One Laptop Per Child Miscommunications

   
   
   
   
   

Although the nonprofit project of One Laptop Per Child has a noble cause namely to help improve the education of children in poor countries, there is considerable skepticism, criticism and refusal. The majority of reasons stem from the distribution of tasks and responsibilities between OLPC and the target countries.

The countries' purchase of OLPC hardware binds substantial precious resources. For the planning and execution of the distribution and integration of the revolutionary new tool into the education system the countries are left alone. Moreover OLPC's inherent new learning method called Constructionism has not yet proven its superiority over traditional learning styles. All this and more has been discussed in detail in OLPC News.

I am Roland and I believe there is another reason repeatedly causing criticism: It is OLPC's way to communicate with the public that at least as much as everything else contributes to skepticism. It is not awkwardness that leads to this kind of communication. It rather roots in a dubious set of values. You sense very soon that to the OLPC project leader, public communication is not a tool to create clarity but a tool to steer the public's attention away from uncomfortable topics and even worse things.

olpc map

VAGUE
If you want to find out what the current or any past level of commitment of the countries interested in XO's really are you will have to resort to many different spoken statements from OLPC officials rather than its web site. And even then you only get a vague picture and much confusion.

SELECTIVE
Compared to the quite detailed reports about XO technology and the progress of hardware and software development there is disturbingly little information about the pedagogies and the implementation in the countries. Even if the countries keep their authority over pedagogies and implementation the OLPC project must have some clear scenarios how in their perspective the most promising pedagogies would have to be applied in the classroom. But there is hardly anything to find on this.

There are several past and presently running pilot projects using XO's. But apart form pictures of cheering kids there is very little information available about the experiences made not to speak of any scientific facts. It is even unclear whether the pilots are at all used by OLPC to gather educational experiences or whether it is only for field testing ruggedness the XO hardware and for publicity.

Considering the repeated claim that OLPC is an education project not a laptop project, this imbalance of available information between the educational side and the hardware side of OLPC raises suspicions.

MISLEADING
People new to OLPC who want to inform themselves about what OLPC is about will first check out the wiki and the website. Both sites create wrong assumptions in the reader not by claiming wrong capabilities of the project but by leaving out its limitations. E.g. who can OLPC help and who not? The mission statement up to earlier this year was

"Introducing the children's laptop from One Laptop per Child - a potent learning tool created expressly for the world's poorest children living in its most remote environments."
This definitely creates the impression of helping the poorest kids in the 3rd world with no schools, no teachers, no electricity. What OLPC did not say is that countries, where such educational conditions are common place, can never afford to buy OLPC hardware anyway.

yo-yo power
Potenco yo-yo string power

Moreover, there is a big issue about this small human powered generators to drive the XO's without grid access. This again leaves the impression that XO's are going to be used by millions of kids in the poorest countries without electricity, schools and teachers which simply is not realistic. In this spring (2007) OLPC was forced to change its mission statement to a more realistic but also more vague formulation:

"Our goal: To provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves."
Astonishingly for a "education project" the term education or learning is no longer in its mission anymore...

A second frequent misunderstanding is created by the term "self-learning" which turns up often. It creates the illusion that by the help of OLPC laptops kids would be able to autonomously acquire an education without schools or teachers. However, self-learning in Constructionism means that the learning content is no longer lectured by the teacher but it is actively studied or explored by the kids. This changes the role of the teacher from a lecturer to a guide for the kids on their own journey through the content.

But it does not mean that there is an education without schools or teachers. Of course this changes the teacher's position from a former ruler over (often unmotivated) kids to a servant for (now motivated) kids working in their own pace. Many teachers do not feel comfortable with this change either because they loose their master position and/or because they fear some kids might overtake them. Exactly this is the reason for OLPC's hidden agenda discussed later in this post under "Subversive".

CONTRADICTORY
MIT Professor Negroponte claims that the XO is not primarily intended for classroom usage but rather as a educational spare time activity. However almost all photo opportunities with XOs and kids happen to be in schools. From the mission

:"Extensively field-tested and validated among some of the poorest and most remote populations on earth, Constructionism emphasizes what Seymour Papert calls "learning learning" as the fundamental educational experience."
No OLPC publication shows neither qualitative findings nor quantitative results of such field testing or any reference to such literature. Does it exist? What were the metering methods and the results?

Another contradiction is about the collaboration with Microsoft. Professor Negroponte tells that OLPC incorporated the memory extension ports specifically for the benefit of Microsoft where as Jim Gettys and Walter Bender claim that Microsoft is treated as any other industrial partner.

olpc negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte of OLPC

ARROGANT
Professor Negroponte about the status of field testing which can be found 5:28 minuites into his TED speech:

"This is not something you have to test; the days of pilot projects are over. When people say "well, we'd like to do 3 or 4 thousand in our country to see how it works.." Screw you! Go to the back of the line and someone else will do it, and then when you figure out that this works, then you can join as well"
If the results of those pilot test, that make Nicholas Negroponte so overly self-confident, are so overwhelmingly convincing why are they not published or linked in OLPC's web site? Is this a good way to positively influence the decision makers of target countries? Has India maybe turned OLPC down because of Prof. Negroponte's arrogant attitudes? At 16:40 minutes into the same talk Professor Negroponte deals with critique about OLPC:
"...and people really don't want to criticize this [project] because it is a humanitarian effort. It is a nonprofit effort. And to criticize it is a little bit stupid actually."
It is true that OLPC is non-profit and humanitarian. But OLPC is not going to give their laptops away for free. The poor target countries have to buy them with precious tax money. If the OLPC projects turned out as an educational failure not only this tax money would be wasted and alternative usage of it would be lost but also several generation of school kids might get an even less effective education than before.

It is not like the failure of an ordinary charitable project that in the worst case does not do any harm. If OLPC project fails it will be damaging to people and country. That puts a serious responsibility on the shoulders of the decision makers and more than justifies critical questions. But Professor Negroponte himself seems to carry this burden of responsibility rather lightly and even ridicules those who don't. By the way has Negroponte shown much "response-ability" by responding to those critical questions?

