Learning Options in Failed School Environments

   
   
   
   
   

What happened to the plan sketched out by Negroponte and Alan Kay: the kid out in the world learning and constructing knowledge in real time? The OLPC seems to be getting further from the original plan, and closer to being just another toy that suburban kids put next to their iPhone. Maybe the name should be changed to "iTeach" or "iLearn".

olpc sleep
Bored with talk, ready to learn

While the people debated whether OLPC is related to Taiwanese net-books or American e-ink gizmos; new learning paradigms were being created: free choice learning, action learning, cooperative learning (not to be confused with collaborative learning), adventure learning, project learning, integrated studies, youth voice, service-learning, and community-based. They are all being used in environments in which the formal school system has failed or the parents have given the schools a vote of no confidence.

Free-choice learning
The kind of learning that occurs while people visit museums or other cultural institutions, watch television, read a newspaper, attend a play, or surf the Internet. It has been pioneered by the Smithsonian and voluntary network of public libraries. The learner must be: willing to be actively involved in the experience; able to reflect on the experience; possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience.

Action learning
An educational process whereby the participant studies their own actions and experience in order to improve performance. This is done in conjunction with others, in small groups called action learning sets. It enables each person to reflect on and review the action they have taken and the learning points arising. This should then guide future action and improve performance.

The method stands in contrast with the traditional teaching methods that focus on the presentation of knowledge and skills. Action learning focuses on research into action taken and knowledge emerges as a result that should lead to the improvement of skills and performance. It has strong links to various philosophies relating to existentialism, the psychology of self-understanding and self-development, and the sociology of group based learning. It was pioneered in civic and social studies classes where students from passive learning in history to being active in the community.

Cooperative learning
Proposed in response to traditional curriculum-driven education. In cooperative learning environments, students interact in purposely structured heterogeneous groups to support the learning of oneself and others in the same group. In online education, cooperative learning focuses on opportunities to encourage both individual flexibility and affinity to a learning community. It was created to prevented online communities and social web networks from collapsing into "Groupthink".

Adventure learning
A hybrid distance education approach that provides students with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences within collaborative learning environments. In AL environments, classroom teachers are not positioned in the role of teacher/facilitator/designer in the online learning spaces. AL online spaces are collaborative spaces where students, teachers, subject experts, and AL team members interact with one another; these are community spaces where traditional hierarchical classroom roles are blurred. It was created for environments were book learning was disconnected to reality or just unobtainable.

Project learning
Also known as project-based learning, is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups, because project learning is filled with active and engaged learning, it inspires students to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying.

Research also indicates that students are more likely to retain the knowledge gained through this approach far more readily than through traditional textbook-centered learning. In addition, students develop confidence and self-direction as they move through both team-based and independent work. Project learning was created for philanthropist based programs; they only have a very limited time to be with the beneficiary and so every minute needs maximum impact.

Integrated studies
Combining curriculum from two or more separate disciplines, allowing students to see how ideas are connected. Teaching in such a contextual manner promotes collaboration, critical thinking, and knowledge retention. "See how ideas are connected" is a hallmark of constructivist learning.

Youth voice
Refers to the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people as a collective body. The term youth voice often groups together a diversity of perspectives and experiences, regardless of backgrounds, identities, and cultural differences. It is frequently associated with the successful application of a variety of youth development activities, including service learning, youth research, and leadership training. Additional research has shown that engaging youth voice is an essential element of effective organizational development among community and youth-serving organizations. Since many places lack a classroom; this is a way to turn in a weakness into strength.

Community-Based Programs funds
Used to provide training and technical assistance and program evaluation as well as to implement local service-learning programs in community and faith-based non-profit organizations. These programs may also partner with schools. They focus on providing opportunities for disadvantaged youth to serve others, through, among other possible activities, intensive Summer of Service programs.

Programs may propose to provide new after-school programs in which youth participate in service-learning or to add community service and service-learning as significant activities in existing after-school programs. Some grants may provide funds to intermediaries to work with multiple State Service Commissions. Alternately, a community-based program might provide training and technical assistance to a network of youth-serving programs to incorporate high-quality service and service-learning practices into their existing programs.

Service-learning
Combining experiential learning and community service. Service-learning is a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community. As a teaching methodology, it falls under the philosophy of experiential education. More specifically, it integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, encourage lifelong civic engagement, and strengthen communities for the common good.

