'collaboration' is 20 kids clustered around one computer whereas OLPC definition is 20 kids emailing each other."

The definition is the same. It's the availability of different communication tools which enables different means. The very point of mesh networking and design of Sugar and its Activities is to create collaborative environment far beyond your email (or chat) example and unmatched by any other OS. Of course, it's easy to imagine kids sharing their knowledge using XO with ('collaborating') siblings/friends/parents who don't own one - just like in HiW project. But, unlike in HiW project, a small village girl owning an XO is not going to be just a passive onlooker...

Winter,

"I think you will be amazed for how many children the elementary school language is their first "new" language. And not only in the developing world."

Not at all - I'm more than familiar with the phenomena :). I have three kids who are bi-lingual (English, Japanese) and, due to our living in different countries when they were very small, for two of them the first language was English and for one Japanese but having the 'other' language as the language they'd start their schooling in... So I more than appreciate issues related to knowledge of foreign languages. However, for kids in most of the developing countries knowledge of English could be completely irrelevant (although some other foreign language could be useful) for their basic education (and that's were the educational emphasis of OLPC is). Even in a highly developed country like Japan the students' level of English skills (regardless of many years of learning) is generally very poor - however, that in no way stops them in achieving generally very high level of education...

Delphi wrote:
"However, for kids in most of the developing countries knowledge of English could be completely irrelevant"

Then I think I simply misunderstood you, and I agree completely. Most children in most countries will learn some "new" language in elementary school (eg, Mandarin in Guangdong/Honkong). But English is only rarely a good choice there.

Delphi wrote:
"Even in a highly developed country like Japan the students' level of English skills (regardless of many years of learning) is generally very poor - however, that in no way stops them in achieving generally very high level of education..."

Japanese bad English skills are legendary and reputedly the worst in Asia (maybe with the exception of Indonesia). If it is "controversial" for a prime minister to speak English fluently, things must be really bad. ;-)

The fact that, eg, Finish and Hungarian, students score well on both English skills AND general international school tests is mostly to "blame" on their schools being good, not on the fact that they learn English early.

Winter

>How arrogant do you have to be to think that you know better than
>Nicholas Negroponte how to run his own project?

Why can't we learn from Negroponte's earlier attempts (with Papert and Kay)
to make computing available to poor countries? Their aborted efforts at the
French World Center for Computing in the 1980s floundered due to insistence on a
French-manufactured hardware platform.
https://calico.org/a-257-The%20World%20Center%20For%20Computings%20Pilot%20Videodisc%20Project%20For%20French%20Language%20Instruction.html


Now, the price performance of computing in the past 25 years has progressed so
each student can have their own Dynabook/learning platform.

OLPC's role could evolve to something like TAPR (Tuscon Amateur Packet Radio).
TAPR is a non-profit R&D organization which makes references designs for
communications technology. They then license those designs for mass production,
but you can also download schematics and build your own.

OLPC has proven there is a market, but the hardware and software work together
(the laptop is also a data collection device for hands-on science experiments, for example).

I agree with the idea of establishing Sugar as a standard, but am also mindful that general purpose hardware ALWAYS beats more specialized technologies over time.

Other companies will start making kid-friently, dust-proof, water-resistant computers with amazing screens, for developing countries.

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