Both attitudes given above are more than disturbing. They make you suspect a dubious set of values. And what could be the reason to appear so frequently in the western media? For the project this seems unnecessary because the funding of OLPC is coming from large corporations and the target countries but not from public fund raising. OLPC neither needs public funding nor public approval in the first world.

olpc gift horse

SUBVERSIVE
OLPC officials admit trying to deceive the education systems by Trojan horse tactics: i.e. they tell countries that the XO laptops are only going to be used as electronic replacements of paper text books without any need of adapting the classroom activities or dedicated teacher training. The actual (constructionist) activities are perused in the spare time of the kids.

What they are not clearly telling is that they speculate that the spare time playing/learning of the kids is so much more interesting to the kids that the school will come under strong pressure to adopt this teaching style forcing the countries to eventually train the teachers later-on. So it is intended to win over teacher resistance from the inside namely by the kids and their parents.

In the western countries constructivism has not been successful so far because of the education system's resistance to adopt it. So OLPC attempts now to achieve a break-through of Constructionism in the third world. And if it is successful there the western countries will be put under pressure to follow that example. This is another Trojan horse inside the first one.

The question is why is OLPC trying to install constructivism using a hidden agenda? Why not by openly convincing the decision makers and the education systems? Because the constructivists were not successful in the first world? Or because their facts may not be convincing enough? Certain is that such kind of hidden agenda nurtures suspicion not trust.

Overall the OLPC's communication harms its cause more than it helps. It would be advisable for OLPC leadership to not only rethink their way of communication but their general attitude concerning openness, transparency and constructive criticism.

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46 Comments

I find that OLPC informs quite well. Of course, they need to be careful of what they say about the current contract negotiations with countries, because Intel and others are using this information to their benefit. Although being a non-profit organisation, they have to hide information from competition.

Spot on.

Constructivism, schmonstructivism.

Cheers, hokusai

Jason,
the information on OLPC's technological side is acceptable eventhough there are still critical gaps. However, aren't you disturbed by the little info that is available on the educational side? Not even links to the most important sites of their beloved constructionism? Not to speak about OLPC's implementation of constructionism in schools.

Don't you find it embarrassing to see the way OLPC's leader has communicated in the mentioned occasions?

Excellent post, Roland. You pinpoint the shortcomings of the project, which are, in my view, the biggest issue with OLPC.

I particularly like this paragraph:

"It is true that OLPC is non-profit and humanitarian. But OLPC is not going to give their laptops away for free. The poor target countries have to buy them with precious tax money. If the OLPC projects turned out as an educational failure not only this tax money would be wasted and alternative usage of it would be lost but also several generation of school kids might get an even less effective education than before."

A lot of enthusiasts forget that while the non-profit nature of OLPC is wonderful, the amount of money Mr. Negroponte is trying to make politicians commit to the acquisition of computers is very large, as it has been discussed here. It is not a matter of Oxfam or USAID bringing aid: it is each nation's money involved. And I for one don't want to simply take Mr. Negroponte's assertions as the only basis for this investment.

Frankly I do not understand why OLPC is not communicating openly about the success of the pilot projects.

If there were no scientific investigations so far then there is still time to do it now. One year delay? So what?

If the results were not favorable or indifferent then you could learn from it and improve the implementation.

If the results were too scientific to understand for the public then Prof. Negroponte should spend some of his time explaining it rather than continuing his media spree that hasn't been very informative on this subject so far.

If the results were positive then it is actually not very smart to keep them back.

If any discussion about constructionism should be avoided to prevent fears and refusal of the local teachers and their unions then this is short sighted and wrong and could lead into disaster.

In any of the above cases openness would increase credibility and trust. Besides, OLPC being a nonprofit project could afford openness and take advantage from it. Whereas their commercial competition might have more reasons to hide things.

I believe that if OLPCNEWS had a broader vision and longer time horizon it could greatly improve its service to the world's children. I have definitely become less trustful of this site's true intentions based on the thread of recent articles...especially this latest one by Roland.

He works very hard to plant the idea that there is a deviousness...and evil master plan behind the idea of getting laptops to the poor of the world. His whole Trojan Horse analogy and spin which indicates that there is somehow an attempt to coop traditional education gives little credit to the intelligence of those running the education systems in the benefiting nations.

Just for one example...all of the great traditional teaching material of any of the countries...previously only available to children of means...will now become…at the direction of the education organizations, available to the poorest of kids. What in the world could Roland’s purpose be in coloring that as some devious outcome???

Why not more constructive criticism...weighing in on how such a gigantic undertaking be accomplished better and faster and in the end more successfully. What if Roland were a parent in a small village...himself the child of generations without decent educational opportunity…and faced again with no prospect whatsoever of ever seeing his own child with an opportunity to change the family's destiny. Would he then appreciate or scorn an effort that seems to want to derail such a wonderful undertaking.

OLPCNEWS it is time to lift/help not add additional burden to this effort. In your hear of hearts what are you trying to accomplish here? It is easy to tear away everyday as others work hard to construct something positive. It is much harder to think constructively and suggest yet new ways that such an undertaking can be achieved. I for one will be watching more closely to see what you are truly up to. Are you builders or destroyers? The world only moves forward on the backs of the former.

I sincerely hope your true intentions aren't really to tear down these laptop projects. If so you do a massive disservice to the children of the world. That’s not something most people/organizations would be real proud of!

James,
I absolutely see the great potential of OLPC to revolutionize education not only in the 3rd-world but also in the first one. I admire the technological achievements of OLPC so far. And I really wish OLPC to become a success.

However, this does not blind me on the risks, shortcomings and the potential damage. As I pointed out I find it irresponsible to try to launch such a big project using the countries' money without having documented some facts about the chances for educational success. If OLPC fails it seriously damages children their country and computers will be banned from classrooms for a very long time. Don't you think it is also in the childrens' interest that these risks are addressed properly as far as humanly possible?