Learn and Serve America: the field test

Since 1990 Learn and Serve America has furthered America's tradition of civic participation and volunteerism by making grants to integrate community service with curricula through service-learning. Learn and Serve America grant making fosters collaboration among schools, faith-based and other community organizations, and institutions of higher education to meet immediate community needs and strengthen the capacity of communities to address long-term needs.

Service-learning programs allow schools, community groups and colleges to combine community service activities with educational, civic, or leadership objectives. The largest source of funding for service-learning, Learn and Serve America funds, per statute, a wide variety of education and nonprofit organizations that provide opportunities for youth to serve while they learn.

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29 Comments

Although I think all these initiatives are wunderful, I do have a nagging feeling of incompleteness.

All these initiatives seem to start from the premisses that children take control over what they should learn. In itself, this is not too bad. Children mostly have a keen feeling of what is and is not valid education.

However, at some point, learning and teaching revolve around the point that the knowledge to be learned/taught is external to the child. Someone else has to determine what the child can and cannot learn.

This should be seen in a positive light. Children are not aware of all the subjects and knowledge they need in later life. They are also not "mature" enough (by definition) to make all the right decisions (in the sense that they tend to make more shortsighted choices than adults).

So, how does the author see this fundamental role of the teacher?

(to make things clear, I am NOT the author of this post. There has been an error of attribution)

Winter

It's a good thing you're not claiming authorship of this piece Winter. Whole chunks of it have been lifted verbatim out of Wikipedia and other sources like - http://www.learnandserve.gov/about/programs/index.asp

I took the info from the official websites, because I did not want to misrepresent them.

The programs and teaching styles mentioned do have adult supervision, and many are teachers or student-teachers. Perhaps I did not do enough name dropping. I did mention the Smithsonian Office of Educational Research. The other sources were from the George Lucas educational foundation.Learn and serve was created by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. The main difference is the teachers are volunteers.The Smithsonian, Lucas Foundation,and Americorps/Learn and Serve all have teachers.

This is an interesting cataloguing of alternative teaching approaches only to confirm that not everyone is or should be learning the same way, regardless of the success or failure of the local school system. To that extend it is precarious that computer aided 1:1 constructionist learning is not mentioned as a viable/acceptable option.
Further more is unclear why OLPC-XO is classified “just another toy that suburban kids put next to their iPhone” when is not even offered in this environments. It is actually destined for a totally different educational setting, where the mentioned alternatives do not exist even as an educational idea (thought is some may be traditionally practiced by the local society, but not the school system)
If the assay is just a catalogue, there is not much to say.
If is meant as a form of criticism to OLPC/Sugar project is unclear why. The pluralism of teaching attempts just validates this effort too.
If is meant as a “non educational enough” criticism, and the luck/delay of content development, I could go alone.
But what is it?

The OLPC-XO is advertised in upscale shopping malls.

Apologies to Robert & Winter. In my editing haste, I mistakenly attributed this article to Winter, when in fact, its a post by Robert.

I've corrected the post author.

I don't think that I've read a post on OLPC news that has got me so het up.

Here's the money quote:

"They [the active learning strategies outlined in the post] are all being used in environments in which the formal school system has failed or the parents have given the schools a vote of no confidence." OK, it's impossible to argue with the statement's truthiness, all of these approaches have been used by some teachers in some crummy schools at some time. But these strategies are far, far more likely to be implemented in private and/or elite schools than in failing ones. Whereas in failed schools--whatever they are--and schools censured by parents the outcome that is by far the likeliest is the introduction of strict discipline, programmatic instruction and increased emphasis on test preparation and improved results.

In my direct experience, integrated learning, cooperative learning and PBL were all explored and popularized in schools that were among the elites in their regions--check out the Cherry Creek schools in Denver, for example, or the public schools of Singapore, or the private schools of Turkey and India compared to their public brethren. And by comparison, see what's passes for educational innovation in Laos, or East Palo Alto.

The reasons for this situation are fairly obvious: schools in wealthier districts spend more on teaching (and on teacher development) and are located in communities that demand and can at least occasionally recognize the development of higher-order thinking skills as opposed to mere performance.

Conversely, the single most compelling (indeed the only even potentially compelling) argument in favor of NCLB, which excises all of the active-learning strategies that you outline from the realm of classroom possibility, is that it reduces achievement disparities between schools in disadvantaged schools and schools in better-off communities. (Bravo for that I suppose.)

