Please Get Us Curricular Content: Part 2 of 2


It doesn't matter whether ivory towers everywhere are right or not in requiring the mostly nonsense that is the key to their doors, a role modelled in the rich countries ivy-covered buildings. Suffice it to say that they do, and that teachers are left to pick up the mess, and deliver it. And everyone's future depends on how they measure up on it.

Teachers need help with classroom content. We can help them, and the kids. Or better yet, we could and should help them help themselves, maybe the biggest challenge, worth of our best.

Education is often the best parts within a rotten system in countries that just don't seem to get their act together otherwise. We could make it work, and then also add value beyond the basics.

isn't there a better way? (like constructivism...)

Probably. But my point is that it doesn't matter. You may dislike the law of gravity; just don't let that make you think kids are safe horseplaying on a trampoline.

A kid might be great at exploring and creativity, and maybe one of the very few that will escape the potholed ways of learning, or just different. He might be the next Spielberg, for all we know, especially if he emigrates and gets discovered as a genius elsewhere, to show the success of constructivism in his home country.

In the here and now he must get to High School, and to the University, if he will have a chance at being taken seriously in building his country.

OLPC Oceania
Let us build learning success here

The system is such that kids need to learn what they are taught, or else. Yet you don't have to: this being the 21st century, there's a lot of freedom for you now. Freedom to find your place in construction work, as a chai wallah, or fruit peddler, your choice, your liberty. Of course, you may eventually make it as a salesman or something (hopefully mostly legal stuff), or as an artist, as if the later could earn a living south of the Rio Grande...

At the very least, we can make it less painful for kids and teachers, better as to quantity and quality, and then build up from there. But it won't happen if we are in denial.

what is curricular content?

A good start would be to decide what we mean.
For part one I had called it "yap yap". Yet curricular content is a deadly serious business, an industry that even its ancillaries move billions of dollars. Intel spent a bit in the form of and its "national" variants (hope you have fast internet for this link!), quite effective demo eye-candy, great lubricant to get governments to assume the position and enjoy it when they buy Classmates. (a Uruguayan teacher commented Skoool a while back. It has improved some, since, but not that much.)

ROSBT means how ready something is to use in class, compared to how much unpaid time the teacher needs to sort things out. "Return On Sweat, Blood and Tears".

  Also called   ROSBT   comments
  Programmed Instruction   highest   politically sensitive, think accusations of cultural colonialism
  QE4A   very high   a comprehensive, language and culturally localized set of grade-appropriate learning resources and tools
  scanned textbooks and workbooks   med-high   See how Melepo was implemented in Ethiopia
  Internet based coursework   variable   a major challenge for developing nations is the limited bandwidth. Open HS of Utah
  collections of activities   medium   lots of effort needed to navigate between a lot of possibilities one example, another
  Wikipedia and such   low   great, excellent enrichment resource, very far from something that can be used "as is" for most classroom activities
  personal "exploring and creativity" activities   marginal   This might be the very best for education, in some other dimension of reality. Right now their classroom use in core course subjects is negligible
  browsing the Internet   maybe negative   the potential the Internet has as a useless distraction quickly overwhelms any positive outcome, since it eats up into the little time less privileged kids devote to homework. "Best" use is in kid warehousing, as an alternative to sitting them in front of a TV

OLPC Oceania
They just want to be happy

How can we turn this around?

First thing, accept reality. Reality is that right now the priority should not be not to attempt to produce brilliant entrepreneurs and artists that will fail to launch because their acquired skills, if any, are alien to their own cultures.

Success, for now and the foreseeable future, happens within the system, and then maybe we can change the system from within. The grade and performance-based system includes MIT itself, and obviously every elementary grade room in Rwanda, and is connected to all what makes up formal education today, foreign and domestic.

By all means let's put a glaze of constructivism and all that is good, but the core of what the XO delivers should be supportive of what the teachers are doing now, improving on that, adding good stuff and removing the worst, gradually. It's irresponsible to pretend that one single wish will change how kids are growing up, while the environment they are required to fit in is unchanged, and its expectations almost completely the opposite of initiative and exploration.

