Teachers Are One Laptop Per Child Stakeholders


Teachers do tend to entrench themselves through unions. That's one of the truths of life. Not only in the developed world, but even more so in the developing world. Teachers may be underpaid, disrespected and with little if any prospect of getting better conditions. But they all are quite aware of their importance, of the role they play and of the need to keep working together for advancement, professional, financial and personal.

olpc teachers
Teachers matter to OLPC

Even more, they tend to be quite radicalized. Being working-class by income but intellectuals by aspiration, teachers tend to have been easily converted to, or at least quite comfortable with, radical, left-wing political movements, with many unions in developing countries dominated even today by Marxist-inspired radical parties, even some of what the Brits call the Loony Left.

So, they are stakeholders. They have a lot to loose, and very little to gain, if a project like the OLPC XO is implemented in their countries. They may be able to shift the emphasis of the project, from a student-centered one, to a teacher-, homework- and structured lessons-centric endeavor. That's is somehow present in the words of Mr. Tabaré Vásquez, president of Uruguay and a leftist himself, who has said that

Los niños de una misma escuela desde su casa para hacer las tareas que mande la maestra van a poder trabajar en red

Translation: Kids from the same school, from their homes, will be able to network and do the homework sent by their teacher (female).

They may find wonder allies in parents all around the world. Weaned on the "education-is-progress" meme, together with a demand of structured activities and controlled environments as to avoid that kids become too free to roam in the mean streets, parents will probably find the "let them free to discover" idea baffling at best, when not completely absurd.

Wonderful though only potential outcomes, like the development of new, individual-based approaches to learning, may look to the uninitiated like a splendid waste of time; kids talking to each other and developing new software products may appear like a colossal waste of time better spend learning real stuff, like algebra, history, literature or maybe religion, carpentry or basic car maintenance, concrete, palpable things.

olpc edcuatuon
An OLPC education moment

Combined with adversarial politics and the educational, non-teacher bureaucracy that runs schools as vast centralized systems, a new alliance may emerge. It may not actually stop a nation's implementation of One Laptop Per Child, but at least it will question it radically, funneling political support away from the project and causing big political damage to the parties supporting it.

The Children's Machine XO may become an albatross around the collective neck of the body politic, and left to rot or flourish by itself, or forced to change beyond recognition and under protest of its natural support, the nerd communities. Again, this is an extreme scenario. Probably some sort of middle ground, in the form of a permanent state of pilot-projecting in auto pilot will be the safest outcome for all those involved.

All the asses involved will be then covered, and politicians will show their willing to serve all their bosses, the undefined notion of "progress" behind their enthusiasm for the XO, and the entrenched interests of stakeholders.

And the OLPC X0 promoters will be able to state that the failure to actually increase the living conditions of the masses, their original, and I believe most sincere desire, is other's people fault. Which it won't. It will be the result of naïveté or hubris, according to who's judging the failure in the end.

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You have left out one important force in this game. The kids. Given XOs with internet access in school but also at home makes them much more independent. If the nerd communities keeps feeding the kids valuable and interesting mental food the kids will become even more independent from school. The teachers and politicians can only keep their control over school time but not over what kids learn in their spare time. Something like virtual schools or meeting points in the internet might pop up. They may be guided by progressive teachers or nerds who are frustrated with the outdated official learning methods. They bypass the official stubborn education system until the parents discover the real value of computer learning and demand it in official schools too.

around the topic of kids, education, teachers and games.. here's a story of a 13 year old CEO and team of kids who have constructed an imaginative game to teach chemistry.. their mantra?

"WE INJECT FUN INTO EDUCATION" http://tinyurl.com/3bxxjr

the story reminds me of an old 2B1 or "children's machine" quote that went something like "this isn't just about what the world can give to kids, it's also about what kids can give to the world"..

whether entrenched fun-crushing systems might squash the OLPC or not, no predictions here.. but evidence that kids are already starting to deliver valuable learning tools is an encouraging sign that the OLPC could be put to good use..

Roland, I did certainly leave out the kids from my little piece, since I was trying to focus on the role that teachers, and even more teacher's unions, may play. That's the focus of this specific comment. I don't feel that your interpretation of "kiddie power" is the issue here(ditto Duke's), while I believe that the "realities on the ground" have to be taken into account when planning implementation and utilization of the XO, and that's something that has not been discussed so far. And Mr. Negroponte's strategy of bypassing teachers through steamrolling politicians may not work in the long run, since politicians are aware of their surroundings, believe it or not.