So, sure, the original OLPC vision was radical, but its radicalness was precisely based on the fact that it purported to infuse learning by poor kids in poor communities and crappy schools with the possibility of real, self-and-peer-driven exploration--something that kids in elite schools can experience in any country in the world. But that vision was always suspect, because the main OLPC purchasers, at the outset, were to be the governments that had, prior to that time, created the crappy schools, underpaid and under-educated their teachers, and held all their kids accountable for performance on high-stakes exams from which only the elites (and, I suppose, the few true geniuses who didn't have their smarts snuffed by malnutrition) emerged victorious.

It was exciting to think of replacing the education system with systems of learning, but the OLPC vision was at odds with the OLPC business model. And for want of a radical business model, the pedagogical strategies--effective, adventurous strategies for learning--that you catalog will remain the province of the elites.

I don't think that I've read a post on OLPC news that has got me so het up.

Here's the money quote:

"They [the active learning strategies outlined in the post] are all being used in environments in which the formal school system has failed or the parents have given the schools a vote of no confidence." OK, it's impossible to argue with the statement's truthiness, all of these approaches have been used by some teachers in some crummy schools at some time. But these strategies are far, far more likely to be implemented in private and/or elite schools than in failing ones. Whereas in failed schools--whatever they are--and schools censured by parents the outcome that is by far the likeliest is the introduction of strict discipline, programmatic instruction and increased emphasis on test preparation and improved results.

In my direct experience, integrated learning, cooperative learning and PBL were all explored and popularized in schools that were among the elites in their regions--check out the Cherry Creek schools in Denver, for example, or the public schools of Singapore, or the private schools of Turkey and India in comparison to their public brethren. And by comparison, see what's passes for educational innovation in Laos, or west Oakland and East Palo Alto.

The reasons for this situation are fairly obvious: schools in wealthier districts spend more on teaching (and on teacher development) and are located in communities that demand and can at least occasionally recognize the development of higher-order thinking skills as opposed to mere performance.

Conversely, the single most compelling (indeed the only even potentially compelling) argument in favor of NCLB, which excises all of the active-learning strategies that you outline from the realm of classroom possibility, is that it reduces achievement disparities between schools in disadvantaged schools and schools in better-off communities. (Bravo for that I suppose.)

So, sure, the original OLPC vision was radical, but its radicalness was precisely based on the fact that it purported to infuse learning by poor kids in poor communities and crappy schools with the possibility of real, self-and-peer-driven exploration--something that kids in elite schools can experience in almost any country in the world. But that vision was always suspect, because the main OLPC purchasers, at the outset, were to be the governments that had, prior to that time, created the crappy schools, underpaid and under-educated teachers, and held all kids accountable for high-stakes exams from which only the elites (and, I suppose, the few true geniuses who didn't have their smarts snuffed by malnutrition) emerged victorious.

It was exciting to think of replacing the education system with systems of learning, but the OLPC vision was at odds with the business model. And the pedagogical strategies--effective, adventurous strategies for learning--that you catalog will remain the province of the elites.

My apologies too. In my haste to post something slightly ranting, I posted it 2x. Just read it once.

@Ed Gaible:
"But that vision was always suspect, because the main OLPC purchasers, at the outset, were to be the governments that had, prior to that time, created the crappy schools, underpaid and under-educated their teachers, and held all their kids accountable for performance on high-stakes exams from which only the elites (and, I suppose, the few true geniuses who didn't have their smarts snuffed by malnutrition) emerged victorious."

I understand the emotions expressed in this post. The analysis is as far as I can see correct. But you attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.

First, we all know that in poverty, everyone will fight for their own kids. As happens in poor countries with the elite making sure their children are well off before they will work for the poor children. (the same happens in the US and EU).

Second, beyond this selfishness lies a very deep rooted problem: Education is expensive, a classroom full of childrens costs an adult's full salary, everywhere and everytime.

Third, an even deeper rooted problem: good profesionals do not want to work in slums or in a poor hamlet up in the mountains. Not for love nor money.

That is a problem EVERYwhere and most so in the developing world.

Not something a well meaning administration can easily repair.

Winter

As to the first, what a fascinating admission. A political institution like public education being less then supremely egalitarian? Say it's not so!

As to the second, you obviously can't be bothered to learn anything that might conflict with your fond preconceptions - http://www.ncl.ac.uk/egwest/tooley.html

Education, like everything else, is expensive when done by government. It needn't be as proven conclusively by Dr. Tooley's work and informed by what's incorrectly referred too as common sense.

Third, professionals work where their demands are met. Sometimes that's for love as exemplified by some of the poor saps who are still trying to make a silk purse out of the XO and sometimes that's for money as exemplified by the thousands of private, slum schools discovered by Dr. Tooley and largely ignored by the rest of the world.