And the strange way OLPC communicates does not increase my trust that OLPC has covered this issue sufficiently but is just not publically telling it. In case of India there might indeed exist the possibility that Negroponte's way of communication had to do with their refusal. Now would that be in the interest of India's children? Shouldn't OLPC be more receptive for adjustments and corrections? Working for a large humanitarian project does not make you infallible, not even in the case of Prof. Negroponte.

James wrote:

"In your hear of hearts what are you trying to accomplish here?"

Excellent question, James!

The answer is very simple: the purpose of OLPCNews and Roland and Eduardo and I and every other person asking probing & legitimate questions is to avert a catastrophe, where poor kids (their country's money is their money) all over the world will use VERY limited resources to buy into a project that might not deliver as promised.

That's the same reason most fair-minded people are asking for pilot projects.

The same reason poor governments are reluctant to spend money.

The same reason Negroponte's word is not and can not be enough...

James wrote:

"In your hear of hearts what are you trying to accomplish here?"

Excellent question, James!

The answer is very simple: the purpose of OLPCNews and Roland and Eduardo and I and every other person asking probing & legitimate questions is to avert a catastrophe, where poor kids (their country's money is their money) all over the world will use VERY limited resources to buy into a project that might not deliver as promised.

That's the same reason most fair-minded people are asking for pilot projects.

The same reason poor governments are reluctant to spend money.

The same reason Negroponte's word is not and can not be enough...

James,
I absolutely see the great potential of OLPC to revolutionize education not only in the 3rd-world but also in the first one. I admire the technological achievements of OLPC so far. And I really wish OLPC to become a success.

However, this does not blind me on the risks, shortcomings and the potential damage. As I pointed out I find it irresponsible to try to launch such a big project using the countries' money without having documented some facts about the chances for educational success. If OLPC fails it seriously damages children their country and computers will be banned from classrooms for a very long time. Don't you think it is also in the childrens' interest that these risks are addressed properly as far as humanly possible?

And the strange way OLPC communicates does not increase my trust that OLPC has covered this issue sufficiently but is just not publically telling it. In case of India there might indeed exist the possibility that Negroponte's way of communication had to do with their refusal. Now would that be in the interest of India's children? Shouldn't OLPC be more receptive for adjustments and corrections? Working for a large humanitarian project does not make you infallible, not even in the case of Prof. Negroponte.

James, if you wanted to bet half of your neighbor's money on a hunch of yours and promised to give him 95% of the prize, would you be surprised if he asked you a few uncomfortable questions? Would you think he is stupid not to take the brilliant chance?

Yes, you're right. It depends on the hunch. And so far we know very little about it.

James.. some folks agree with you.. people i send to this site say, huh?.. overall tone feels negative and bitter, projecting superciliousness and told-you-so superiority while complaining about olpc leadership arrogance.. hatred of constructivism here might infect capacity to criticize, uh, constructively :)

with intent to support alternative points of view, backed up by some real evidence, i'm trying to contact the "Hole in the Wall" project, begging them to share with olpcnews their story of an ongoing test showing that poor kids, without teachers, can use computers to successfully construct learning: http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/Findings.html#P2P

but it's starting to feel like, why bother?

Roland and troy.. your responses to James get right to the point, valid, short and sweet.. (still both of you gotta get digs into Negroponte),. might your message have a *much* better chance to be heard and actually acted upon if you can bear to lighten up a little on the personal attacks?

i mean, look above.. a picture of Negroponte, bullets everywhere: arrogant, decietful, bad, rotten, core.. nothing good.. WTF? the overall message here at olpcnews, in words, content may be spot-on accurate.. if so, congratulations on being "right".. and good luck trying something new :*

but the *style* here feels rather negative and.. encouragement-challenged.. some feel style says much more than the actual words.. the negative style here, in my opinion, may prove to be counterproductive in the end.. :(

I may be wrong, but I am guessing that part of the communication problem is due to the fact that olpc has, from what I understand, only 14 staff members, all of whom must be just frantically busy, considering the magnitude of the project they are undertaking, not to mention the great speed at which they are proceeding.

Duke

I can assure you that I have NOTHING whatsoever against Negroponte: I don't know the guy, I don't work for the "competition", I don't think Intel's classmate is better than the XO, I don't know what Negroponte's intentions are, I don't think the guy is evil.

As I have repeated many times before, my only problem with the OLPC Project (and this applies to ANY other project, no matter who it comes from) is the lack of testing. Too big a decision to make on faith alone.

Remember: Negroponte has the best intentions, but it is VERY possible the guy is completely wrong in his vision. So, why not put his theories to the test before poor countries shell out much-needed money?

Do you think my position is unreasonable, Duke?

Troy,

"The answer is very simple: the purpose of OLPCNews and Roland and Eduardo and I and every other person asking probing & legitimate questions is to avert a catastrophe..."

Catastrophe ? It's this kind of overblown language which undermines OLPC critics' arguments.

Look at things this way: at the very least the kids will have access to educational (e)books at a fraction of the cost of purchasing traditional books. Everything else, like general internet access, being able to communicate with others (email, IMs), word processing and educational software comes almost as a bonus...

As to constantly questioning kids being able to learn by themselves given the right environment I have the following (and all too common) example: when my kids were still very small we tried to teach them (thru their mother's and teachers lessons) their mother's native language but with very little success. We were completely amazed when we discovered they could speak the language almost fluently after only a few months visit to their mother's country were they 'learned' the language just by speaking to family members and while playing with kids at the playground...

I have to agree with Duke.
Maybe I need to send Wayan something with a positive message to counter the doomsayers...

Delphi

Anecdotal data doesn't count. I'm pretty sure anyone can come up with some story (real or apocryphal) to support any argument:


I can tell you about the baby in Brazil who fell 20 stories and didn't suffer a broken bone. That's not enough evidence to support the theory that babys can withstand 20-story falls!

Same concept applies to the OLPC PRoject: the few anecdotes of people doing wonderful things under incredible circumstances is not enough data to support Negroponte's theories.

