What evidence is there that One Laptop Per Child is working?
Well, perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence that I have found that this program is working is that everywhere we go, truancy drops to zero. And we go into some places where it's as high as 30% of the kids, and suddenly it's zero.
And we have been doing experiments for you know, before the actual laptop existed for eight or nine years. And by that I mean kids with laptops in remote parts of the world. Best we can tell, all of those kids are in school today; still today, eight years, nine years later. And that's important because there is a belief that children drop out of school because they're needed by their families to work, or the little girls are needed to take care younger siblings. Turns out that's not really true. Kids drop out of school mostly because school is boring and not particularly relevant.
So just statistics on truancy and how long kids stay in school to me is very, very good evidence.
Then we have other things happening that are again, somewhat surprising. For example, in Peru, as many as 50% of the kids -- because they're remote and rural villages in the case of Peru -- are teaching their parents how to read and write. And that is such a game changer in the sense roles of the child are very different. It's not looking at the child as a recipient for whom you have some curriculum that you figured out what they should learn, then they digest it and you test them to see if they've digested it.
This is really actually children being the agents of change. And the self esteem that children get from this, the joy that the parents get from it, the whole sort of village changes. Life changes in a very fundamental way. And when you see that kind of thing happening time and time again...and there are now so many machines out there in so many different places, there are you know, 30 anecdotes a day.
But they all come back to basically showing one thing and that is the passion children have for learning. And when we go to school very often we don't see that passion because the way school is run, and the disciplinary nature of it, and the rote learning are so sort of offensive actually, that children sort of lose that passion more often than not.
And so one of the things I think this laptop will do is be the death of rote learning. Because rote learning is a killer for most of us, and for some people it really excludes them.
How can teachers and students make the most out of a new laptop?
Well, let me do it from both perspectives. In the case of a teacher, what we have to do -- now we, whether it's One Laptop Per Child as an organization or the in-country parent of the project -- is give the teacher enough preparation to have self confidence enough to have the child show them how to use it.
In the case of the child, you don't have to do very much for a child to get started. A lot of people told me at the beginning of this project that you know, you can't just give a kid a laptop and walk away. Well, you know you sort of can actually. You really can, it's quite amazing. You can hand a closed box to a child that's never seen a computer, doesn't use an automobile, and doesn't have electricity at home or at school, and they'll open that box and they'll have that laptop working pretty quickly.
Now, obviously, some guided experience is going to you know, is going to benefit everybody and you prefer that. And what we see is the teachers are very often apprehensive and then very quickly realize this is the best teaching they've ever done in their life.
And so I can give you, let me give you one anecdote. In Uruguay, the President of the country announced that this would be his legacy, One Laptop Per Child. That he would do every single child within two years. And as an aside, they completed that a couple of months ago, so every child in Uruguay has a little green laptop.
When he made that announcement a teacher who'd been teaching for 30 years went to the social security office and asked for early retirement; she said I'm not gonna be able to teach in this new environment so I'd like early retirement. They told her to come back in six weeks. And during the intervening period the laptops arrived in her classroom. So everybody is unpacking them, the kids are using it. Within two days she went back to the social security office and asked for late retirement. It just took her two days.
And we get sort of five comments we get from almost every teacher that's involved. The first comment is that discipline problems go down in the classroom. The second comment is they've never loved teaching so much. The third comment is they've never had parents so deeply involved with school, which is really you know, very, very interesting. The next comment that is almost universal is not that truancy drops to zero, but that the energy level in the classroom is just undeniably different.
And the last comment which is perhaps the only negative one from their point of view is that they just get swamped by email from the kids. And since these laptops can exchange information whether or not there's a cellphone grid or other telecommunications, the teachers suddenly get lots of questions.
Very often kids don't ask questions in class because they don't want to be seen asking a question. In either sense, either they're embarrassed to ask it or they don't want their colleagues to think that they're sort of you know, goody-goodies.
But with the privacy of your keyboard you can ask a question and suddenly the role of the teacher changes and becomes much more active on an individual basis than it had been before.