@allen:
"Education, like everything else, is expensive when done by government. It needn't be as proven conclusively by Dr. Tooley's work and informed by what's incorrectly referred too as common sense."

For every 30 children, a full time teacher has to be paid. That is, 8 families with 4 schoolgoing children each, together have to pay for 1 full time teacher. That is a very simple but inescapable economic principle.

In the developing world, the working members of these ~8 families will be (much) less skilled than the teacher(s) they have to pay for. An easy estimate would be that these families will have to spend upto 20% of their TOTAL GROSS income on education alone. This comes on top of medical treatment, food, clothes, and learning materials for the children and any support for dependend family members (parents). And we ignore for the moment the lost income potential of the children (yes poor children often have to work to support the family).

This is for families that are mostly on a bare subsistance level.

Furthermore, the parents will not have had a completed education themselves, so they will be completely unable to judge the quality of the education they "purchase".

In short, however you look at it, education is expensive.

@allen:
"Third, professionals work where their demands are met."

One of the biggest problems in the developing world is that educated professionals want a good job in the city, and the good parts of the city at that. Which makes teachers, doctors, nursing staff, technicians, civil servants and whatever economic service you want to name scarce in rural areas and slums. There are saints and angles who will do this work, and they deserve a statue. But they are rare.

Simply put, you have to pay a very hefty surcharche if you want to get a teacher, doctor, or nurse to leave the city for the hills. If you cannot understand this, you cannot understand the problems of economic development.

Notice that nothing in this analysis depends on who delivers the service, government or the free market. And in practice we see the same effect in the hard-core free markets, right-wing and left-wing/communist dictatorships.

The idea that the government always delivers worse results than free enterprise looks away from the very important influence governemnts had in the economic development of eacht and every rich country in the world. Not the least the USA.

Winter

I'm sure you have a great deal of regard for the unquestionable truth of your assertions Winter but Dr. Tooley's gone out and taken a look at how education is being done by those most poorly served or unserved by the extant public education systems. The people who run the schools in response, unburdened by the assumptions of rich, Western public education advocates, do what they can with what they've got.

That those schools meet the modest needs of the poor people they serve is unquestionable since those poor people are paying for the results. That those same, poor people are ill-served or unserved by their public education system is also unquestionable because while they may be poor they're not stupid and if they thought they could stick someone else with the bill for educating their kids they'd do it in a heartbeat.

What's kind of humorous about the situation is that when public education officialdom casts an unapproving eye on poor, private schools and tries to shut them down they run into a political buzzsaw. Poor people, who might otherwise be inclined to apathetically accept their lot in life are stirred to protest and anger when what modest hopes they have for their children's futures are threatened by a government agency that has done them no good and is only protecting its own interests.

Of course one of the worthwhile outcomes of the "discovery" of poor people's private schools is that it provides some means of gaging the price of education. I doubt public education advocates will welcome the insights.

The notion that the cost of education, when it's the product of a political institution like public education, has any relationship to its value is laughable. The amount that's spent is always a product of the political process and that has little to do with the return on investment and everything to do with political clout.

That indifference to results filters all the way to the bottom of any public education hierarchy because to a public school teacher pay isn't a function of competence but of tenure so the struggle is always over that which is attainable like work location. Consequently staffing remote schools or schools in slums is an ongoing problem unrelated to pay because there's no pay differential for unpleasant or difficult work assignments.

Turns out though that it isn't at all difficult to staff private schools if you're willing to disregard the politically-constructed budgets and phony requirements of public education systems.

In any case, the poor people in question, like the proverbial bumble bee that's unaware that it's theoretically incapable of flight, simply go ahead and educated their kids without regard to their theoretical incapability to judge the value of that education or the condescension of public education advocates who'll never do their children any good.

@allen:

Sorry to see that you ignore the two points of my argument for a rant against government involvement:

1 Educuation costs the equivalent of 1 skilled (as in educated) teacher per 30 pupils + overhead. Those who pay could earn half of the teachers salary themselves and are often on a subsitance level.

2 The slums of the developing world are dangerous places (often civil war zones) and the rural areas completely isolated. Educated people do not want to live&work there unless they get paid a lot extra.

The same factors cause a lack of medical help in rural areas (and slums). Whether or not the government is involved.

In short, there is no such thing as cheap primary and secondary education.

However, I consider ANY initiative, private or public, to get education to the children worthwhile (that is why I frequent OLPCnews). The work of James Tooley is great and I am all for community empowerment.