That's why pilot projects are needed, so that he can show that his anticipated results can be consistently repeated under controlled conditions. It's called the "scientific method".

***********************
The principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.

Source:

http://www.answers.com/topic/scientific-method

**************************

So far, there is VERY LITTLE scientific about Negroponte's strategy for incorporating the XO into the classroom, as Roland so eloquently put it in perspective with his great article.

More than rose-colored glasses will be needed before countries decide to jump on the bandwagon...

And yes, it would be a real catastrophe for the poorest people in the world to spend so much money without getting anything in return.

troy you are are so unreasonable :) no worries.. the little i know of olpc deployment parameters makes me agree that more flexible olpc practices may prove more productive.. proof of concept via testing, as you so unreasonably suggest, may induce needed sales..

me? no clue, but if olpc=open system, why not accept orders from rich geeks (i bet a 250,000++ minimurm would sell before july in usa/europe/asia).. /. .. let big kids play with the new toy, see what happens.. what harm? more learning tools developed? more sales?

again, from *way* out of the loop, without knowledge or context to understand what the tiny little olpc team wants to do and the challenges it faces, i find it difficult to offer them much worthwhile advice..

you guys seem more informed.. all i can tell you, from torturous personal experience, is that it is *not-at-all* easy to do anything new in this world.. even if it looks obvious and easy..

re: negroponte bashing at olpcnews, what does it serve? how does it affect prospective buyer perception toward the olpc? what is the desired response to criticisms offered here? is the tone of criticism here inducing this desired response?

re: olpcnews content.. would a report on a semi-related study of minimally instructed poor kids "learning learning" w/ computers maybe give us a more fair and balanced perspective?

http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/findings.html

if i wrote the story it'd probably be fluff.. maybe better a critical analysis could frame the story, highlighting every conceivable negative angle to further discredit this crap about "learning learning"..

:*

again.. words are cheap, even if they might be right.. ask any advertiser, humans take action based on emotions.. would the tone being set here, if more flexible and encouraging, produce the desired outcome of giving kids strong learning tools sooner rather than later?

really, for the price of three text books, whole families get access to gutenberg, wikipedia, wixi 8P etc etc..

the point is, can criticism here be more constructive? how do opinions here actually influence success of project? is the tone being set here constructive or destructive?

are these questions unreasonable? troy? roland? wayan?

Troy,

"Anecdotal data doesn't count. I'm pretty sure anyone can come up with some story (real or apocryphal) to support any argument:

I can tell you about the baby in Brazil who fell 20 stories..."

Don't be silly - the example I've given is well known to all who witnessed small kids (their own or other's) rapidly learning a new language when placed in a foreign language environment...

Troy,
"And yes, it would be a real catastrophe for the poorest people in the world to spend so much money without getting anything in return."

You've completely ignored the point I've made already, so let me repeat again:
at the very least the kids will have access to educational (e)books at a fraction of the cost of purchasing traditional books. Everything else, like general internet access, being able to communicate with others (email, IMs), word processing and educational software comes almost as a bonus...

Duke,
you are right that doing something is harder than talking about it like we do here. We try to be thought provoking in those who do something in order to help prevent possible damage and in those watching in order not to believe everything blindly what they are told.

The main problem is the following: what will yield better educational results? Either to implement OLPC infrastructure or to use the same money for improving traditional style education. I believe that OLPC has the possibility to be the far better choice if it is implemented the right way. (If not it can also be damaging.) But I would like to see more evidence than was available so far.

Yes, the OLPC core team is small and hard working. But working hard does not yet automatically make them right. Most of OLPC's public communication is done by Prof. Negroponte. That's why much criticism is directed to him. Not because it is a personal issue. And my point is not that everything is wrong what OLPC is doing. My point is that not everything is simply perfect but there are also some wrong things with OLPC. You are disturbed by my tone.
Are you not also disturbed by OLPC's missing information and strange communication? I would rather like to discuss this than the perceived tone.

Delphi,
As far as I know (I don't have the right link ready at the moment) the money spent per kid on OLPC is in most countries higher than what their paper books costed so far. So the savings on books are only partially paying for the XOs.

Duke,
by the way, thanks for your link. What we need most for a more constructive discussion are more facts about the new educational methods. Everybody who has some or knows where to find it is very welcome to share it here at OLPCNews.
I would love to have my post proven wrong by hard facts.

Roland,
"As far as I know (I don't have the right link ready at the moment) the money spent per kid on OLPC is in most countries higher than what their paper books costed so far."

It would be interesting to see some real figures here but I think it's safe to say that in those location the supply of paper books is rather restricted in both the scope and numbers. It's obvious that having access to electronic books would change this situation for the better dramatically.

Delphi wrote:

"Don't be silly - the example I've given is well known to all who witnessed small kids (their own or other's) rapidly learning a new language when placed in a foreign language environment..."

And, once again, I say it has nothing to do with Negroponte's vision being right or not.

Yes, kids jump and play; they like to explore and they like to learn; kids are full of wonder and they are the future of every country. Kids can also learn new languages when immersed in a society that speaks the new language.

All that, however, does not prove or disprove Negroponte's theories. More than a transparent little sophism is needed to support the OLPC Project's grand vision.

Delphi wrote:

"at the very least the kids will have access to educational (e)books at a fraction of the cost of purchasing traditional books."

That's called "Happy Accounting": there is no evidence whatsoever that the process of creating or licensing educational ebooks will be a fraction of the cost of traditional books. There is evidence the ebooks will even be available for purchase!

"Everything else, like general internet access, being able to communicate with others (email, IMs), word processing and educational software comes almost as a bonus..."

More 'Happy Accounting'...

There are serious costs associated with internet access (when available!) in the third world - are you factoring the cost?

'Educational software' is not free - have you factored the cost?

I propose that you ask yourself the following question: 'How come nobody, so far, shares my vision? How come nobody has placed any orders? How come nobody wants to make use of this wonderful opportunity?'