I think you are right that you cannot win over the teachers by force from outside. Therefore Negroponte has invented the Trojan horse tactics to win over the teachers from inside. Namely to have the kids and their parents to apply pressure. In the long run this might have a better chance than forces from outside.

On the other hand what are the real reasons for the teachers to be against classroom computing. Despite Negroponte's claims to be able to do without teachers I don't think this is true. Constructivism requires a more individualized guidance each child. This might easily mean more demand of teachers.

Please excuse my small mistake. The above comment was from me and should be directed to Eduardo not from Eduardo. In the hurry I must have picked the wrong field.

Interesting. For months I posted as Eduardo, then decided a few days ago to add my last name Montez, and now someone is taking my place as the Eduardo without a last name. I guess it's the Eternal Cycle of Life or something like that.

Teachers are stakeholders. It is indeed a good question what they can get out of the OLPC. But the most obvious benefits for teachers are generally forgotten.

I think the laptop projects have two obvious big benefits for the teachers:

- Faster communication with the children

The XO is primarily a communication device. Compared to the developed world, it supplies the functions of Email, IM, (Mobile) phone, document processor, and "Blackboard" (the program).

These can speed up the current processes of handing in, marking, and discussing class and homework assignments. It also allows faster, and better, (sometimes automated) testing.

Furthermore, in the common situation where teachers are scarce and children have reduced class hours, the teachers can still communicate with children not present in class. That is important for children that need some help with assignments.

I have used electronic communication extensively with older students (in the Netherlands), and can assure that this did increase my productivity markedly.

- Differentiating class education. That is concentrating attention on those children that are falling behind

With few teaching materials, teachers are forced to teach the whole class in lock-step. This means that some children who could work at a faster pace are hold back, while others that need extra attention cannot get it.

A laptop system with educational material, eg, text books, electronic libraries, language courses, assignments, would allow children that can work alone on a task to go on WHILE IN CLASS. At the same time other children that need attention can be helped by the teacher.

If half the children can study a subject without help, the others can get double the time.

Together, I see that teachers can indeed benefit enormously from the communicative functions and individual learning capabilities of the XO. This is true with just the classical teaching materials: eBooks, language courses, papers writing, excersizing, and electronic libraries. They can communicate more directly and faster with the pupils and they can distribute their attention based on the children's needs.

Note that the XOs also allow good oversight of children's activities. As all the internet access in class will go by way of the school server, it is rather simple for the teacher to get a real time overview of internet sites used. It will even be possible to temporally limit internet access to a subset of sites.


Of course OLPC does also provide advantages for teachers but most of all it will bring about profound change unless it is suppressed by force of unions. And change always frightens people. Yes, teachers are also people :-). For us spectators change is positive, interesting, progressive. But for those whose existence, income and wellfare depends on the outcome of this change it is first of all frightening. Who can guarantee whether all teachers can keep their jobs, not work longer hours, not get less pay, not be overburdened and still qualify for the new challenges?
Like in industrial reorganization projects you would need to apply change management. But this only works well if there is a relationship of trust between the employer and the employees. Otherwise change is likely to fail unless it is enforced by something the unions are not powerful enough to stop. This could be achieved by a bottom-up instead of top-down movement. Such bottom-up forces could come from kids, their parents and teachers who want to change and support communities (nerds). However these forces only grow strong if there are positive experiences with the new learning methods either from progressive schools or from spare time usage.
The Trojan horse tactics is intended to achieve this. However it is dangerous since it could create refusal of OLPC in general.

The idea of going around the teachers is flawed.
1. In any change process, you need to take the systems into account, to build from what's there. Teachers are what's there. The primary thing schools have going for them is that students and teachers keep showing up. This proximity (of children to caring, educated adults) makes many good things happen, in spite of the "deadening of learning" that is a part of the system. Everyone can remember a teacher that mattered. They're not all "bricks in the wall."
2. Adult knowledge and skill is vital to a functioning infrastructure. The teachers will be needed to help with that. Nothing will happen if things don't work.
3. Kids will continue to need guidance. OLPC leaders often describe them as nearly self sufficient, with the potential for making good decisions if the adults will just "get out of their way." Kids growing up by themselves is one of the problems of the developing world. Access to adult teachers is a great gift, even in today's flawed system, and will continue to be so in one that is technologically enriched.