Education is a Basic Need in the Developing World

   
   
   
   
   
OLPC India
Let them eat laptops? No!
An anonymous writer asked on the OLPC Wiki:
"Kids in developing nations are starving...maybe meeting their basic needs (food and shelter) should be your focus."
I wrote an answer on the page, and then thought you all might be interested, and might have something worthwhile to say.

I agree about the problem of starvation and malnutrition. And about the problems of war, disease, oppression, land mines, slavery, and all the others that deny our children livelihoods, health and even life. They are not in question. The question is not even what you and I individually should do.

It is what we all should be doing. And that means everything, not just a bit here and a bit there. It also doesn't mean that we should work on only one part of the solution. Someone needs to focus on immediate survival issues of food, health, water, war, and other troubles of the poor. If that's you, thank you. We need more of you.

OLPC is About Education

And somebody needs to focus on education in order to break the cycle of poverty. That's us. We need more of us, too. It isn't either/or, it's both/and. It would cost billions of dollars to feed every undernourished child as soon as possible, and the money is not forthcoming from governments or private donors. I wish it were.

We know that part of the problem for potential donors is that feeding the hungry day by day is only a temporary fix, with no end in sight. It will cost billions of dollars to educate children so that they can get jobs or create agricultural innovations to feed their communities. The money is starting to come forth because this addresses the roots of poverty.

One of the reasons that this motivates donors is that it promises to end poverty at a profit all around, so that we won't have to depend on donations to expand to every child on Earth. I could show you a pro forma spreadsheet of the kind of calculations a government has to make in order to decide that the laptop program will pay for itself from tax revenues on new businesses, even at the relatively high interest rates charged to governments in developing countries.

Only do what only you can do

Earth Treasury proposes to speed up the process, increasing Return on Investment and shortening the payback period, by teaching children how to connect around the world and go into business together. As to what you and I should do, computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra has a suggestion that I find helps to clarify matters for me: "Only do what only you can do."

Most of us in the laptop project wouldn't be very effective at direct food aid. We find, however, that we are very effective at what we are doing, and nobody else comes close. Please ask yourself what you know that the children need to know, and come to the Wiki to tell us about it.

If you happen to be good at food aid or agriculture or nutrition, speak up and we will give you every assistance to get your program out to the children and their communities. Because collaboration on discovering now solutions is what the laptop is all about.

Related Entries

36 Comments

Wow, yeah, I'm sooooooo sick of this argument. I might start out by explaining the logical fallacy of False Dichotomy. Then I'll try to explain that the developing world is not homogeneous. There ARE rural villages with no clean water and no schools and no need for XO education machines. But there are millions of school-aged children going every day to barely funded schools. At schools I've seen on Congo-Brazzaville and Malawi, the teachers show up to teach classes of 30-70 students. The students show up if they have enough money to buy a notebook and pencil for that week or month. Teacher might teach by taking the one copy of the textbook available for the class and copying it onto the blackboard. The students learn by writing it down in their notebooks. Imagine if they could start the day with any book they need in their XO. They'd be BEGINNING where the old method ENDED!

That's a difference.

-Djeef

If you want to talk business development as the next extension of education then pretty quickly along these lines OLPC is going to need task management and record keeping and accounting network accessible apps.

That's part of what makes the OLPC so interesting just as an industrial design, and why an Indian Census company was reportedly interested in them.

If it's running web apps, it's going to need either a server / internet connection to a served POS / ERP type program, or some kind of distributed application for accounting.

Is there some such educational "accounting" or lesson / record keeping program already thought out for OLPC in the classroom, for measuring and gathering statistics?

Side note, can OLPC run the MIT free courseware? What bandwidth? (I don't have my G1G1 yet).

I agree with the author that education can't be neglected in the fight against poverty and other social ills.

I have to disagree, though, with his contention that giving elementary school students ANY computer (laptop, desktop, PC, Mac, Classmate, XO, whatever) is a solution to the the education problems.

The real question is: can laptops significantly improve a kid's education?

This applies to any kid in any nation, rich or poor, developed or not.

Given that there has never been a serious, documented study proving that computers actually bring the classroom benefits that proponents claim, every government - especially those with limited funds - has the responsibility to determine where the money goes: clean water, more food, electricity or just a traditional educational infrastructure (like building or repairing schools, hiring or training more teachers, buying more school supplies, etc, etc.).

