Children's Machine XO: Right or Wrong, Not in USA Schools


OLPC USA: Only a Dream

One common complaint about the One Laptop Per Child program is its lack of focus on American children. I am often asked, "Shouldn't students in the USA get OLPC XO's before children in other lands?"

Ashley Morris is raising a fuss about One Laptop Per New Orleans Child and Edward Cherlin has even started OLPC USA. Even Keith Regan's recent article, Does the $100 Laptop Have a Future in the US?, says:

The OLPC made headlines recently by saying that its long-term plans could include selling a slightly higher priced version in the U.S., as well as in other developed markets.

The OLPC's plans for tapping domestic schools and the overall low-cost technology push will likely have at least an indirect impact on the educational technology market.

But what does One Laptop Per Child have to say about it? Or better yet, its eloquent spokesman, Nicholas Negroponte. Why didn't he focus on American schools when he started his grant educational computer mission?

During Negroponte's Orangization of American States presentation he tells us exactly why:

First of all, we have thirty thousand school districts. I can't change the United States or Europe. They're entrenched. Worst, we admire countries like Korea and Taiwan, whose children are absolutely brutalized but do very well on the tests and teach to test is a fundamental mistake. Now tell that to the United States? Tell that to this administration? Tell it to a European country? They won't agree with you.

Brazil gets it. Argentina gets it. Thailand gets it. Nigeria gets it. So we're finding, in fact, even though our mission is developed and developing countries, that we find more open reception to new ways of learning in some of those countries. So, that's our mission.

And I think that's the main reason Negroponte didn't start with One Laptop Per American Child. He knew that his Constructionist Learning Vision, where teachers would become "co-learners" instead of educational leaders would not be accepted into USA school districts because it wouldn't be tolerated by American teachers' unions.

OLPC + Beer = Education?!

For better or for worse, American educational systems are controlled by teachers unions, who are famously resistant to change, especially change that would demote their already tenuous professional credibility.

Add in Negroponte's casual dismissal of objective testing and learning metrics, and his disregard for proof of concept pilots, and he was smart to exclude the USA. The teachers unions would've kneecapped him before he even glued on the fake hand crank.

Does the $100 Laptop Have a Future in the US?, exposes the other natural antagonist to a $150 dollar educational laptop; traditional laptop retailers:

If the OLPC and other such efforts can effectively produce low-priced machines, the overall educational computing market will see an overhaul, said Brooke Partridge, CEO of Vital Wave Consulting.

Some PC makers will worry about low-cost devices cannibalizing their established markets, she added, saying what works in emerging economies won't always work in mature marketplaces.

"Developed-world manufacturers should not perceive this as a threat," she said. "This shift presents opportunities for traditional PC manufacturers."

It represents an amazing opportunity for Quanta Computer, the OLPC manufacturer, and one of the largest notebook computer makers worldwide. Quanta will probably introduce a commercial laptop for the domestic market that incorporates the clock-stopping hot OLPC technology, but that computer will not be anywhere near a "$100 laptop".

They are already looking at a $300+ price point, probably with Windows as the default operating system, and most likely retailed through Dell or HP/Compaq. Quanta does not want to anger the likes of Apple, Dell, or HP/Compaq, its primary high-end clients, and introducing a low-cost computer would anger them a-plenty.

So while we all want a Children's Machine XO, do not look for them in your local school anytime soon. Now eBay OLPC sales are a whole other story.

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In the high school I went to (Australia not USA but same difference), we had problems with brining calculators into class, since they could be used for games lots of teachers wouldn't allow them.

Now if a machine that could play roms and built in chat was introduced into the picture, I don't see much chance of teachers allowing it into the classroom. Although there is a fairly elite private school where all the students own laptops, so it does seem to be very do able.

We had a fairly good number of computers in the school but they where never used for anything other than the occasional typing of an English story (normally a group exercise where each person would write a paragraph then move onto the next computer), occasional art project (Photoshop), programmed a lego robot once, and the IT classes (all MS based programs like VB6, Word/Access/Frontpage rather than actually teaching people about computers (I did do another class that did some basics, but it wasn't a main one), the school was also able to buy any MS product for the entire school for $10).

> Worst, we admire countries like Korea and Taiwan, whose children are absolutely brutalized but do very well on the tests [...]

I wonder how the employees of Quanta Computer, the *Taiwanese* company, feel about this sort of insult of their society.

The reason is simple: American people are EDUCATED consumers, used to ASKING PERTINENT questions, like:

"How are we supposed to integrate this device into our teaching schedule?"

Negroponte's stock (and absurd) answer - "Kids can learn on their own" - would not fly in the USA, of course.

He has chosen his "target" very carefully: ingonorant, corrupt third world countries, where decisions are made by nefarious politicians in little backrooms, withuot a single question being raised.

Negroponte CAN NOT AFFORD to let the light of truth shine on his forehead. Too many questions, too little answers...

Wayan, I think you hit the nail on the head. Negroponte isn't promoting olpc American the bureacracies in American school disctricts resist change and would reject his constructist education philosophy.

However, I am rather puzzled by his claim that developing world countries would support it. From all I have heard the educational philosophy in such countries is generally very traditional.

Who are you people? Are you in the education field? Have you spent any time in schools lately? 1:1 computing is already happening, unfortunately it is costing tax payers a lot more than $100 per child.

Simply by reading and posting to this blog you must realize that communication technologies are key in today's society let alone the thousands of other jobs students must be technologically prepared for.

While some teachers are apprehensive it is ignorant to believe that they--or the unions--are holding back this process. Teachers dedicate their lives to educating students, and with that comes hours of professional development. It is in this professional development that they learn that appropriate computer use is not an additional task, but merely a means to simplify differentiated teaching in their classroom.

In addition, most Technology Coordinators I know promote teaching students (and teachers) appropriate use of the internet and software programs. This is noted in the AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) and any violations of it usually result in some sort of removal of these privileges.

Pull yourself away from all of the politics and think for a moment: what can a child--in any country--do with the world in his/her hands? And doesn't every child deserve that opportunity?

Maybe OLPC will be in American schools after all. Reuters is reporting that Negroponte is in talks with 19 state Governors.