What is the Educational Impact of OLPC?

   
   
   
   
   

While listening to the Transforming Education Panel at the Microsoft ICT for Development Conference, I was struck by how much this conference is a direct result of the hype around One Laptop Per Child.

If it wasn't for Nicholas Negroponte's vision for a whole new technology application, low-cost laptops for education, I doubt that Microsoft would be courting the development community so intensely or expanded its Unlimited Potential program. It sure would not have extended Windows XP's working lifespan.

On a larger scale, OLPC has transformed the computer-manufacturing field. With the XO laptop, OLPC pioneered a whole new class of technology, 4P Computing, that is now a highly contested market space where the once-obscure Asus has become dominant.

olpc mission

But enough about the technology impact of OLPC. What about its educational impact?

If OLPC was once an education project, not a technology project, what are the real-world examples where it has changed classroom curriculums? Or the educational pedagogy in which the curriculum operates? Outside of Peru or Uruguay, has OLPC achieved its original mission?

OLPC is not at heart a technology program and the XO is not a product in any conventional sense of the word. We are non-profit: constructionism is our goal; XO is our means of getting there.
So has OLPC changed the educational paradigm and achieved constructionism on a large scale? Or did OLPC succeed in transform computing only to fail in revolutionizing education?

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22 Comments

real education was more for other computer companies that people want cheap laptops. hence the appearance of the Netbook market.

OLPC did an amazing job with XO on a hardware level. But I am not too sure about how realistic it was to push Sugar and not being open to other consumer market.

It really was a tough sell.

There will be different successes:
1) are they able to establish the first type of education program
2) are they able to increase their academic understanding (measured)
3) are they able to increase attendance

In many underveloped areas any one of these could be a success.

In my programs I looked with great anticipation to the OLPC XO, and while I am very excited with mine and what has been accomplished it just wasn't up to the task of a distance learning program here in the US which is why I had worked with Asus very closely on the initial release of the eeepc and adopted the 2G model for my programs.
Even with the eeepc I received numerous complaints from educators and families who wanted to be able to do the same things that the computers in the school could do without any learning curve (i.e. they wanted a conventional laptop running Windows even tough we provided a computer that could get them on the web, write papers, and even participate in online classes that used whiteboards and voip)

I have not worked with students in developing countries, I would assume that since they do not have many pre-conceptions on what to expect that it could have a huge impact if it is incorporated with traditional education. Start with using the software on the xo to supplement current classwork and as they fully grasp the concepts of using it as a learning tool they can begin to explore more on their own and begin to self-learn.

I would be very interested to hear more about the real implementations, how are they being distributed, are the computers used in class only, distance only, or combination, do they have lesson plans that include activities involving the xo, what type of rubrics have they developed to measure it's success, what tpe of pedagogy have they adopted and why, etc.

There are many different technologies that can overcome obstacles like electricity and shelter but the learning process must be developed to include the xo for it to be successful.

At Global e-schools and communities we are trying to measure precisely this through research on the very little information available. You can downaload our study on impact of 1:1 models and send us your reports to continue improving it. http://www.gesci.org/files/docman/1_to_1_Technologies_Computing_in_the_Developing_World_by_M._Hooker_GeSCI.doc
But most of all we face the fact that there is so little good information available about what is happening in the classrooms. The coutries running their pilots and large scale deployments should start measuring and evaluating their projects and sharing it with the rest of the world, so that all of us can learn from success and failure
regards!

Getting the tools out there will inevitably lead to them being used. The cheap hardware and systems being developed will open up computing to a huge new audience.

Yeah, but the XO was touted as a learning revolution. While it's certainly turned out to be a computer evolution the "learning revolution" aspect of it has yet to show up as far as I can determine. If anyone out there knows different feel free to prove me wrong; I wouldn't be upset in the least.

See the reports from Peru and Ethiopia.

http://radian.org/notebook/astounded-in-arahuay
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Academic_papers

XOs break up cultures of fear and isolation, where children may not question adults, and create a humane environment for learning and sharing. This is better than Constructionism.

Pardon me Edward but that doesn't look like the makings of a revolution.

I've got a more direct measure of an educational revolution: the average twelve-year old, having enjoyed the advantage conferred by the XO, passes the math portion of the entry requirements for MIT.

@allen:
"the average twelve-year old, having enjoyed the advantage conferred by the XO, passes the math portion of the entry requirements for MIT."

A puzzling comment.

What use is it to target for a 12 year old in a developing country to reach university entry level of the most prestigious university of the world?

This is as useless as trying to get 18 year olds to get native proficiency in a new language. This is possible for a 12 year old, but simply inachievable for 18 year olds.