I think that poor nations are best advised to assume a wait-and-see attitude. They should wait for pilot programs to expose the benefits of programs like the OLPC or Classmate.

And, no, there is no reason to rush. Even rich countries are waiting for the studies to show the benfits before they allocate the necessary funds. It is the smart thing to do.

I'm going to say two things, one which I agree with and one which I wholeheartedly disagree with.

Many of the skills that you learn in the early grades, like basic literacy and arithmetic, are most effectively and most efficiently learned by rote techniques. It is probably a safe bet that computers can handle "teaching" those skills as well as a teacher. (A teacher will be more adaptive, but has to divide their attention among many students. It is a trade-off.) It is a disagreeable argument, in my opinion, but one that should be considered.

The second argument, forces us to consider what we mean by learning. Is learning the process of assimilating a body of knowledge, and applying that knowledge? If so, our existing approach to education is doing a good job with the former but a so-so job at the latter. Some people believe that we could do a better job with the latter if we gave kids the opporunity to examine the world around them or create something real (or at least closer to real). A tool, like the XO laptop, is one way of doing that.

Think of it this way. You are teaching a class of grade 4 students about sound and musical instruments. You tell them that sounds are waves and that the deepness of the sound depends upon how big the wave is. A big instrument can make really deep sounds because it can make really big waves. A small instrument will make shrill sounds because it can only make small waves. It's probably a safe bet that they will understand big-deep/small-shrill, but won't be able to understand the wave thing at all. A wave is too abstract.

Something like the OLPC can make the idea of sound a bit less abstract. It has a microphone, and there is some software (in the default image) that will visualize the waveform of the audio. Kids can whistle into it really shrilly and as deep as they can. They can observe how the shape of the wave changes. They can also try the same experiment with local musical instruments or instruments that they make. Spectrum analysis would be tricky to explain to them, but at least you could show them voice-prints for everyone in their class. Of course, that is just one example.

Will this improve the test scores of kids? I doubt it. When you are using constructionist and constructivist approaches to learning, you run the risk that the student will learn things that you did not intend while missing out on things that weren't on the test. Does that make them a worse person for it? No. Every year around Canada Day an organisation does a survey that shows how little Canadians know about Canada. There is some show on TV called "Do you know more than a fifth grader?" where, I presume, the adult usually loses. I regularly talk to university students who lack basic knowledge that is a part of the high school curriculum. But the funny thing is, our country isn't falling apart because a good chunk of the population cannot name the first Prime Minister, doesn't know what a Venn Diagram is, nor can tell the difference between frequency and wavelength.

We like to claim that we live in a knowledge economy, but knowledge doesn't do much unless we know how to apply it. A textbook can only tell us stuff. That may be basic facts, how old problems were solved, and maybe offer up bits of advice. Teachers are much the same, only they are a bit more adaptable than a static book. But a computer is a tool, one among many, that can help us create solutions. They can do it directly (seeing if a kid's instrument is in pitch), or indirectly (via simulations, such as OLPC's SimCity). Just as a hammer won't be the best tool in every case, a laptop won't be the best tool in every case.

But this laptop is an incredibly flexible tool that solves a few problems from the outset. It can be anything from a static textbook, to a mildly interactive tool, to an outlet for visual and auditory creativity, to a handy device for science experiments.

Jordan wrote:

"I'm going to say two things, one which I agree with and one which I wholeheartedly disagree with."

I'm glad you "wholeheartedly disagree with" your own premise that "Teachers are much the same, only they are a bit more adaptable than a static book. But a computer is a tool, one among many, that can help us create solutions".

Teachers are needed much more than anything else, for the simple reason that not every human learns the same way or at the same rate. Teachers are there to adjust the program to meet the needs of different kids, to work on discipline, to test the acquisition and application of knowledge, to help children develop social skills.

It is truly naive to think that computers can be anything close to what a teacher represents.

The promise of computers in the classroom can only be determined when serious, documented tests are conducted. So far, nobody has shown how useful computers can be to students in elementary school. Any country considering investing hundreds of millions of dollars in computers has an obligation to demand proof that it is a wise investment and not a "let's hope it proves valuable" proposition.