A se non e vero story: as part of the radical changes against all the evil imperialism legacy, the new president of a former British colony commanded that henceforth all road traffic was to drive on the right. His aides retorted that it would be hard to enforce. He agreed. The decree was drafted so that only government drivers were required to follow the order immediately, all others had 90 days to transition from their usual left-handed driving... We need to prevent the easy to foretell head-on collisions between constructivist, innocent kids, and the harsh and unforgiving environment that requires them to fulfil other expectations.

Maybe some day academic prowess will not be a hurdle to what some believe is "real" learning. Until then, we do kids a major, huge disservice if we do not help them jump, and instead are on denial about the hurdles that do exists. Or pretend these will just go away because we are so clever and wise up here in the clouds of our own rich-country coffee-shop wisdom. Administrators assuming that teachers will navigate the Internet and Wikipedia to prepare brand new lesson plans, on top and beyond of all the usual work they are required to do, is not merely cruel. It is irresponsible. (some teachers manage to - mostly unrecognized heroes, "quijotes", as we call them with affection and cariño)

We need to prioritize making quality curricular content available within ICT for Education deployments, whether they use the XO or not, and especially for the XO, the best hardware so far. Truly integrate the ICT tool to classroom work. That is what kids need, that is what teachers need, what parents expect, what will make a difference the day of university entry exams and beyond.

If those who could don't care, if those who would don't want, if those who can don't dare, someone should. Let's!

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Really enjoying these articles and all the comments - this is a vital discussion to have.

Education should have moved on from Industrial-age teaching by now. We should be at the constructivist/connectivism stage which the XO excels at. Is it OLPC's fault that a digital (at least in the West, but coming to other nations fast if the spread of mobile phones is any indicator) world still has an industrial-era education system?

The correct answer as always is right in the middle. Acknowledge traditional curricula-centred teaching, but creating a bridge to something newer.

Still, there's a lot to be said for disruptive innovation - may cause all kinds of headaches/mistakes now, but in 5 years, perhaps education worldwide will have moved to preparing kids for a digital future way more than if the XO had never come along.

Hi Jonathan,

I think you are too kind to call industrial-era what we have as education :-)

If what I have seen in several developing countries means anything, the best among it, especially in the public schools, would be at the level of Comenius' days...

Otherwise I do agree fully with you in the sense of the need to operate successfully within current constraints, and building up better opportunities for all.

As to disruptive innovation and the power of the unexpected, as of a few days ago I have been starting to reflect on the possible unexpected, unintended but maybe good long-term consequences of every "botija" in Uruguay having a computer. There might be something powerful there, that might just happen out of sheer mass ("saturation", they said), not out of having a good implementation or being relevant to anything we know of right now.
Then, having taught there for over 10 years, I know of the enormous resilience of the Uruguayan educational system, and how seniority and "¡no te metás!" (don't get involved) has survived pretty much anything so far, so if change is to happen there, it will have to take its chances outside of the system.
I am curious about the ensuing face-off between actual progress happening serendipitously and the desire of a staid system to keep things well under control, top-down - the later what they have so far designed and been successful at as their deployment plan.

As to education worldwide, with tears in my heart I can be predict with certainty that a high percentage of kids will have the same situation of poverty and lack of opportunities in 5, 10, 20 years as they have now. This is because the patterns of consumerism are not going to go down any time soon, if anything they will get worse as "emerging nations" emerge, or at least their richer people do.

Quality education is not about the *quantity* of education available. Quality has more to do with what the intent and values of said education has. Very little progress on that department.., yet if we could develop that, the XO would be a great platform to make it reach millions, if not the poorest right away, at least those who will be leading their nations the next generation.


Constructivism is what you mostly have in the US educational system right now. That is why it is failing. Direct Instruction was proven to be the most effective in the 1970-1980 federally funded ($1 billion) study called Project Follow Through.

But that is OK. You can build your constructivist XO programs and people like me, who take data and read books on what children need to learn, will take your code and make stuff that actually teaches.

I hope so!

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