The funny thing is that your private initiatives could gain a lot by the OLPC. They too work by improving educational efficiency, but they simply increase the number of teachers by decreasing the entry requirments to become a teacher.

You essentially forgot to mention how these poor were able to get their "budget schools" running.

The strategy is essentially to lower the cost by hiring cheaper, ie, less well educated, teachers. The exact same strategy has been used to bring medical treatment to the poor, replacing expensive doctors with community nurses. That strategy has the added advantage that the teachers (and nurses) have less options to switch to a higher paid job in the city.

What I do not see mentioned is how many children each family sends into these schools. Many of the countries mentioned have a history of limiting education to boys, and then often only one or two of them per family. Remember that getting their women educated and to work was what created the East Asian economic miracle.

You are right when you say that there are (many) places where the government run schools have even lower quality than these private ones (eg, Pakistan is infamous for its horrible educational system). Such a lack of efficiency is the hallmark of third world economies. But all countries that get out of this poverty spiral got their public education in order. You might be able to point out examples, but I know of NO third world country that got out of poverty without getting their children (especially girls) a solid public education.

What is true is that the governments aims of getting EVERY child an education breeds inefficiencies even if the policies are effective. But that too is simple economics. The marginal costs of reaching everyone are always high, whether it is telephone, electrical power, medical treatment, or education.

What I find "strange" is that you resist governments that want to improve their educational policies. And I am rather suspect of the ability of these private enterprises to get every last girl in school.

Winter

I think you guys missed the point. The programs that I have seen and tried to describe were headquartered in a library or museum. The highly educated experts were in an centralized urban location. They would broadcast lectures and content to be used in computer based activities in remote places. You cannot issue multiple choice standardized tests in a correspondence derived setup, because it too easy to cheat. In project-based and activity-based courses you either complete it or not.Subject matter experts are expensive. This way hundreds of people could share one teacher. The Smithsonian, State libraries, and NASA had such programs.

You ought to dig into the history of the use of technology in education. It stretches back to before the advent of the idea of using computers in education and even before the first, commercial computers.

Here's one sample - http://www.chicagotelevision.com/MPATI.htm - although phonograph records, radio, movies and film strips (there's one for ya, kid) were all hailed as the next leap in education as have been computers for the last forty years. Not just a heck of a lot of leaping actually occurred.

Thanks for the article. It was interesting. I remember the educational television from the 1970's and the introduction of computers in the late 1970's. For the kids that really wanted to learn, it really was a leap. You cannot save every kid. You cannot save everyone from poverty. The first thing you need are kids that actually want to learn;then you can argue about the best way to get the knowledge to the student. Seymour Papert was rather idealistic in saying that everyone wants to learn. Educational television and radio was really free choice learning. You tell the child it is there, but they have to actually meet you half way. Educational TV still exists: Thinkport.org, miccaonline.org, nasa.gov/audience/forstudents...but it is voluntary.

@allen:
"Educational TV still exists: Thinkport.org, miccaonline.org, nasa.gov/audience/forstudents...but it is voluntary."

Sesame street!

In the words of Ali G:

"Me always well liked Sesame Street, me learned a well lot from it. But do you think they'll ever make a version of it for kids?"

Winter

@winter (here and there): I'm very interested in your simple (not simplistic) cost analysis (30 kids in school = one FTE). My off-the-cuff estimate is that that if you factor in school construction, teacher training, curric development, exam grading and recording, MOE staff, teaching staff, electricity, boarding costs, you're approaching 3x FTE per class per academic year in secondary school. But if you've got any numbers that are more concrete, I'm very interested in hearing about it ([email protected]).

In any case, I don't mean to ascribe malice to Negroponte et al, far from it. But it's difficult to avoid charging them with naivete at the outset of OLPC. And then, as the real economics of education were presented to them, with small degrees of duplicity. (Ref to the video of NN's presentation to the World Bank in 2007 I think, in which someone asked about Total Cost of Ownership, Nick responded by equating TCO of OLPC with budget-per-student-per-annum, then ducked the follow-up statement that hardware buys would need to be pegged to _discretionary_ budget/student [typically 17% of total], not total budget/student/year.)