Incidentally, that's the reason (the lack of proof) that Negroponte & Co. are not getting flooded with orders.

I like this post. I think it is completely logical and well put. Great work!

Irvin,

I can't find it now but I did see an article that showed how technology affected children's education. The increase in test scores was not (to my mind) all that significant. The kids started out the same, at the end the laptop kids had GPAs of 3.5, the non-laptop kids 3.2. If that's worth spending millions of dollars I don't know.

These were middle-school (6-8th grade) in California and the laptop group (1/3 of the school population) was demographically similar to the rest of the school. The parents had to purchase the laptops, poor kids got free loaners.

Some may argue that the kids learned skills that aren't measured by standardized tests but now thats all the school system cares about.

Irvin:

I don't mean to diss teachers, but I don't think that they are as adaptable as people would have us believe. This is by no means their fault. It has a lot to do with the demands placed upon us.

If you have 20 to 30 kids in your class, and wanted to deal with each kid independently, you would have 2 to 3 minutes per hour with that child. Of course, classrooms are fairly dynamic places so you cannot depend upon that hour being devoted to the individual needs of students. A big chunk of your time is going to be used up by classroom management and giving instructions.

Okay, so let's try cooperative learning. Let's stuff 4 children into a group, so that there is no 8 to 12 minutes per group. The one-to-one bit is diminished, but groups are supposed to work out some of their own problems in cooperative learning and you're going to be spending a lot less time assessing what the students have done right and what they have done wrong (you're now looking at 1 piece of work rather than 4). But wait a second: as a teacher you now have much more complex group dynamics to work out. How do I ensure that every child is involved in the learning? How do I ensure that every child is permitted to express their own perspective? There are various ways to dealing with the problems that pop up in cooperative learning, but they all look better on paper than in reality.

Of course, going to traditional classroom type instruction diminishes the personal attention angle altogether. Sure teachers can still adapt instruction in these circumstances, but it only becomes viable when a large number of students are facing similar problems.

Granted, no classroom is going to be one or the other or the other. Just like no classroom should be run entirely with computers or entirely without computers.

As for the research angle. If a study came up saying one thing or another about computers, I wouldn't know what to believe. These studies are very difficult to conduct in a (scientifically) controlled manner. A master teacher in a classroom full of computers may make digital learning look disproportionately better. Stick that same teacher into a classroom without computers, and you get the inverse result. Using the same teacher in both may not help either, because the social dynamics in a classroom can affect learning. Then you have the problem of the experimenter's bias, since it seems as though everyone has an agenda to prove in the education world.

I can only smile at the naivety displayed by the previous commenters who are obviously caught in the expert mode who can only speak from their narrow range of "training." Real growth takes a dream not a curricula or a plan. No one know what potential lies in the young (most adults don't even know the questions) but if there is no confidence in them ... who is going to solve the problems of the future? This article is a great state of intention. I fully support it. It is not about expertise. It might be about dreams. Who knows. I am excited about giving the kids a chance to believe in the possibilities that they invent on their own.
ab

I would like to point out that it is a misconception that all kids in developing nations are starving. For many Americans, it probably stems from the fact that the only kids from developing nations that the see or hear about are the ones in those "give pennies a day" commercials. I've traveled to several of the countries where XOs are being sent and have seen many kids who are not starving to death but could still benefit from better educational opportunities. These kids are just like kids in any other country (except they don't eat at MCDs every day, but is that really a loss?). The food and water argument that would only really benefit a few of the worst cases is an insult to the majority of healthy, eager to learn students in these developing countries.

Alan Bender wrote:

"I can only smile at the naivety displayed by the previous commenters who are obviously caught in the expert mode who can only speak from their narrow range of "training." Real growth takes a dream not a curricula or a plan."


I'd suggest the opposite is true: real growth comes from valid curricula and a rational plan, not from vague promises based on a dream.

It's quite reasonable to think that poor countries will feel more secure about investing their money when they see rich, educated countries use their own money to implement the "dream".

I have always wondered why Prof. Negroponte's vision is not shared or understood by the USA, Japan, Israel, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada or any other developed nation...

"I'd suggest the opposite is true: real growth comes from valid curricula and a rational plan, not from vague promises based on a dream."