A dose of reality is recommended.

Roland, and Others at OPLCNews,

Please consider a couple of things: First your own messages in light of what you are suggesting to OLPC leadership: Roland says: "Overall the OLPC's communication harms its cause more than it helps. It would be advisable for OLPC leadership to not only rethink their way of communication but their general attitude concerning openness, transparency and constructive criticism.” How do you think you stand up?? Are you harming your own stated cause…by firing volley’s of unsubstantiated opinions at OLPC.
Secondly…you claim you are trying to help? If that is indeed the case…then why not do some serious thinking and some serious work to insure that your blog is really relevant in moving the world forward! One idea would be to provide a positive forum for a serious discussion of alternatives for addressing the roadblocks and challenges of the project. That is to provide a mechanism for the airing and vetting of alternatives intended to help solve the challenges as they occur. I am reminded of the comparison of the chicken and the pigs level of commitment to a ham and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved only as a spectator while the pig is wholly committed.
Destructive sideline sniping/nitpicking billed as well intentioned isn’t new. There is a very famous and highly acclaimed speech of nearly 100 years ago…still often quoted when it comes to describing the lot of those individual giving their all to make positive things happen in this world… versus those that would like to make people think they are helping things but are really doing much more harm than good.
It is referred to as the “Man in the Arena” speech. You folks at OLPCNEWS should choose where you stand on this project. For, against or neutral…and be honest and diligently seek the truth. As you will note in the quote below…the lot of the man in the arena is far more challenging than dreaming up pot shots and innuendoes to deliver from the side.
Gentlemen…the work is getting done in the arena not on the side lines…there is no reason why you can’t join in the effort by insuring that you are always adding constructive criticism and ideas.
Jim Fallgatter

Theodore Roosevelt
26th President of the United States
CITIZENSHIP IN A REPUBLIC
"The Man In The Arena"
Speech at the Sorbonne
Paris, France
April 23, 1910

Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities - all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The rôle is easy; there is none easier, save only the rôle of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride of slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength….

The rest follows at: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html

James,

"Why not more constructive criticism...weighing in on how such a gigantic undertaking be accomplished better and faster and in the end more successfully."

I think here's proof that we have a very different understanding of what is constructive criticism. You are assuming that OLPC, as it stands right now, should be accomplished better and faster. I don't.

Not wanting to repeat everything I've stated in this blog and in many other places, I have to say just three things:

1. OLPC purports to offer a full solution to educational worries by selling (not giving away)a computer that has to be adapted locally, at a significant expense, while being designed under a set of educational principles that may or may not be shared by all the potential stakeholders. This is an area of conflict, that has to be dealt with considering the opinions of all the stakeholders, unless you want to impose such a solution, with all the potential consequences, including political ones, in each and every country involved.

2. This product, though created by a non-profit with the best intentions, implies a significant investment. It is a buyer's right to establish conditions for this acquisition, and for those affected by this acquisition, i.e. taxpayers, schoolchildren and assorted stakeholders, to put a hard gaze on it and ask difficult questions. This is part of the democratic process and accepted as a right any citizen holds. Steamrolling politicians to acquire computers (while talking about Trojan Horses, something done by the OLPC staff, not us commentators) is a recipe for conflict, graft, kickbacks and a variety of disgraceful activities. Pushing public opinion into not looking hard into the subject "for the sake of the children" happens to help such illegal activities, even if done for good reasons.

3. Implementation of such a program requires careful consideration of as many as possible costs involved, including hidden costs, operating costs and maybe replacement and maintenance. To simply assume, as it has been done in these comments, that the XO will be a less expensive replacement to textbooks can only be done after some minimal analysis of costs involved. as At least in my country, textbooks are provided to schoolchildren for free, and even for those kids at private schools, they don't cost over 20 USD each. I'd love not to pay 140 USD for school materials each year, but I'm not sure that things will go that smoothly and that after any kid is getting his or her XO, they won't be having to pay for other school materials since money to provide them has been spent in the computers. At least, I demand analysis and commitments for this not to happen.

I don't think I'm being unreasonable. I do think I'm not a believer, and I don't intend to be one after many years dealing with the realities of living in my country and seeing too many bright ideas getting burnt by mismanagement, overenthusiasm and poor planning, even if corruption is kept at bay.

Roland

Maybe you look in the wrong places for information:

Roland said:
"Frankly I do not understand why OLPC is not communicating openly about the success of the pilot projects."

Well, Roland, have a look at

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/News

I know no other organisation that reports in that detail what happened where. And if this is still not enough, why don't you volunteer to report for them instead of just criticising?

I find it quite interesting that everyone ganging up on Roland for being negative didn't cheer when Mario went positive on OLPC http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_xo_replace_books.html

I guess there are many people who only want to hear the happily tech-focused, but education results lacking "News" from Walter Bender, and yet not ask difficult questions about the hundreds of millions dollars that OLPC wishes poor countries to spend on their dream.

No matter, there is one sure way to change the tone of posts on OLPC News: submit a post. Roland did. Now how about you?
http://www.olpcnews.com/commentary/olpc_news/write_for_olpc_news.html

James,
******
"..by firing volley’s of unsubstantiated opinions at OLPC."

Please, detail which of the opinions in my post are unsubstantiated and why.

"One idea would be to provide a positive forum for a serious discussion of alternatives for addressing the roadblocks and challenges of the project."

This sounds reasonable. You know that OLPCNews also welcomes your posts. Why not start with and article series about your own suggestion? I would certainly welcome it. By the way I have also prepared less critical and more informational article on constructionism that will appear soon. What we need the most are articles with facts on the education side of OLPC.

The-Man-In-The-Arena-Speech:
"...and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,..."

In this case failing will do serious damage to kids, taxpayers and school computing.So it would be better to work on the risks before somebody is "daring greatly".

Jason,
******
Of course, I regularly read this news section. It is detailed but concentrates on hardware and software. I would love to see something similar on the progress of past and present pilot projects and OLPC's intended educational methods in school.