@allen: I haven't read Dr Tooley's stuff--altho I will, based on your pointer--but I've visited schools in places where the cost-per-student vs the quality of learning is outrageous. Notably, a school in Papua Indonesia with ~200 kids in attendance, one teacher teaching all classes, and 8 teachers on the payroll. Some of those teachers, including the principal, hadn't visited the school in more that 8 years. The community was fairly pissed off at the situation, but they had zero recourse. In any event, the price/value ratio of activities in that school was extreme. (On the same trip, I visited community schools run by religious groups, in which parents filled in as teachers: somewhat improved student/teacher ratio [better than 200:1, by far] but the parents had very, very low skills themselves.) I love the idea of schools/teachers/parents/kids getting high value out of public investments in education--and I'll read Dr Tooley's materials with the fond hope of seeing this idea actualized--but it's hard to imagine that this is the norm.

@Robert: OK, experts situated in centralized locations broadcasting PBL-based activities, I get that. What resources are the kids using for research (and how do they / the experts know that these resources are reliable)? With the assumption that some of these activities are collaborative, how are the kids arranged in groups and how is their group work facilitated? How is their output assessed? How closely tied are the activities to curricula on which the kids are to be tested and for which their teachers (their f2f) are accountable? PBL and related techniques are extremely valuable, but their value comes precisely from their nature(s) as high-touch pedagogies. DE-based PBL in poor-country environments is way (way) difficult to pull off. On this one, I'll remain skeptical.

Respectfully,
Ed


"How closely tied are the activities to curricula on which the kids are to be tested and for which their teachers are accountable?" The answer is zero. Free Choice learning is strictly voluntary.I don't think accountable schools really exist. In US cities the drop out rate is over 60% and graduates can barely read. That's even after that schools adopt "no child left behind" rules. What I am talking about is a kid that doesn't want to be ignorant anymore and really wants to learn, and giving them a little something. When a school fails it is usually because neither students nor teachers really wants to be there. The teachers just grades on a curve or gives out "gentleman's C's". Usually it is a lowest common denominator thing, and the genuinely interested kids must look elsewhere to learn things. If you just take the kids that really want to learn; then OLPC orders would be much smaller...like one in a hundred or thousand. Most people just do whatever their parents did and see formal education as irrelevant;Hence the 60% dropout rate.You cannot help everyone;only the people that want to be helped.Most people could care less about school.

@Ed Gaible:
"My off-the-cuff estimate is that that if you factor in school construction, teacher training, curric development, exam grading and recording, MOE staff, teaching staff, electricity, boarding costs, you're approaching 3x FTE per class per academic year in secondary school. But if you've got any numbers that are more concrete, I'm very interested in hearing about it ([email protected])."

Sorry, no definite numbers. But I think Wayan or Bryan should know about such numbers.

Personally, I think 3 FTE/classroom might not be an exageration, but seem a little "worst case". These other 2 FTEs are overhead that might be reduced considerably by peculiarities in the local situation, like your 8 FTE/1 teacher example. It seems many third world countries have payroll-wellfare schemes in government services.

However, absent such "wellfare-schemes", getting a community to donate labor for building construction and maintenance, for instance, could get down the money cost considerably.

Winter

- Ed, if that school in Papua is a private school then the high likelihood is that there's some reason why someone else isn't opening a school more to the liking of parents. After all, that is how a market economy works; customer dissatisfaction results in opportunity provided there aren't impediments like the necessity of acquiring an operating license which isn't forthcoming or simple strong-arming by the extant supplier.

If that school's a public school, well, one of the first orders of business for many public institutions is to get rid of pesky private competition and make sure it never resurfaces.

Also, while the private schools Dr. Tooley describes are a panacea the definition of "panacea" is a function of the people who send their kids to those schools. They aren't some non-existent educational Olympus which opponents of privates schools like to imply they ought to be. The schools are what poor people can afford but they are also, by definition, better then the public schools where there are public schools available and, of course, better then no school at all.

It's worth considering that in some areas these private schools operate in competition with public schools. Given the poverty common in those areas the fact that private schools can operate is either a testament to the awfulness of the public schools, the excellence of the private schools or, most likely, somewhere in between.

What that means is that these private schools are an organic response to the local situation. If the soil is fertile the schools sprout and grow. If conditions are sufficiently hostile, where government agencies are vigorous in their suppression of private schools or day-to-day survival is so precarious that no labor resource, i.e. kids, can't be left un-utilized, the schools can't take root.

- Robert, the fact that educational materials have been produced using "advanced" technologies like radio and motion pictures doesn't change the fact that they've worked no large-scale change, or any noticeable change, in how education is done. Preceding technological revolutions have altered the landscape within which they operated; the printing press made books affordable, the mechanical loom made cloth affordable and the railroad made cross-country transportation affordable.