I think that "cookie cutter children" is the most polite way to phrase that.

A big part of the problem with discussions relating to education is that few people discuss what the role of education is. If you cannot agree on the role of education, you probably aren't going to agree on the methods. For example: if you believe that school is meant to give a child skills for the workplace, and someone else believes that the role of education is to develop the potential of the child, then you're going to have a pretty big flame-fest on your hands.

Then you have to consider how people learn (from the soft theories of learning styles to the more concrete theories of psychological development). If people learn things in different ways, then it is pretty hard to expect everyone to learn the same things or to learn them in the same progression. Someone who is tactile with a good sense of pitch may be able to figure out (sound) waves pretty early on. But a lot of people are just going to have to wait until they can handle more abstract concepts.

The other question we have to ask is: is producing the same results from every child desirable. Sure kids have to face up to challenges and the potential failure, but asking a kid who's mind is rooted in history to deal with polynomials is bordering on pointless. At best, you are offering them a skill that they will forget because they will never use it. At worst, you are driving them away from school because of the authoritarian nature of the curriculum. (As a scientist, I love polynomials but I'm bitter at literary types telling me that a green lawn represents hope and a white house represents purity.)

It is also worth noting that a lack of a curriculum doesn't mean a lack of structure. It simply means that the structure takes a different form.

Jordan,
I agree that there are lots of different ways to educate children. However, we have to remember what OLPC is trying to do. They want a country to reorganize it's entire educational philosophy. That wouldn't happen here in American, how do they expect that to happen anywhere else? Here there are private schools and homeschoolers with that philosophy. I don't know of any public school system that uses that particular philosophy. Any school board that stood in front of the city council and said "Real growth (in education) takes a dream not a curricula or a plan." would be voted out of office.

Re: starving children-- OLPC is being paid for out of the country's educational budget, which is different from the health budget. Those education dollars have already been set aside. If the kids have XOs then that's how their government decided to spend the money to buy them.

Jordan wrote:

"I'd suggest the opposite is true: real growth comes from valid curricula and a rational plan, not from vague promises based on a dream."

"I think that 'cookie cutter children' is the most polite way to phrase that."

Jordan,

What you call "cookie cutter children" is the efficient, accepted education system in all the rich, advanced countries of the world: USA, England, Germany, France, Japan, Israel, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, etc., etc.

They seem happy with it and keep churning out their "cookie cutter children", the leaders of the world, the scientists earning Nobel prices, the writers, moviemakers, artists, engineers, physicians, thinkers, movers and shakers of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

In fact, no great man in history owned a laptop while in elementary school. I think your concerns are greatly exaggerated.

I agree that education is a must for every child on the planet; I'm not so sure that the best way to improve children's education is to hand them a laptop, though...

I'm one of those who's getting very tired of the feed-them-beans argument.

There's a story from Oxfam, years ago, during one of the terrible Ethiopian famines. They had the bright idea of asking the villagers what the highest aid priority was. Maybe it wasn't just food. Maybe wells, or latrines, or farming tools, or blankets were actually more needed. The answer they got over and over again: education.

Since then, I've heard similar stories too often for it to be a coincidence.

The other thing that annoys me is: how would we rich Westerners feel if the same rules were applied to us? At least in the US, we have starving people too. We have people trying to pull their own teeth because they have no money for a dentist. What if the Chinese stopped sending us gadgets and sent us brown rice instead, because we had no use for MP3 players until we'd fed *all* our citizens? I think we'd get rather bent out of shape.

I am not AT ALL trying to saying all people shouldn't be well-nourished. I'm saying it's a patronizing argument to make when we don't apply it to ourselves.

I think many of the commenters here are in dire need for some remedial teaching.

Two subject:
1 International economical development (introductory basic course: What causes famines)

2 Child development and education: How do humans, and children, learn

Some of comments I saw show a complete and utter ignorance about any aspect of these areas.

Winter

I think I should explain my above post somewhat. Economic development is not about donating food, and education is not about root-learning. All the successful (ie, mostly non-USA) school systems use a number of strategies. Most look quite a lot like Constructivism.