The OLPC is targeted at getting 12 year olds in Bolivia to reach the educational level of 12 year olds in, say, Finland or Korea.

That is a realistic and useful goal. The XO should remove burdens and restrictions from education, not change human nature.

Winter

Take a bunch of technologists, ask them to solve and educational problem and guess what they come up with?

A technological solution.

If we asked a bunch of educationalists the same question what would they come up with?

The XO is a cheap laptop. Why do we believe it will revolutionise education?

If the goal is to reform education practice then why not just do that? You don't need a laptop to implement constructivist teaching practices.

@Alan Jackson:
"The XO is a cheap laptop. Why do we believe it will revolutionise education?"

In the same vein:
The internet is just a bunch of phone lines. Why do we believe it will revolutionize publishing and broadcasting?

The television is just a radio with pictures. Why do we believe it will revolutionize communication?

The telephone is just a fancy telegraph. Why do we believe it will revolutionize communication?

The printing press is simply a cheap writer. Why do we believe it will revolutionize writing?

The wheel is just a cut-off rolling log. Why do we believe it will revolutionize transportation?

The answer to all of these questions is that the premises are wrong.

Revolutionary technology almost always comes down to making a previously expensive service so cheap that it becomes affordable to (most of) all people. Making transportation, communication, or information a lot cheaper has ALWAYS resulted in economic revolutions.

The XO makes complex P2P communication and large amounts of information affordable to those who do not even have access to a telephone or newspaper.

And all education starts with "P2P"/inter-personal "networking" and information.

The Internet (email and WWW/HTTP) revolutionized the developed world. Why should it not revolutionize the developing world? They need information and communication as much as "we" do.

Winter

@Winter

It is much easier in retrospect to see which technologies had a positive transformation on society and which ones didn't.

The Internet is just a collection of computers and it may well transform publishing - but we didn't know that before it happened.

Likewise after the explosion in SMS use (which was a big surprise to everyone), WAP was hailed as the next big thing - the mobile internet. But it flopped.

Many years ago the idea of playing music over the telephone was going kill radio (http://earlyradiohistory.us/1909musi.htm)... but it didn't.

The world is littered with technologies that unexpectedly succeeded and unexpectedly failed.

The laptop MAY have a transformative effect on education but before we invest millions of dollars in this idea wouldn't you want to have some convincing evidence first?

The questions we need to ask are:

* is the presence of IT sufficient for beneficial transformation in education?
* is the presence of IT required for beneficial transformation in education?

Unless we have an evidence based "yes" for either of these questions then it would be wise to proceed slowly and carefully, testing our assumptions as we go.

> What use is it to target for a 12 year old in a developing country to reach university entry level of the most prestigious university of the world?

That happens to be my idea of a *revolution*.

"Revolution" is a big word and it ought to be accompanied by big goals. What are the revolutionary goals for OLPC? If they're the goals you laid out, that Bolivian public education attain the level of efficacy as occupied by Finland and Korea then hooray for Bolivia but that's not much of a revolution.

In fact, the OLPC isn't necessary for Bolivia to achieve educational parity with Finland and Korea. After all, Finland achieved its enviable educational position without need for the OLPC which means that unless there's some fundemantel flaw in the Bolivian psyche or body politic Bolivia can achieve the same result, also without the OLPC.

If Bolivia could achieve Finland-like performance at a fraction of the cost, or a in fraction of the time, or both, of Finland with the aid of the OLPC you might have the makings of a revolution but so far it looks like far from saving time or money the OLPC will result in greater expenditures of both.

But even that would be a pretty thin-blooded revolution compared to what history records as technological revolutions.

Here's an essay by Peter Drucker - http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199910/information-revolution - that brings some historical perspective to the idea of technological revolution.

A revolution's not just a bit of nibbling around the edges; cutting costs by increments or increasing availability by single-digit percentage points. A revolution consists of making the formerly inaccessible, the province of princes, into the mundane and commonplace.

@Allen Jackson:
"It is much easier in retrospect to see which technologies had a positive transformation on society and which ones didn't."

Yes, indeed. Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.

However, we know from history that every reduction in the costs of communication and transportation resulted in a revolution, from horses and the wheel to trains, telegraphs, cars and telephones, and planes and email.

Information dissemination had the same effects. Writing, book printing, newspapers, radio, television, computers+CD, the internet, they all unlocked previously unavailable information to more people reducing ignorance. (I know that there are sections of the population who valiantly fight this trend)

The examples of failures you give are exemplary, as they did not lower the cost of available communication and information much. WAP simply tried to milk cell phone users for information they could get for free at home. Moreover, WAP (or WAP-like initiatives) were a hit in Japan for entirely different reasons (or so I understood). Still, they were to costly (cumbersome, expensive, and user-unfriendly) and offered too little benefits.

