OLPC Nepal Creates Content While Negroponte Dismisses It


Negroponte at DLD

Just when I started to feel comfortable that One Laptop Per Child was finally turning its focus to developing educational content. That Children's Machine XO's would be part of a localized curriculum; Nicholas Negroponte has reminded us of his opinion on how to educate children.

At DLD (Digital, Life, Design), Europe's "conference for the 21st century" at HVB Forum in Munich, Germany, Negroponte spoke in the panel "How to Be Good" on his views on the world's children.

How might the mighty MIT professor, the self-proclaimed "global citizen", fix the problem of uneducated children? How would he deal with providing the rural poor a solid educational basis for development? At 12:40 in the presentation he tells us:

It's not by training teachers. It's not about building schools. With all due respect [to HP's e-inclusion efforts], it's not about curriculum or content. It's about leveraging the children themselves.
So in other words, Nicholas Negroponte doesn't believe in the tried, tested, and confirmed power of teachers, working in structured classroom environments, to exceed his "magic", his OLPC implementation miracle, which looks something like this:
Does Negroponte's seemingly Utopian attitude concern you? Do his dismissive comments about traditional pedagogical models make you wonder about OLPC's probability of success? And are you scared that because of a lack of focus on content and curriculum, all the efforts, hopes, and Billions of dollars this project is consuming might become a giant boondoggle?

Then you might want to contribute to OLPC Nepal, one group I know of who has a collaborative OLPC implementation plan, and based on their Weekly Updates, is working on hyper-localized basic learning activities for the Children's Machine XO.

In the first generation of Mero Sano Saathi, their Nepali-language curriculum for the OLPC XO, they've aligned their efforts with the Nepali education system's traditional pedagogical models and are focused on three Grade One activities. To quote the Update:

  • Gyankosh -- a wiki (open-source encyclopedia) targeted to children. We intend to have all of the stories and poems for Grade One implemented in this first phase.
  • Jotpad -- A basic tool that allows children to write in free-hand with a stylus and even draw pictures. We hope this tool will eventually recognize the text and grade the quality of the child's penmanship. For this first phase it will only record the child's writing.
  • Basictivity Maths -- Basic math lessons. We intend to port and localize the Gcompris math tools for this first phase.
Now isn't that local, content focused curriculum a refreshing contrast to Nicholas Negroponte's anti-teacher comments and vague references to energy in schools? Go OLPC Nepal! May you succeed in spite of Negroponte's views.

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You act like this is news??? This has been part of their stance from the beginning. It's also not a secret that kids teach themselves. They usually pick up speech without a lot of formal training. :) And when was the last time our tried-and-true-methods had an overhaul? I'd hate to think we were bound to the standards set by the Greeks forever.

Who ever wrote this article, on how Professor Negroponte thought about educating children, is lacking the basic means of understanding today’s technology and its uses…

The low cost PC is a tool and the means for modern teaching methods…

Without it, without the technology, the old fashioned teaching methods are slow and inefficient.

The importance of the teacher remains intact as the guide who would lead the kids to the modern word of technological advances.

He should be there to help the kids on how to utilize the technology creating applications for educational or even structural gaming purposes.

It seems that the person who wrote the article has not heard of LOGO, the famous educational language of the 80’s, a version of LISP (itself a product of the high days of expert systems and artificial intelligence)

LOGO language is going to be fundamental for current teaching purposes via this low cost PC.

I our days, a kid may advance faster in understanding logical concepts because he has a means of visualizing their interrelationships without necessarily a teacher standing by.

However, teachers will never loose their vital role on guiding kids to the proper use of technology… but there is no time for theoretical, ecclesiastical and the rest of current propaganda presented as knowledge supposed to enhance kid’s educational horizons…

Negroponte is a man of genius and his projects is as important as the greatest discoveries that enhanced human life.

The rest is left wing, narrow minded verbalism under a low quality sociological cover.

The word is going forward… Just forward… THIS MUST BE UNDERSTOOD

huh.. the comment above is so disturbing... basically technology is nothing until we have a good content base. How many children in Nepal are going to understand these things and go to work in their shiny laptops?
We need to have a strong content base and a good teacher-student to have a long term impact.. or else it will just be a play thing for most of the kids here.
I don't know Negroponte and I don't like the seemingly bashing comments in the article but following a person like a prophet can be a path to doom... we need a long term plan to get olpc working and no miracle is going to come for that... we have to make it happen.. That's what people in Nepal are doing. We are building a base so that there is mutual cooperation and understanding among people.


You can find more information about Nicholas Negroponte's ideas for OLPC and comments on teachers and teaching methods, on One Laptop Per Child Talks, a compliation of his OLPC-related speaches transcribed into text

Negroponte is making some strong claims about what works in education. What I would like to know is if there is much research that backs up these claims. I don't mean just research on how children learn, but research on the results Papert-Negroponte approach actually produces when it is put into practice, and how those results compare with the results of traditional approaches.

Does anyone know if there is a significant body of research on this? I don't mean just a few studies, but a good number? If there isn't, then I have to consider his ideas to be just an unproven theory.

I've been asking Eduardo's question since November 2005 and all I've ever found is:

1) OLPC says "MIT's been doing educational research for 35 years - we don't need to do any more".

2) OLPC has a positive aversion to basing the project on research.

3) OLPC stopped talking with a famous product development company when the company said they wanted to start by doing ethnographic research.

4) There never was a research report done on the often-cited Cambodian school experience.

Kudos to OLPC Nepal for starting to do what Negroponte dismisses as "ridiculous". Their efforts could bear fruit running an any number of platforms.

My hat is also off to all of the OLPC system and application software developers - this sort of system is badly needed as a counter to the hyper-bloat that constantly demandds more hardware.

As a hardware designer I learned the hard (expensive) way that the game is won or lost with the software. I urge software and courseware designers to act as if the laptop were available and go ahead, doing research as necessary. By the time you're ready the OLPC design should have morphed into what you've been counting on, and should become available with room for local buy-in, versioning, system configuration, and workable economic models.

I recommend a look at the entry on my blog entitled "Alan Kay Comes Through" - http://fonly.typepad.com/fonlyblog/2005/11/alan_kay_comes_.html
for some discussion about Kay's design taxonomy.

The scale of this project is so different that pointing at the past is meaningless. It's the sheer numbers of computers in the hands of kids that will make the difference.

Yes, this is an unproven theory. Yes, this is simply a bet on the future. If Papert and Negroponte are right about "kid power", this will work. I'm not so sure that the "tried, tested, and confirmed power of teachers" is so tried and confirmed.

And really, what's the alternative? Keep trying the same old ways? Tweak forever on existing classroom models that don't scale and don't take advantage of available technology?

So, what's really so wrong about this? I think it's a grand global adventure that's going to inspire and energize everyone who participates.

@ Eduardo:

My understanding is that this is basically a constructivist approach. It's pretty easy to follow Papert's lead to Jean Piaget.

I really don't see why all the criticism of this project's lack of research.

And by the way, "Nicholas Negroponte's anti-teacher comments" don't seem to appear on the link the author provides. Unless this is what you mean:

Now some people will tell you that the thing to do is to train teachers, to build schools, to make curricula better, to make sort of the current education system better, and in no way, for those of you who are blogging at the moment please underline this, in no way are we saying don't do that, stop doing that, teachers aren't important, schools aren't good.

I was raised as a social constructivist (my father studied with Piaget). My perspective is that current research is needed to bridge Papert's interpretation of Piaget with the diverse worlds in which these children live. An ideology of technological determinism should not prevent appropriate field research.