As with any volunteer-based concept worth its salt, it would appear we are not quite in agreement here as to how one laptop per child initiatives should be implemented. Discussing what hardware platform and what operating system we should use sometimes pales in comparison with debates on the inherent ideology of education that should be pursued.
The very fact that I, personally, assume that our effort should necessarily be a volunteer, grassroots, community-based movement has very strong opposition from those who are running projects from a top-down, central-government perspective.
We generally agree on some concepts about "what is good": education is good. ICTs are good. High ratio of computers is good, thus one-to-one. These notions tend to cascade: one laptop per child is a good way to do ICTs for education.
Some of us see as great that the XO hardware is resilient, needs low power, and thus maybe is or at least was the best platform for ICT4E.
Where we collectively hit the fan with out conversation tends to be on how and what we want to achieve. Is it to empower the teachers to do better what they are doing? Is exploring the internet a better way to learn, instead? Should we bow to the ignorance of high level officials who might approve out project if we offer them portholes? Should we take uncompromising stands? What is "good education"?
a few facts
As anybody else, I like to think that my opinions are based on facts, on reality. Hey, by the way, this is Yama Ploskonka writing. Also by the way, this is an opinion piece, though I hope that a bit more conciliatory than some of my pronunciamientos have been. So, back to the facts, or at least those I have on hand right now forming my current opinions.
Let's assume we agree that education is good, and also that within everything that goes under the name of education, some is better than other. Now, this is not an idle exercise in meta-ethics. Figuring out what is "best" in education tends to have huge outcomes at the national level and personally, as anyone who has suffered their way through some competitive examination knows.
While socio economic background is the best indicator for college and university performance, most of us have had to take the SAT, GREP, or the South African "Matric" (with poignant documentary), or some national alternative (Google search).
Let's Imagine for one moment that reality is different. That we are in some alternate dimension where initiative is valued, creativity prized, and bullying of geeks is no more. Where entry to the University does not rely in mastery of certain "facts" or ways to say them, but on Something Miraculous, that comes about from independent exploration of the internet and creativity, basically what is proposed by OLPC, by Ceibal, and other such initiatives that follow the dictates or share the ideology of OLPC. One problem: it is not this reality.
Reality is that pretty much everyone who actually decides who is allowed access to high-influence, high-performance, and high-paid careers wants scholastic achievements and respect of precedence as hallmarks on a piece of heavy paper that has the graduate's name on it in fancy lettering. I am not debating whether the ivory towers are wrong, self-centered, blind to progress... Maybe they are. But that is a moot point, since universities make the rules.
Yes, maybe our OLPC graduate has a career as an industrialist, merchant or artist, but unless he also knows his "facts" and has proved it after 12 years or so of classes, he will be barred from becoming a doctor, engineer, lawyer or any kind of scientist or "professional".
are we getting there?
So far Sugar and OLPC-based initiatives are not focused toward kids getting better scores for the SAT, Matric, CET, XAT, or any other national variant. Yes, certainly, it is bad to educate to the test, isn't it? Except when you are the kid that has to pass the test.
I do not believe that those who go for "la tête bien faite" (well rounded education vs. data) are evil. Their intentions are great. Except when the kid has to pass the test.
Part of why there is this disconnect with reality is that people, grassroots, are not part of the several official OLPC projects, despite proclamations in that sense. By design Dr. Negroponte wants to negotiate direct with governments. Later on, programs are set up that are quite top-down, with scant or no feedback expected, and certainly not encouraged, neither from teachers, nor parents.
Bottom line is that, the day the kid will have to take his test, he might, certainly have enjoyed more access to knowledge thanks to OLPC, but not the kind he will be tested on, and advice or opinion from those who really have a stake in the matter has not been sought.
No, we're not getting there. It will be an entertaining trip, but it will not help kids get where they will want to be.
what can we do
Listen. Answer. Discuss. In many countries administrators will assert truthfully that it is hard to get people to speak out, as an excuse for their own role in refusing them a voice. Alas, people who are uninformed think that computers by themselves are enough, or with the internet nothing can fail, or even ask for that proprietary operating system that almost sank OLPC.
Yet, if given the chance to know what is involved, the options, issues, and also a chance to say what they want, I dare believe that people would say they want their kids to have more curricular content, to have the machines help in certain areas of knowledge, to prepare them for what they understand is a better future.
I am deeply curious if the young people in OLPCorps Africa or the interns in Latin America are asking questions before they try to meld people to the OLPC ideology.