All people working in education agree that teachers are extremely important. However, if there were enough teachers, we wouldn't need a OLPC initiative. If you have an idea how to train 10+ million teachers to work among the really poor, please, take your chance for a Nobel price. Otherwise, don't interfere with people who try to help the teachers that are working to make the best of it. Any post that contains "give them teachers and schools" is immediately disqualified for being completely beside the point.

"They need food" is even worse.

Whenever famines are in the media spotlight they are attributed to forces of nature or all out wars. However, almost all famines are caused by political powerplays. From the Bengal and Irish famines in the 19th century by self serving autocratic English economic policies to the Biafra and Zimbabwan hunger wars. See Amartya Sen's Famous Theory

http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/lisasun/courses/334/Does%20Democracy%20Avert%20Famine.htm

Furthermore, the single most effective measure that increases children's health most is the education of the mothers. Eg,
http://ideas.repec.org/p/chk/cuhkdc/00021.html
Education really helps on the long term.

For information on educational practices, you can always read the education section of OLPCnews
http://www.olpcnews.com/content/education/
Many posts and links.

Winter

Furthermore, the single most effective measure that increases children's health most is the education of the mothers. Eg,
http://ideas.repec.org/p/chk/cuhkdc/00021.html
Education really helps on the long term.
Winter

That I agree with and that's why I think it would be more cost effective to give the laptops to the mothers, not the children. (ie laptops vs micro loan argument, not laptops vs food argument)

As you say, most famines serve somebody's political interest and those somebodies are not the type to hand out laptops.

> All the successful (ie, mostly non-USA) school systems use a number of strategies.

And these school systems names would be?

And these multiple strategies, what would they be?

Winter wrote:

"All the successful (ie, mostly non-USA) school systems use a number of strategies. Most look quite a lot like Constructivism."

It should be noted that neither failing nor "successful" systems (assuming there is such thing) have ever felt the need to give one laptop per elementary school child.

The question becomes even more important:

Why is it that neither "successful" not failing "systems" share Mr. Negroponte's vision?

Why is it the "vision" or "dream" or "solution" (whatever anyone wants to call it) is being sold to poor countries only?

It stands to reason that a program like OLPC, if truly as wonderful and revolutionary as its proponents claim, should benefit rich and poor children alike. And perhaps the greatest benefit would be obtained by kids in rich countries, where money, electricity, teacher shortages, absenteesm, etc., are not a problem.

So, why is it that the entire educated, rich world, the countries with the "successful" systems (whatever countries and systems that may be) are not rushing to Prof. Negroponte's door?

Puzzling, indeed...

"Why is it that neither "successful" not failing "systems" share Mr. Negroponte's vision?"

You could try to read some of the posts under the OLPCnews education header?

If you did, you would have seen that this question has come up dozens of times. The answer has always been the same and twofold:

1 Successful systems were set up when there were no computers (irrelevant, but still noteworthy)

2 In the developed world, there are enough teachers. They don't "need" laptops. But the really DO use computers, but the children all have their own computer. You don't use the computer in the classroom, but at home. The whole point of the OLPC is that they want to help children for which there are not enough teachers. The children that sit 70 pupils for each teacher.

In such situations where there simply are not enough teachers (and these cannot be recruited), a computer can increase the productivity of each teacher. That is the aim of the OLPC initiative.

See:
http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_xo_improve_teachers.html

Winter

"
> All the successful (ie, mostly non-USA) school systems use a number of strategies.
And these school systems names would be?
And these multiple strategies, what would they be?
"

See the latest PISA survey

http://www.oecd.org/document/60/0,3343,en_2649_201185_39700732_1_1_1_1,00.html

Finland takes top spot.

Mixed strategies? You think the Finnish etc don't use computers and modern communication strategies? (hint, Nokia is Finnish).

Winter

"That I agree with and that's why I think it would be more cost effective to give the laptops to the mothers, not the children. (ie laptops vs micro loan argument, not laptops vs food argument)"

Sadly, mothers are generally much too busy to be reached by intensive education programs.

Adult education programs are important but it is much more effective to teach the girls BEFORE they become a mother.

Winter

> Mixed strategies? You think the Finnish etc don't use computers and modern communication strategies? (hint, Nokia is Finnish).

I think you're on the hook to prove your assertions which you so far have not done.