The cell phone already revolutionized the developing world. If you look at the XO as a very cheap communication and information sharing device, it is fairly easy to predict that it will too revolutionize the developing world. It undercuts mobile phones in everything except P2P speech and delivers much more content. See
http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/olpc_xo_improve_teachers.html

Schools are not primarily places where children are locked up to watch a teacher. If you look more broadly to schools as a place where children actually learn, then a personal library and communication device with a lot of tools is bound to improve education.

Whether you want or are able to pay for it is another matter.

Winter

@allen:
""Revolution" is a big word and it ought to be accompanied by big goals."

The Green Revolution changed the organization of agriculture a little and introduced some new crop strains. Nothing really sensational when we look at the Western world.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution

As a result many countries, eg, India and China, stopped being struck by famines. Small steps can make a large difference.

@allen:
"In fact, the OLPC isn't necessary for Bolivia to achieve educational parity with Finland and Korea. After all, Finland achieved its enviable educational position without need for the OLPC which means that unless there's some fundemantel flaw in the Bolivian psyche or body politic Bolivia can achieve the same result, also without the OLPC."

I think I do not understand what you mean. Do you really want to say that these people should be left to suffer on their own. Like that the Indian and Chinese people should have found their own way out of these famines?

I am not sure whether you are aware of the suffering of the Finnish (and Korean) people in the 19th and 20th century. But that is not something I would want to bring upon anyone just for the sake of principle. If the OLPC can help the Bolivians to be spared from it, they should get all the help they need.

Winter

I'm familiar with the Green Revolution but if you're trying to draw some comparison between the Green Revolution and the OLPC you better try harder.

The benefits of the Green Revolution were both comprehensible and demonstrable. So far the benefits of the OLPC are neither and since no one's demonstrated that the OLPC is in any sense a better education tool then any of the computer-based education solutions that preceeded it in the past four decades it's not all that clear that the OLPC represents a net benefit to its users. Certainly the history of the use of computers in education here in the US has been a uniform failure and if the OLPC is a break with that past it's not at all clear what that break consists of.

> I think I do not understand what you mean.

Too bad your lack of comprehension doesn't prevent you from supplying your own self-serving assumptions then.

The reason the Bolivians, or the Nigerians or Nepalese or Brazilians don't need the OLPC is because there's nothing special about the Finns.

Finland, as far as I can determine, doesn't harbor some superior brand of human being whose superiority shows up in the ability to excel at running a public education system. Since the Finns ascended to their enviable position atop the international education rankings without the need for the OLPC other countries can achieve the same results by emulating the Finns and without need for the OLPC.

@allen:
"Finland, as far as I can determine, doesn't harbor some superior brand of human being whose superiority shows up in the ability to excel at running a public education system."

So I did not understand you correctly. So we agree that there is little fundamental difference between Fins and Bolivians etc.

So if Finnish children use computers and the internet to do their homework and email etc. we can expect that Bolivian children will benefit from that too.

@Allen:
"Since the Finns ascended to their enviable position atop the international education rankings without the need for the OLPC other countries can achieve the same results by emulating the Finns and without need for the OLPC."

This is a rather puzzling statement.

The Finnish and Koreans were able to build some of the best educational systems in the world. But the fact that they did so without the use of computers and the internet (which were unavailable at the time) does not seem to me an argument against the use of the internet and computers in education.

The Bolivians, Indians or other developing countries do not want to emulate the Finnish educational system of the 1970s and 1980s. They want to emulate *modern* educational systems.

Anyhow, the revolution that I think the OLPC/XO might start is not simply because the children get a computer in the classroom. If there is a revolution, that will be because the children get a communication and information device 24/7.

Printing did not revolutionize "education" because students could now read books in the classroom. But because they could read books and newspapers everywhere, including in the classroom.

Winter

@winter

> So if Finnish children use computers and the internet to do their homework and email etc. we can expect that Bolivian children will benefit from that too.

Nice try conflating the availability of e-mail with educational excellence but the two have nothing to do with each other so those Bolivian kids will benefit from the having e-mail and they'll still get a lousy education.

The availability of computers in Finland didn't put Finland at the top of the educational heap and getting more computers into Bolivia won't help them move up the educational rankings. If the availability of computers were much of a factor in guaranteeing educational excellence then the evidence would've shown up a couple of decades ago.

> The Bolivians, Indians or other developing countries do not want to emulate the Finnish educational system of the 1970s and 1980s. They want to emulate *modern* educational systems.