Aren't you surprised that a project calling itself "education project" has no substantial and detailed information about their intended way to educate in its website or links to it?

Troy wrote:
"That's why pilot projects are needed, so that he can show that his anticipated results can be consistently repeated under controlled conditions. It's called the "scientific method"."

I would like to comment on your request for scientific data on educational effectiveness.

The short answer: There is VERY little scientific evidence on ANY educational method. There is even little scientific evidence on the benefits of education itself. What seems to be "proven" is, that teacher guidance helps, studetn choice might help a little, and transfer of learned material to use in the world outside the school may be as low as 10%.

Troy, the evidence you ask from the OLPC has never been delivered for ANY educational intervention.

The long answer is, that this is all horribly difficult to measure.

You ask for a pilot project? That is no scientific evidence. A pilot project gives you absolutely ZERO information on long term beneficial effects in education. A pilot project can tell you whether the laptops are usabel, and it can give you information on bottlenecks and technical problems.

Real scientific evidence calls for a study with one or more control groups of a hundred or more children each.

The target population should be carefully profiled. Research questions and interventions should also be carefully designed ("does it help?" is NOT a good research question).

Ethical commissions in source and target countries must be consulted for consent. All parents and community leaders must be consulted for informed consent. Schools, teachers, and children recruited.

As you are experimenting on children, the design and legal paperwork alone will cost you 2 years (I am not kidding).

Then you must run the intervention for a full year, at least. Collect data (pre- and post test), and analyse them. Then they must be peer reviewed and published before they can be trusted. 2 more years. In total, I estimate 5 years at a minimum.

THAT is real scientific evidence. And it simply doesn't exist.

It is a real challenge to find rigorous scientific studies that show that pen&paper is better than wax tablets, that school books are better than a library, that libraries help at all. Even finding data on the best class size, eg, 20 vs 30 children, or group size versus teacher's assistent, is difficult.

Winter

Rob Winter,
there must be some standardized score tests which could be applied to OLPC pilot projects and compared with local traditional education and with 1st-world traditional education.

I know that such scores do not measure creativity or learn learning. But measuring just literacy and arithmetics is better than measuring nothing at all.

So far all opposing comments on my post have dealt with the tone of it or what I should do instead of criticizing OLPC. But nobody has commented on the facts and arguments in my post.
If you do not agree with those facts and assessments then attack them in your comments.

If you are not puzzled by the unanswered questions left by OLPC that I pointed out then you may have good answers for them. Please share.

"there must be some standardized score tests which could be applied to OLPC pilot projects and compared with local traditional education and with 1st-world traditional education."

Indeed, but if you talk to a "specialist", they all have their qualms about standardized test scores. However, we could indeed use literacy, or time to learn to read as a proxy measure.

Then we need some classes, say 100 children, that will be supplied with laptops and suitable software, and another group of classes, another 100 children, that won't. Both groups must be identical and must not be in contact.

Then we do a pre- test on reading before they start learning to read. Then we run the reading program for 6-9 months, and do a post-test. We also do all kinds of intermediate tests. We compare reading ability before and after for both groups and we are ready?

Ah, but it is known that for continued literacy, 4 years of reading experience are needed. Which means, that if a child learns to read for one year, and then has nothing to read afterward, she will become illiterate again. So we must factor in the way the interventions increase the amount of reading materials.

Moreover, the children with the laptops will use email, IM, the internet, and other reading materials. So they will get more experience. Is this allowed? It does really mess up the statistics on the educational software. On the other hand, it IS part of the intervention.

Now we have one group of children getting laptops, the others won't. Will the children, and parents, that do NOT get a nice laptop not feel disadvantaged? Will that decrease their willingness to participate? So we offer them a laptop too after the study? But that does alter their motivation. Maybe they will not be a good control group anymore?

And how do we explain this intervention to the ethics commision? If the laptops are bad for education, one of these groups of children might end up with bad literacy. How to handle that? Do we get permission to do such a risky intervention? Not only from the target nation, but also from the ethics commision in the country of the testers?

You see, thing are never simple if you experiment on children.

Winter

Troy,

1) "And, once again, I say it has nothing to do with Negroponte's vision being right or not.
..Kids can also learn new languages when immersed in a society that speaks the new language."


So first you try to dismiss the phenomena of kids being able to rapidly learn by themselves a foreign language when placed in that environment as "anecdotal data doesn't count" and now you concede it being real but "it has nothing to do with Negroponte's vision being right or not".

When we decided for our kids to spend some time overseas one of the main aims was for them to, finally, learn that particular language - in other words we decided to 'construct', if you wish, an environment in which this would be most likely and efficiently achieved. This, of course, as a classic example of 'learning by doing', goes into very hart of constructivism...

2) "there is no evidence whatsoever that the process of creating or licensing educational ebooks will be a fraction of the cost of traditional books. There is evidence the ebooks will even be available for purchase!"

Of course there are e-books which cost money. There are also thousands ( 20,000 made available by Project Gutenberg alone) which are free...

3) "Educational software' is not free - have you factored the cost?"

Some educational software already comes with XO machine. I gather you're not very familiar with many other which will be relatively easy to made run on XO being basically a Linux+GTK+Python machine.

Rob Winter,
do both test samples have to take place in the same school? Maybe there are already earlier test results of kids the right age in 3rd world classes that could be used as comparison.

"do both test samples have to take place in the same school? Maybe there are already earlier test results of kids the right age in 3rd world classes that could be used as comparison."

Absolutely not in the same school for contemporary test/control groups! These children should not be in contact.

Nnormally not a good idea to use "historical" results as a control.

The mere fact that researcher descent on a school and perform tests will fundamentally alter the interactions in the school and the motivation of teachers and children.

So, if you compare results for last year's children with this year's children with the control (=no-laptop) intervention, you tend to see stark differences. So the two groups should be treated equally, but one should get the target intervention, the other either non, or a control intervention, eg, the target groups learning materials in book form.