Also, comparing the educational results of an ethnically homogeneous nation of 5.3 million to a nation of +300 million that's more ethnically heterogeneous then the entire OECD list of nations is hardly the inherently valid comparison you seem to believe it to be.

Also, do Hong Kong-China, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Japan and New Zealand use these somewhat vague "computers and modern communication strategies"?

Re. Finland - the nation has an overall clear vision of an Information Society and their education system fits into that goal. It would be silly to say that ICT provides them with their high scores in the international arena, but it may be true to say that they are integrating technologies at all levels in a planned way and that helps.

It at least tells their students that the world they clearly live in can be harnessed for learning - something Marshall McLuhan noted in this quote back in the 60's:
"The children of technological man respond with untaught delight to the poetry of trains, ships, planes, and to the beauty of machine products.
In the school room officialdom suppresses all their natural experience; children are divorced from their culture. They are not permitted to approach the traditional heritage of mankind through the door of
technological awareness; this only possible door for them is slammed in their faces."

I think Finland is recognizing the first part of the quote and ensuring the second part does not happen in their schools.

Re. "proof" that computers help - please look at OECD:
http://www.oecd.org/document/53/0,3343,en_2649_35845581_39381877_1_1_1_1,00.html

Check out the "Comparative international evidence on the impact of digital technologies on learning outcomes: empirical studies" part way down the page.

or BECTA documents that provide the same:
http://publications.becta.org.uk/


Check out "Learning in the 21st century: The case for harnessing technology"

Winter wrote:

"In such situations where there simply are not enough teachers (and these cannot be recruited), a computer can increase the productivity of each teacher. That is the aim of the OLPC initiative."

As you say, that's the "aim" (as in "we hope that's the case"). It is not a fact, and that's why nobody is rushing to order by the millions until serious studies are conducted to determine if the "aim of the OLPC initiative" is a valid or realistic one.

The idea that, somehow, computers can replace teachers has been discarded even by Negroponte himself, after it became obvious it was pretty absurd.

A very good read:

[ ...the views surrounding technology in the schools are diverse.

Some advocate the expansion of technology use to enhance student technological
literacy, while others believe its primary purpose should be as a learning tool. “The
romanticized view of technology is that its mere presence in schools will enhance student
learning and achievement. In contrast is the view that money spent on technology, and
time spent by students using technology, are money and time wasted” (National Research
Council, 1999, p. 194). Yet, many proponents of increasing the role of educational
technology in the schools admit that our current knowledge about the educational affects
of that technology is rudimentary at best. This is due to the fact that much of the
evaluation that has taken place has been in classrooms with mixed or partial deployments
of technology with varying levels of training and limited content. Full implementation
has been hampered by a lack of capital budgets and insufficient research and
development funds necessary to create fully integrated learning environments.
There is perhaps no other profession that is so subject to “the new and innovative”
as is education. The tendency for educators to tout first one innovation and then another
and the failure of these innovations to make any marked improvement in student learning
has been well documented. And, rightly or wrongly, there are many today who are
skeptical of the educational value of the new technologies, or at least skeptical of the
schools’ abilities to use them effectively or to deploy them sufficiently to transform the
learning environments.
Educational policy-makers are responsible for determining the direction, nature,
and scope of educational programs, and for determining how scarce resources are to be
allocated. Ideally, educational policy will reflect the “best practices” of the profession.
By best practices, we mean the educational approaches, programs, materials, etc., that
have proven to be of the most educational benefit and value to the greatest number of
children. But where exactly do computers and related technologies fit into this realm of
“best practice?” ]

http://www.portical.org/fouts.pdf

"As you say, that's the "aim" (as in "we hope that's the case"). It is not a fact, and that's why nobody is rushing to order by the millions until serious studies are conducted to determine if the "aim of the OLPC initiative" is a valid or realistic one."

The whole concept is rather simple.

Country X has most (rural) schools with less than half the teachers needed, eg, 70 pupils per teacher and a dearth of books. This is solved by either having 70 children sitting in a single classroom full day or by teaching 35 at a time half days.

Country X wants to improve the education of the children. 50 years of trying has not succeeded in increasing the teacher to pupil ratio nor the book to pupil ratio. Therefore, country X decides to make the best of the teachers they have and tries to increase the productivity of the teachers.

