OLPC XO Will Replace Books, With Advantages


I am Mario Miyojim. I was a poor child, so I am qualified to speak for the children who will benefit from the OLPC. Brazil is a developing country, one of the "third world" countries. In 1951, my family of four, my parents, Japanese immigrants, lived for approximately one year in an intern school for the children of Japanese agricultural workers, who did not have much time to care for them.

Nepal olpc art
Limbu script on OLPC XO

It was the best time of my childhood, not only because the food was good, but because there was a varied library of books in Portuguese and Japanese. It was my first contact with culture, and while my parents toiled in the school kitchen and facilities maintenance, I enjoyed reading so many interesting books of various kinds.

That is where I learned that there was such a thing as a "circus", for example. My imagination went wild with the descriptions and stories that I read. That experience definitely shaped up my future, that is today.

My father sent me to a tailor's apprenticeship, because he wanted me to have a solid profession; he was a blacksmith by profession in Japan through an apprenticeship, too. But I was not comfortable as a tailor, so I read the jobs section in the newspaper and found a job in downtown São Paulo, the big city. My life changed completely right then. I had a good salary that allowed me to buy the 1962 Encyclopedia Britannica. I then entered the top engineering school of the country.

That is why I am one the passionate observers who understand the great value of the OLPC. Nicholas Negroponte's is an inspired idea which about to produce a paradigm shift in education. What I would have done if I had an OLPC in 1951! My education would have been so much faster, richer and more exciting. And that is the opportunity that millions of children will have. Children are similar regardless of the circumstances surrounding them, like puppies are similar in any place in the world.

Little OLPC visionaries

They have unlimited curiosity, and will absorb knowledge, wisdom, whatever you make available to them, and they will carry that throughout life, with gratefulness. Children who have this kind of exposure will hardly become gang members or hoodlums.

They will be wise members of society, capable of running the lives of other people with justice and without violence. Even if only 5% or less of the children exposed to the $100 laptop make full use of its potentialities, it will be worth the effort.

The schools that use the OLPC will change the role of teachers to be just monitors and instructors on how each child should use the little PC, so that the children will self-learn and communicate among themselves creatively. Books on paper are expensive for any nation, and change too slowly to the dynamics of modern children. The excellent daylight screen of the OLPC will be like the pages of paper books.

The children will not waste time and energy trying to improve their handwriting when their ideas are asking to come out and "be put on paper", or "be recorded on screen", or "be recorded into a speech file". I see unlimited possibilities for this little machine that can revolutionize education in the world.

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Sorry Mario, but there's a statement I do not feel comfortable with (and it's not a matter of tastes):

"Children are similar regardless of the circumstances surrounding them, like puppies are similar in any place in the world."

Care to elaborate?

Eduardo, I'm guessing you have never owned a puppy?

All children have a wonder and excitement about the World, much like a puppy is excited and eager to learn.

As a dog owner I understand Marios phrasology.

This article suffers from the same malady afflicting Dr. Negroponte's sales pitch: it relies on a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions to reach a favorable conclusion. The basic premise is always:

"These are wonderful devices that will do wonders for our children. Trust me, I know it"

However, there is no evidence that the premise is valid, other than the anecdotes thrown around by the speaker (in this case the writer's own childhood).

Unfortunately for the OLPC Project, smart people expect more substance than a rosy outlook. Thus, the lack of orders...

Xavier C.

Xavier C., there are lots of affairs to criticize in this world rather than a tool for learning, exploration, communication, collaboration, ... Is it not enough for kids? You (many of you here) may complain as much as you want, but such a tool is going to change everything. Maybe you don't believe in human curiosity, in the power of sharing, in free software, in free knowledge, but at least I hope you think that the Irak invasion, the continuous violation of the human rights by USA as well as the new laws and patents for enrich more and more the rich people, are completely unacceptable. And I hope you dedicate the same amount of time criticizing that real madness.

Robert, I owned a puppy, and have a child. But I dislike unsubstantiated comparisons, especially when they are based on emotional approaches instead of a bit of analysis.

While I won't be getting into a debate about the differences between the eagerness to learn of a mastiff puppy compared with a cocker spaniel puppy, the problem I believe is evident in Mario's posting is the idea that some "inherent" children characteristics, a sort of "essence of childness", are to appear thanks to a computer, notwithstanding social and material conditions, socialization, and cultural differences.

I don't think you have to posit some "essence of childness" to appreciate that children, indeed the young of all species in which there's an intellectual maturation process, have an eagerness to explore their environment, to learn. The OLPC holds the promise of piercing the barrier to exploration, learning imposed by poverty, isolation, culture and repressive governments.

That, by the way, might be one of the reasons an oppressive regime might be very hesitant to purchase a big pile of OLPCs and let them loose in their nation.