Nothing of the sort has occurred with repeated attempts to apply the advanced technology of the moment to the problem of educating the public. If anything the cost of education has gone up in the face of dropping costs of the technologies that were supposed to revolutionize education. That's why I brought up the history of attempts to use technology in education. It's been done, including the use of computers, many times, without the somewhat vaguely-defined revolution showing up.

By the way, the last few words of the preceding paragraph are an implied challenge which has, to the best of my knowledge, been largely ignored by the folks who think computers are the future of education.

The challenge is: what's this revolution look like?

Every kid in Ed's school in Papua now has an XO and has had an XO for the past, say, three years. What's the school look like? What are the kids doing? What educational mountains have they climbed in this One-Laptop-Per-Child future?

If neither of you guys feels like accepting the challenge don't feel too bad, you're in good company. Ivan Kristic stared at me blankly when I asked him to describe the specifics he expected from an OLPC-saturated school and I think I frightened Benjamin Mako Hill by asking him to speculate similarly. Winter, don't feel left out. If you'd care to describe some of the specifics you expect from the OLPC then feel free to chime in.

@allen:
"If you'd care to describe some of the specifics you expect from the OLPC then feel free to chime in."

You start to sound rather idealistic and evangelizing when you write about private schooling ;-)

About my own ideas (no need to repeat them here):
OLPC XO Will Improve Teacher Productivity
http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_xo_improve_teachers.html

An Un-American Use of One Laptop Per Child
http://www.olpcnews.com/content/localization/american_laptop_child.html

OLPC XO: A Cost Effective Violin
http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_effective_violin.html

With respect to your vision of private schooling. What you have presented are valuable community initiatives that got at least some education to the children.

But in the end, these are stopgap measures. They are needed because the alternative is even worse. But in the end, the benefits of the private education are harvested by the whole country, but the cost have to be born by parents when they can least bear them. Public education spreads out the cost over everyone, making them bearable.

The benefits of education are biggest if it reaches the masses at the bottom of the social ladder. The little tigers and their followers of East Asia show what can be achieved if a country can also recruit the young women. And for that you need education. So much of it that no one has yet been able to achieve that with commercial schools.

Private primary and secondary tuition is not that popular in the rich countries (except as a way to achieve social stratification). Even in countries that do not fight it, eg, UK (but most other countries allow it). And I think that is because public schooling is more efficient. That is, delivers more quality for the money if the public administration is halfway effective.

Winter

I am taking a very pessimistic view. The OLPC is a gadget that has so far been vaporware. It missed its price point. The education paradigm, a Seymour Papert designed thing that made teachers obsolete or superfluous, was pretty much rejected by everyone. I have been waiting two years and have yet to see any real education software. They just keep making better O/S and hardware. I am just tossing out ideas of places that would have a use for this gadget. I don't expect there to be a revolution or every child to be helped. Some help is better than none. How many "pilots" do we have to have? Why does OLPC have to be in orders of tens of thousands; that kind of commitment is like buying an IBM mainframe? If these nations are poor; how do you expect them to buy thousands of computers? I am just suggesting alternatives. This is like alternative energy; we see prototype after prototype but nothing ever really happens. I' been waiting for 30 years. I also remember Papert from the 1970s; 30 years of tests and prototypes. It would get the vaporware award, but the electric car is the winner on that.

@ allen: "- Ed, if that school in Papua is a private school then the high likelihood is that there's some reason why someone else isn't opening a school more to the liking of parents....
If that school's a public school, well, one of the first orders of business for many public institutions is to get rid of pesky private competition and make sure it never resurfaces."

About 40% of the primary schools in Papua operate in areas that have only been monetized within the last 20 years, and that are _extremely_ isolated. (The school in question is easy to get to, basically a 1.5 day walk from the town of Wamena.) There is next to no money in these villages, and what little there is is not available to pay for schooling--especially if there's a publicly funded alternative. The teachers are living in town, and working other jobs, because they don't want to live in the rural areas.

The MDG of Universal Primary Education is precisely aimed at _free_ access to education because that's what poor people can afford. (Education is a right, in this view.) I'm aware that UPE has increased the amount of crappy schooling going on. But while I'm also aware that competition, and private-sector providers, have established effective alternatives to public schooling, these outcomes have been _primarily_ in poor urban areas and/or in emerging-market rural areas, not in least-developed areas. The costs involved in convincing private-school teachers to live in these areas is substantial, it would I'm sure tilt the balance sheet strongly away from sustainability, let alone profitability.