Go back to you economics basics course (if you ever had one). What options are there to increase worker productivity? Answer: Capital infusions. What capital is available? ICT, ie, computers and networks. How can these be applied? See, eg,

http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_xo_improve_teachers.html

I really have no idea where these commenters rallying against computers in education come from. Their lack of exposure to modern educational systems and their advocacy of outdated educational models suggests countries like the USA. I would suggest that these people read the PISA score list and get informed about the countries in the top of the list. All of the top countries have a very sophisticated educational system. Then see what aspects of these systems can be transfered to very low income countries which do lack adequate numbers of teachers and books.

Btw, in almost all of the countries (USA included), the students have both computers and internet access. Mostly even better than in the USA. But the problem of the USA is not etnic and linguistic diversity (cf, UK), but a general impoverisched educational system that is paralyzed by religious and political "culture wars".

Moreover, this is not a critique of the USA, which has many difficult problems to solve, but of those who think the USA is the end and all of educational progress. The OLPC is NOT failing because it doesn't fit USA schools.

Winter

Winter wrote:

"The OLPC is NOT failing because it doesn't fit USA schools."

I agree with that.

The real reason the OLPC is failing is that very few people in the world subscribe to the idea that handing children a laptop will magically result in a better education.

Prof. Negroponte & Co. need to do some serious soul-searching in order to save their initiative. That soul-searching begins with the acknowledgement that ignoring the need for pilot projects was a colossal blunder, followed by the realization that prospective buyers will ask legitimate questions - and expect legitimate answers - about the XO and its role on education.

That's the only chance the OLPC Project has for becoming a success.

That said, I thank everyone for the exchange of ideas. The two sides of the coin have been presented and it's time to give the topic a rest.


Merry Christmas to all!

Winter wrote:
The whole concept is rather simple.

Country X has most (rural) schools with less than half the teachers needed, eg, 70 pupils per teacher and a dearth of books. This is solved by either having 70 children sitting in a single classroom full day or by teaching 35 at a time half days.

Country X wants to improve the education of the children. 50 years of trying has not succeeded in increasing the teacher to pupil ratio nor the book to pupil ratio. Therefore, country X decides to make the best of the teachers they have and tries to increase the productivity of the teachers.

Go back to you economics basics course (if you ever had one). What options are there to increase worker productivity? Answer: Capital infusions. What capital is available? ICT, ie, computers and networks. How can these be applied?
----
(Per village)
70 laptops + 10 extra (teacher, replace lost/stolen/damaged units, cannibalized for spare parts)= 80 laptops * $200/unit = $16000

$16000/4 years (life span of computer) = 4000/year. Depending on the country, you should be able to hire at least one teacher at that salary. Note that I'm assuming teacher training, electricity and internet access costs are negligible. I'm also assuming that people don't go into teacher because a trained teacher can make more money doing something else. (the primary reason for the teacher shortage in America)

The question isn't whether or not technology is useful/important/vital to education. I think we all agree that it is. The question is if the OLPC model is the most effective way to use education dollars. OLPC is having trouble because most countries think the answer is no.

Even in America, where we could theoretically easily afford this, the answer would be no. At least if it were presented the way Negroponte presents it.

--- and to all a good night!

Maddie,

"(Per village) 70 laptops + 10 extra (teacher, replace lost/stolen/damaged units, cannibalized for spare parts)= 80 laptops * $200/unit = $16000
$16000/4 years (life span of computer) = 4000/year.Depending on the country, you should be able to hire at least one teacher at that salary. "

And thus perpetuate the current miserable state of education in those countries... (You also seem to make wrong assumptions about ^salaries for teachers - eg in Peru, being one of the lowest, it still starts at around $6000pa).

You missed the key phrase in Winter's post: " less than half the teachers needed" - here it is again in its context:

"Country X has most (rural) schools with less than half the teachers needed, eg, 70 pupils per teacher and a dearth of books"

and from another post:

"The whole point of the OLPC is that they want to help children for which there are not enough teachers. The children that sit 70 pupils for each teacher."


^ Teachers’salaries, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005
( http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001466/146696e.pdf )

Maddie wrote:
"Even in America, where we could theoretically easily afford this, the answer would be no. At least if it were presented the way Negroponte presents it."