Winter

Delphi wrote:

"There are also thousands (20,000 made available by Project Gutenberg alone) which are free..."

Look at the Project Gutemberg book distribution by language (below). MOST OF THEM are in English. The OLPC Project needs RELEVANT content in LOCAL languages (not ot mention the fact nobody knows how good, accurate or reliable those conversions might be...

Afrikaans (3)
Aleut (1)
Bulgarian (6)
Catalan (15)
Cebuano (1)
Chinese (69)
Czech (2)
Danish (18)
Dutch (266)
English (18617)
Esperanto (27)
Finnish (390)
French (1035)
Frisian (1)
Friulano (4)
Galician (1)
Gamilaraay (1)
Gascon (1)
German (444)
Greek (6)
Hebrew (4)
Hungarian (7)
Icelandic (5)
Iloko (3)
Interlingua (1)
Irish (1)
Iroquoian (1)
Italian (109)
Japanese (3)
Khasi (1)
Korean (1)
Latin (45)
Lithuanian (1)
Mayan Languages (2)
Middle English (5)
Nahuatl (2)
Napoletano-Calabrese (1)
North American Indian (1)
Norwegian (9)
Old English (3)
Polish (4)
Portuguese (99)
Romanian (1)
Russian (8)
Sanskrit (1)
Serbian (4)
Slovak (1)
Spanish (150)
Swedish (35)
Tagalog (54)
Welsh (9)

I'm done with this debate. Have a nice weekend!

OLPCNEWS Should Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!

There is another old adage out there that you might have heard: While the "doctors" debate for the patient it is too late. There are an estimated one billion elementary aged children in the 3rd world that do not have the incredible benefits and advantage computers are now delivering to the children of the first world.

Where have you guys been?? Do you have your heads in the sand. Do you really doubt that computers are helping the children and people of Europe, America, etc. excel at an ever increasing pace..unintentionally but just the same...rapidly widening the already large gap between the have and have nots of the world and leaving the children of the 3rd world to continue to eat dust.

You yourselves are using computers everyday to great advantage including a world-wide audience for your thoughts…and perhaps have been since you were very young…yet you would add doubt about the benefit to others of the same while posturing yourselves as the protectors of education methods and intuitions throughout the world. How generous of you!! Do you think the educators of the world are stupid??

I have traveled through over 100 countries of the world…and I can honestly say that I never have met stupid teachers nor teachers without vision. I have only met educators that lack tools. They almost all have had a surprising knowledge of the rest of the world and they have always had a wish list for their students.

Do you NOT know that there are over 15 different low cost laptop programs being developed by nations throughout the world right now. OLPC is hardly alone in recognizing the value of getting these tools into the hands of their children. Are you right and the rest of the independent thinking world wrong? See the reference that follows:

World Bank Guide to Low Cost Computing Device Initiatives. You will find here a quick guide to low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world.
http://www.infodev.org/en/Publication.107.html

Perhaps you care to continue to burn a bunch of negative energy trying to protect these countries and organizations from their visions of how they can help their poor and disenfranchised. Why don’t you just come out and call them all ignorant! Explain to them that you really know what is best for them. That they should hold up now and test and delay per your design for a couple of years…and oh by the way…send another 100 million young people into the workforce without a hint of computer knowledge.

Again…how considerate of you. Yes…lets see if this works “perfect’ before we get going. My god…have you guys never read about what it takes to built an organization, launch a new product, marshal the resources to get something manufactured, change negative attitudes and fight against entrenched and protected positions?? Do you not know that introducing new methods and devices is ALWAYS an iterative process? You must to start someplace! You put your very best foot forward under the circumstances...but you always put the foot forward...or you are lost! This isn’t a science project. This is the real world and real people’s destinies are at stake.

I again suggest that you guys do what you can to be constructive. Don’t throw out red herrings of doubt. Instead of acting like you know what is best for the teachers of developing nations…instead ask the teachers of the developing nations to share their thoughts on how they will implement and use these devices if/when they arrive. Why not, while neutrally gathering and reporting the OLPC activites of the world also provide a forum for ‘Best Practice’ discussions or the like.

Your blog can be a very relevant and powerful contribution to moving the world forward. You can step into the ARENA instead of ‘observing’ from the side lines and posing question after unsubstantiated doubt raising question…without answers.

An example of this negative non-productive bias is Troy’s uninformed post:

“There are serious costs associated with internet access (when available!) in the third world - are you factoring the cost? 'Educational software' is not free - have you factored the cost? “

Troy, nobody expects you to know everything...but you demean yourself and undermine your effectiveness when you act like you know something and you don't. What you could have said and, been constructive, would have been: “ Does anyone know how the cost of internet access is going to be covered for the third world countries? “ You would have then received a response that would have informed all of your readers in a positive way…and that is: There are a number of very very smart people associated with OLPC that are working to arrange for and capture unused bandwidth from existing satellite networks. It is planned that this can be made available at a fraction of the normal cost. Troy do you see the potential difference in outcome?

You go on to say that “Education Software is not free” . What is your intention here?? Do you NOT know that thousands of people are working in the open source arena right now to convert existing education material to run free of charge on these machines. Do you NOT know that huge organizations such as Electronic Arts (SIMS Series) are donating software for conversion and use on these devices FOR FREE. Do you NOT know that Microsoft (setting aside any opinion of them) has been pressured by this whole low cost laptop revolution to now offer their Office Suite for $3 to developing nations.

Again…I urge you guys to get together over a beer and rethink your own destinies and the part you want to play in this world. How will history judge your efforts?? With 15 low cost laptop initiatives underway in the world already at last count…I believe it is safe to say that with or without your help the dye is cast. Low cost laptops definitely coming to the disenfranchised children of the world. The world at large has decided this is a wonderful idea! Would you like to continue to pontificate…or would you like to adjust your tone and hone your mission further and really help this great cause.

You certainly seem to have the smarts to do both well. It is worth remembering that all human beings have an incredible important right unto themselves that nobody can take away. It is the right to change! Lead, follow, or be thrown aside! The choice is of course yours.