No they don't. They want to spend as little as possible on their education system because despite all the attention education gets it's a relatively unimportant part of the political system. You may be all upset about that and carry on about people's misplaced priorities but the evidence is inescapable: education budgets are a small part of governmental budgets and that's not going to change any time soon. The availability of computers and sophisticated communication technology isn't going to change the political importance of education which means that technology, as has been the case till now, will penetrate into public education only as a function of its diminishing cost.

@Allen:
"Nice try conflating the availability of e-mail with educational excellence but the two have nothing to do with each other so those Bolivian kids will benefit from the having e-mail and they'll still get a lousy education."

I asked around and high-school kids in my surroundings are adamant that you cannot complete high school (the one preparing for tertiary education) without a computer and the internet. I think it will be likewise in Finland. Or maybe they do it all on mobile phones ;-)

The basic disagreement between us seems to stem from the fact that you seem to imply that the computers must be used primarily in the classroom to count. However, computers are used mostly OUTside of the classroom to do (collaborative) homework. Children get instructed in the classroom and learn at home.

And that was the whole point of the OLPC: Not enough time can be spend in the classroom, so the children can study elsewhere with the help of a computer. Because with a computer, they have the information, communication, and other tools to study effectively both alone and in collaboration with peers. And peer instruction is the second most important educational process (after teacher instruction).

@Allen:
"No they don't. They want to spend as little as possible on their education system because despite all the attention education gets it's a relatively unimportant part of the political system."

Obviously, I have little experience in the nitty-gritty politics of rural Bolivia. However, I do know that most developing world populations have a different view of how taxation and government spending relates to education than USAians (make that the complete world).

@Allen:
"The availability of computers and sophisticated communication technology isn't going to change the political importance of education which means that technology, as has been the case till now, will penetrate into public education only as a function of its diminishing cost."

Like when a politician has to improve education for very good political reasons, but lacks the teachers to do that?

It might be a myth, but many of the aspiring developing nations have a populace who are convinced that better education is the road to riches for their children. Some countries do not have such a populace, but they are generally considered to problem cases.

Winter

@winter

> I asked around and high-school kids in my surroundings are adamant that you cannot complete high school (the one preparing for tertiary education) without a computer and the internet.

Are you serious? Your standard for determining the worth of the technology is to ask kids whose interest is debatable and whose experience isn't? That's a ludicrous enough proposition that I can't credit you having an interest in the discussion. All you're doing is flinging a response, any response, without consideration for any of the points I've raised. That's hardly a unusual response but the fact that it isn't unique doesn't excuse it.

If you can't be bothered to exert yourself then I'm damned if I can think of a reason why I should.

@Allen:
"Are you serious? Your standard for determining the worth of the technology is to ask kids whose interest is debatable and whose experience isn't? That's a ludicrous enough proposition that I can't credit you having an interest in the discussion."

Actually, this is also the official position of the school(s). Computers and internet are required. Communication about the schedule and other school related matters is by web-site.

Officially, the school allows the use of in-school computers to do at least some work. The children I asked explained that the school options are completely inadequate and you need a computer+internet at home.

Your personal attack is rather out of proportion. You could have countered that you know this is not required for high school children in some developed country you know. But simply writing you do not accept my "data" because you do not have to believe children sounds rather less than honest. If you do not believe children, why bother with education?

I have had this discussion before on OLPCnews. If you search OLPCnews for "kennisnet" you can retrieve those discussions.

There you will see that we have had this discussion before, with little change in position.

You always accuse me of somehow not being truthful about the use of computers in high schools in my home country. Given that you also profess ignorance about the Dutch situation, your position is more polemic than honest.

You can find the official Dutch school website on:
http://www.kennisnet.nl/

In short, I know that many educational systems require or expect their pupils to have access to the internet. Your proclamation that those in the developing world should do with our 1980's systems seems not according to their wishes nor advantage.

Winter

Interviews with teachers about OLPC benefits

http://pipka.org/blog/2008/12/06/interviews-with-teachers-about-olpc-benefits/

I did some short interviews with some of the teachers at one of the Australian trial sites talking about how they are using the XOs in the classroom and some of the benefits the students are experiencing. Very cool stuff! Many thanks to Warwick and Deirdre for their time and enthusiasm!

(Wayan, congratulations with your new family member)

Winter

Education is very much important as it holds the key to success. American education has been in need of some quick loans to spruce up their curricula and help our future generations of workers and leaders to achieve better performance in academic fields and also greater competitive qualities in the workforce. Obama is eying an overhaul of the educational system, because our educational system is in need of some work. The idea is to replace the former testing format with higher standards and more stringent curricula. Let us hope that this is the overhaul that will get the American educational system back on track.

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