Why should the US give children that already HAVE access to a computer another one? Why should children that also already have "enough" teachers and books benefit from a productivity increase for teachers?

Btw, I too got my own TCO here (scroll to bottom):

http://www.olpcnews.com/sales_talk/countries/indonesia_laptop_payment_plan.html

Any argument like "they should hire more teachers" sounds like "let them eat cake".

If you have a credible plan, go for the Nobel peace price. Because you succeeded where thousands failed over five decades.

Irvin wrote:
"The real reason the OLPC is failing is that very few people in the world subscribe to the idea that handing children a laptop will magically result in a better education."

Plato said the same about books. And he was a VERY influential thinker (because he had his ideas published in books).

Maybe reading more about the ideas behind the OLPC and less making them up (based on idiotic sound bites from Negroponte) would help. Read or listen to eg, Ivan Krstic's talks:

http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_xo_improve_teachers.html

Winter

(based on idiotic sound bites from Negroponte)

Isn't he the primary salesman for this pitch? He's constantly saying things that don't make sense and aren't supported by data. But countries are supposed to come up with millions of dollars to implement "his dream".

If you think OLPC can sell this program, (one laptop to each child for his/her exclusive use, at no direct cost to the child's family) have at it. Maybe Negroponte will be picking up a Nobel Prize two years from now.


Good luck!

OK. I'll bite. I'll tell you what I know that the children of the world need to know.

They need to be literate. To be literate means a child knows the language of power, used in their own culture. They need to know how to read, write, speak and calculate well.

I have had two XO's, now, for three days. Most of the software installed on the XO will NOT help a child learn their language of power.

Linux commands, Logo, and Python programming languages are part of the language of power for a very small sub-culture within affluent, western cultures. ADSR envelopes for tone modules is a language suitable only for an even smaller subset of affluent westerners. Applications for these are taking up space on a laptop that already has severely limited space and needs more apps for learning the language-of-power.

Learning the language of power could be helped with apps that teach reading, writing, speech, and mathematics. They need a device that will allow them to share with the whole world, not just other XO users. The crippled browser and word processor currently installed on the XO need to play more nicely with the rest of the world. The browser needs to run real flash and java. The word processor needs to save in formats that allows the rest of the world to see a student's work, intact. Write's ODC and RTF file formats don't currently work.

And lastly, don't dictate to children of the undeveloped world whether or not its appropriate for them to print. Emulating print is a key motivation to learning to write. The rest of the world creates print. They need to create printed material. Just because you don't know how to help them with cost-effective printers doesn't mean someone else can't. The XO needs to support printing right out of the box.

You know this conversation reminds me of my family. My parents grew up in the depression in rural Appalachia, where most of my family still lives. For the past 80 years all sorts of reformers have come thru the mountains trying to determine what the poor hillbillies really need.

Over the years reformers have built schools and churches and community centers and factories and economic cooperatives and outhouses and dams and parks and famous roads, and you name it, it's been done.

It is fascinating to see how my own family has responded to all of this. I have cousins who turned their outhouses into chicken coops, and others who still use them and eschew indoor plumbing. I have cousins who took advantage of free or at least affordable education, and cousins who did not. I have cousins who still live, technically, below the poverty level, but are happy. I have cousins who live below the poverty level and are not happy at all.

I don't think any one reform changed all of Appalachia. There is still lots of poverty here and lots of despair and sadly, way too much pollution. But no one reformer could solve all the problems of a geographically poor region.

So I don't believe in one answer for all. One Laptop Per Child can not possibly save every child from the problems of poverty, economic exploitation, pollution, or war.

But it clearly is already helping some. I'm glad to have been part of that with give one get one. I intend to continue contributing in the future.

Jimmy wrote:
"The crippled browser and word processor currently installed on the XO need to play more nicely with the rest of the world. The browser needs to run real flash and java. The word processor needs to save in formats that allows the rest of the world to see a student's work, intact. Write's ODC and RTF file formats don't currently work."

I don't think you have to worry. Michael Tiemann gave an XO to his daughter:

http://blogs.cnet.com/8300-13507_1-18.html?tag=blogHed

If she encounters any serious problems, I think her father can correct them for us all.

Single handedly.

Winter

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