Jim Fallgatter

James,

Wow! Thanks for pointing out the "World Bank Guide to Low Cost Computing Device Initiatives."

I would've never known about so many options. Especially since, in my day job, I helped develop and/or work with those who developed the majority of the initiatives listed and even helped the World Bank compile said list.

Its with that experience that I question OLPC. Every single successful initiative you see there, has one thing in common - a defined implementation plan. Exactly what OLPC is missing.

James, your pontificating is getting tired...

Get your act together first. Your beef is with those of us against the way OLPC is running its project? Or with those of us (if there's anyone) that dislike the idea of computers at the classroom?

"Do you NOT know that there are over 15 different low cost laptop programs being developed by nations throughout the world right now. OLPC is hardly alone in recognizing the value of getting these tools into the hands of their children. Are you right and the rest of the independent thinking world wrong?"

So what? Why this should prevent us from analyzing each and every project and trying to assess if they are right or wrong, as a whole or for specific countries? Why should a critical exercise be understood as hubris?

"instead ask the teachers of the developing nations to share their thoughts on how they will implement and use these devices if/when they arrive."

I'm asking exactly that to my minister of education and I'm not getting any answers. He's the one in charge, not individual teachers. And no, I don't intend to start a group to promote content or implementation plans: there are better people to do that here and my concerns are policy-driven, not programming or class materials. As a citizen of one of the countries involved, I have the right to ask my elected representatives and his ministers to tell me what they plan to do. This site is part of such a dialog.

"and I can honestly say that I never have met stupid teachers nor teachers without vision."

Lucky you. I live in a country where the teachers' union is controlled by a marxist-maoist political party intent on peasant revolution. This particular bunch of not-so-pleasant guys control this union since 1971, and the alternative last time there was one was an even more radical bunch, ex-albanian communists. I guess you don't go to the same places I do.

"Do you not know that introducing new methods and devices is ALWAYS an iterative process? You must to start someplace! "

Who's saying different? Oh, OLPC, asking countries to commit 47 million plus USD at least just to start someplace, and then see if everything is going peachy or not.

Finally,

"I urge you guys to get together over a beer and rethink your own destinies and the part you want to play in this world"

I, for one, if I ever get to D.C. and meet Wayan, intend to share some time and coffee with him, as long as he wants to. Not so sure about the rest since I don't even know their real names or exactly where they live. Obviously, if anyone of you make to Lima the coffee is on me. Meanwhile, this site is a pretty good place to keep talking, arguing and discussing, freely and from all perspectives, the particulars of OLPC. I'm pretty sure about my role in the world, having working in my best capacity as a public servant, political activist, librarian and college professor my whole life in my country, trying to make it work and get better in every possible level. Most certainly, I do not intend to get out of the way, will not be thrown aside by you or any other techno preacher, and shall continue to exercise my right to talk and discuss and criticize. Care to join us? Then get into the issues, not the individuals.

Well, so far there has been a lively debate indeed. It has derailed to the basic question whether criticizing the humanitarian OLPC project makes sense. That is fine for me.

Surprisingly for me, the writer of the original post, so far there was not a single comment on my actual arguments just about the tone of them.

I take this as agreement even of the opposing commenters that my arguments are valid.

This is a frequent effect that valid but unpleasant arguments have. Since they cannot be denied their opponents have to resort to their tone and the general legitimation of their supporters. In politics this is often called polemics and uncovers the lack of valid counter-arguments of one side in the debate.

"Surprisingly for me, the writer of the original post, so far there was not a single comment on my actual arguments just about the tone of them."

What about the argument that only the OLPC is asked to defend itself. They are open. What about all the other 14 project mentioned by the World bank that work on laptop projects.

Are these 14 immune to the failings of the OLPC?

Is Intel really doing a better communication job on the Classmate?

It is not so much the criticism here that is worrying me, but the large number of posts that actually only want to shut down, or indefinitely delay, the OLPC project. Without any indication of the consequences, that is NO educational progress in the developing world.

Isn't this like democracy, famously considered the worst possible system, until you consider the alternatives? What is the alternative to the OLPC, the Classmate? Another project? Do people have better targets for the money? What are they, and why don't the Brazillians think of them?

Winter

The article was about OLPC's way of communication not about the other projects.

"What about the argument that only the OLPC is asked to defend itself. They are open. What about all the other 14 project mentioned by the World bank that work on laptop projects.
Are these 14 immune to the failings of the OLPC?"

Of course when I ask one project to deliver facts about their implementation or results of their pilot projects that is also a valid question for all other comparable projects.

"Is Intel really doing a better communication job on the Classmate?"

Intel's supply of information to the public is much less than that of OLPC. However, I also did not sense any arrogant attitudes with them so far.

"It is not so much the criticism here that is worrying me, but the large number of posts that actually only want to shut down, or indefinitely delay, the OLPC project."

I can only speak for myself: I certainly do not want to shut down OLPC. To the contrary.
However, if there are still gaps and unsolved issues that bear in them the risk of project failure I prefer a delay for necessary course corrections over continuing to run in the wrong direction.

Roland, I think I did state my agreement with your argumentation...

But about the fabled 14 others... Besides Intel, I'm not aware that any of those has reached a point in its development as critical as the XO, nor that they are intent in becoming a global force in the scale OLPC is trying to achieve. Some of those are just technology demonstrators, interrupted projects or even flights of fancy. It's not that OLPC and Intel are the only game in town but they are more or less the only ones with the clout to take their project global. This are different scales and a government like my country's is not going to face the same issues if it ever deals with, for instance, Alphasmart. So actually, we're talking about quite a different game plan here, when dealing with the complexities of the "turnkey" approach by OLPC and the quite similar, as far as we know, from Intel.

Eduardo,
you're right. I have to correct my statement to:
"Surprisingly for me, the writer of the original post, so far there was not a single comment AGAINST my actual arguments just about the tone of them. I take this as agreement even of the opposing commenters that my arguments are valid." :-)

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