"Every kid in Ed's school in Papua now has an XO and has had an XO for the past, say, three years. What's the school look like? What are the kids doing? What educational mountains have they climbed in this One-Laptop-Per-Child future?"

It's an alluring image, assuming that the equation "kids + tools = learning." I'm pretty skeptical, in all honesty, but it's a testable proposition. Unfortunately the amount of $ per kid that reaches these schools is perhaps $30 / year, partly as a result of underfunding, partly as a result of skimming that occurs as the money moves outward. So budgeting would need to change--which is possible, and even necessary in any case--as a precondition of this vision becoming reality. If we're imagining that this happens in a corruption-free environment, we need to imagine what happens in that environment in schools without XOs as well. If we're imagining a 3x or 5x increase in funding to schools, to afford the XOs, then we need to determine if the XOs are the best way to spend our increased doughpile.

I hate casting myself as a skeptic so repeatedly. But the problems of education in really poor environments are extremely nuanced and complex, and they demand discussions / solutions of the same complexity. That said, it's _possible_ that the Rwandans, who face some of the same problems as those described (structural poverty, mainly) will make XO work as part of their grander approach to IT-based development. I hope so.

@Ed Gaible:
"But the problems of education in really poor environments are extremely nuanced and complex, and they demand discussions / solutions of the same complexity."

Actually, the OLPC was not really designed for the likes of rural Papua. And that was exactly for the reasons you presented.

The real targets were countries like India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, or South Africa.

These are countries with at least a rudimentary working educational system and some tradition of education, eg, parents who have attended school. They also have an industry and an employment market for educated youngsters who graduate school.

The problem to be solved by the OLPC was the lack of qualified teachers, but not the 200 children a teacher situation you described. More the Bolivia and Nepal exampels described on OLPCnews.

These places have teachers, but not enough, not educated enough, and with a lack of books and materials. The laptops were designed to get more out of the teachers and students in terms of out-of-class study, ebooks (many Latin American countries seem to retain the copyrights of course texts), and contacts with other pupils in the country (close and distant peer tutoring).

Personally, I think the jury is still out whether this will work well enough to justify the costs. There have obviously been technological, political, and economical setbacks (not *all* of them preventable). The deployments were so limited and short lived that it might be difficult to get any real conclusions one way or another.

Whether ICT will be used in education? That is easy, ask any high school student in the rich world. Simply not primarily in the classroom (they have teachers there).

Winter

Winter, pursuant to:
"Actually, the OLPC was not really designed for the likes of rural Papua. And that was exactly for the reasons you presented.... The real targets were countries like India, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, or South Africa."

I'm sure you're better informed than I am about the original target populations for the project, and certainly BRIC-like countries make more sense from a business point of view. (Altho the eventual row with Intel, and Intel's competitive emphasis of the Classmate, would in such an instance also need to be anticipated.)

i still think the issue of costs/student argues against the XO in a wide, wide range of developing-country educational scenarios. Let's say per student spending in India in private schools is Rs 750/year in 2002. (This, in fact, comes from Dr. Tooley's research, as referenced by Allen, on schools in Hyderabad slums .) Exchange rates are roughly the same today, which means that per student spending according to whatever calculation the good Dr is using is $15 per student per year. (I can't find the data for public schools right now.) Purchase of one XO per student in such schools would require a one-time 10x increase in annual spending; with a lease or a loan, you could spread the cost out over 5 years or so, of course. But can we argue that even in these schools--in India, a country with an annual growth rate of around 6% and per-capita GDP of about US $2,500--it makes sense to increase costs 10x to outfit an entire student body with XOs instead of using that money, if it were available, on a range of other interventions?

(The first intervention that comes to mind, based on initiatives in the US and in Tanzania, is of course nutrition.)

@everyone

It looks like OLPC is indeed moving to a non-school volunteer-based and grassroots style.

"OLPCorps Africa project. We are equipping teams of students from around the world with 100 XOs, hardware, training, and financial support to expand learning in Africa for children ages 6-12. We’re looking for agents of change capable of leading the first global grassroots movement in learning." -OLPC Wiki 2009

It is also moving to project-based/activity-based:

"Our approach encompasses the idea that children are agents of change in society since they are future leaders. Using skills described above, children will create both cultural and nutritional libraries. With these computer skills, the children will themselves be instrumental in solving the community problems such as child prostitution, poverty, and malnutrition by creating awareness both locally and online." -OLPCorps MIT,HARVARD & LEHIGH -KENYA

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