Control of information, isolation of the populace, control of the communications media are all important tools repressive regimes uses to maintain power. Every OLPC is, simultaneously, a printing press, video camera, audio recording studio, communications device capable of operating, to a greater or lesser degree, free of a centrally-controlled communications grid, typewriter and encryption machine. It's free from the need for any consumables that might be used to control the computers and is amenable to a number of obvious, and probably inobvious, uses that a repressive regime would find threatening.

In fact, the uncontrollable nature of the OLPC makes it a threat not just to repressive regimes but even to more democratic governments introducing as it does a wild card into the social/political arrangements of the nation.

It would be ironic if the reason the OLPC were designed is the reason it won't/may not be accepted by its intended "customers".

Allen, the views you have expressed are actually the same a lot of people said about the Internet. As much as the Internet has changed a lot of things, it hasn't created a wonderful utopia of individual freedom.

I don't find ironic at all that "the reason the OLPC were designed is the reason it won't/may not be accepted by its intended 'customers'." Rather, it is perfectly logical that something like that may happen. But at the same time, your idea that the XO will be a tool from freedom forgets that children, not teenagers, not even 12 year-olds, are the intended users. And those children live in communities inside nations, and live under the care of parents that put a premium on the values they care the most. If the XO is a tool for "piercing the barrier to exploration" grown from culture, it is most likely that parents themselves will take the computer away from the kids, not oppressive governments.

The different social realities of the nations and communities where the XO may be implemented will one of the most important factors for the outcomes of the project. As I've said, children are not the same because no matter how many similarities in their potential, their upbringing and socialization varies, and they will arrive to school at an age where a lot of this socialization and upbringing has already taken place, and will continue in school. To ignore this is to ignore the nature itself of education and the realities of social life.

And One, "such a tool is going to change everything", requires first of all the implementation of such a tool; and the change may not be as rosy, wonderful and positive as you imagine; and the assumption that change will occur is unsubstantiated thus far. Criticism is the basis of understanding, and that's what we all are striving for in here.

Sorry for the late response. I did not check whether my email had been published. Only today I saw it.

Some of the above complaints are that my statements are unsubstantiated. If you say that I have no numerical proof (statistics), you are quite right. It is just an educated guess, but my educated guesses have come true on many occasions in the past. My predictions on the OLPC are already coming true in the beta-test phase.

In my text, I corroborate Negroponte's observation on Cambodia children, because I was a poor child myself, and know that he has the right vision conducive to children's learning through play. People who were never poor cannot know that a poor child has no way of knowing what it means to be otherwise. I have always thought that the world is a great place to be, and that (almost) anything is worth exploring, regardless of how an adult views it, because a child has no prejudices, even if family members try to inculcate them early. That thought is still the same today, so I enjoy every of my days on earth. I lived in an unfinished house with a single electric lamp, when I was 6 years old; right in front there was a busy alphalted avenue and parallel to it ran a railway and a there was a train station. On the other side there was garbage lot where the carcass of an old Ford truck lay. It was great to handle the steering wheel, step on the worn out pedals, and pretend that I was driving a truck. Such a joy! Now I see my granddaughter having the same joy with plastic toys, TV, and now a computer. Puppies are also the same way. They have similar joys when they are playing, whether they are in a closed environment or in the open, eating junk food or fine rations. Not all puppies can be taught fancy tricks, but there are many that do learn, regardless of origin. Learning is a joy in itself, as much as the satisfaction when you help someone and receive a grateful recognition. That is as much as you can expect in this life; all else is accessory.

A blank sheet of paper is basically the same, regarding the ability to be written on, regardless of the size, material, color, thickness etc. Except for a few types, one is able to write or paint on it with a pencil, pen, brush, etc. or the sheet of paper may be simply trashed or burned without any mark on it.

By the same token, a young living being, regardless of its initial characteristics (size, color, genetic baggage, or creation environment) will depend on what is made available to it early. Within its limitations to learn, everything it experiences, or is explained to, will have lasting consequences in its future behavior. Given the proper tools, children will eagerly play with whatever is made available to them, and learn in various ways.

Joy, happiness, that is the driving force for young beings to learn, and should be for adults, too, were it not for their prejudices, inculcated by adults, who were also children one day. Culture, behavior, wisdom, is recursively learned through the generations. ELIMINATING SILLY PREJUDICES should be the true goal of the mandatory education for any country. It will only come true when a country has enough wise (educated) leaders.

The OLPC is a special kind of toy, where educators can place games, texts, pictures, and stories containing millenia of wisdom in different ways. Due to the diversity and creativity of children, they will analyze, play, draw conclusions very fast, and incorporate whatever is interesting and fun, for later use in life. If these are my learned points, I believe many other people have similar, or higher, abilities to make sense out of the chaos presented to them. Like I said, this is no scientific proof, but is very true from regular observation that is open for anyone to make. I make here the bold prediction that the OLPC project will allow wise leaders to be brought up in a third world and make countries less prejudiced, peaceful and economically balanced.

This whole discussion reminds me of the closing sentence of a cooking TV show in the U.S. by a Chinese cook named Yang:
"If Yang can cook, so can you."

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