One Laptop Per Child Versus Intel--Who Speaks for India and China?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on January 6, 2008

At the Consumer Electronic Show this week, the One Laptop Per Child foundation was supposed to make two announcements—the number of computers it sold under the Give One, Get One holiday program and a new olpc machine made jointly with Intel. But now Intel has pulled out or been pushed out of the project with olpc, depending on who you believe. It’s a mess and a mess of huge dimensions that encompasses a conversation of profit vs. nonprofit, nationalism vs. colonialism, technology vs. pedagogy, rote vs. experiential learning, Western design vs. Eastern design, good intentions vs. bad intentions. It doesn’t get bigger, or nastier.

Nicholas Negroponte, the ex-head of the MIT Media Lab and founder of the olpc project, frames the current mess in terms of profit vs. non-profit. He says Intel has been sabotaging olpc in Asia, Africa,

and Latin America to sell its own low-cost ClassMate laptop to these markets. The olpc laptop uses an AMD chip, is Linux open source and therefor threatens Intel's commercial success in emerging markets, Negroponte argues.

That may be true, I don't know. The argument strikes me as a bit odd--like asking book publishers not to offer different textbooks to school kids if a non--profit is selling them to school districts. But I don't want to get into that.

What does disturb me--and has disturbed me for a long time about olpc is the underlying educational assumptions based on the work of Piaget behind it. It is these educational assumptions, I believe, that is the reason why China, India, Nigeria--the target nations for olpc from the very beginning--have rejected the olpc laptops.

The XO computer is a true marvel--a wonderful machine designed to be extremely collaborative. And it is designed to be collaborative because the underlying educational assumption is that the kids will learn on their own without help from teachers, coaches or parents. Yes, this is a bold statement but I believe it is bascially correct.

The olpc foundation has from the beginning followed the learning by doing educational philosophy. I used it to teach science to third graders in the Philippines in the late sixties. I remember the lesson plan--bring in lots of bottle caps, give a bunch to each kid, and ask the class to divide them in two. Then three. Then four. Then ask them how they made choices--color, shape, size. That's classification, a basic cornerstone of science.

I did that as part of a local program run by young Filipino teachers trying out a new curriculum developed by the educational department of the country.

The olpc philosophy strikes me as very different and very anti-teacher, anti-establishment. Which is why I think it is being rejected around the world by many countries, especially in Asia. Read this speech given by Negroponte in December 06.:
"A lot of people say, "When did you get this idea?" Well, this particular slide is 1982, outside of Decar, before the IBM PC existed actually on the market of Eastern Europe, and Steve Jobs gave me some Apple Twos. Seymour Papert, a name I'll refer to several times, and I were working on the provision to children, a language called Logo, in developing countries.

10 years before that, actually 15 years before that, Seymour, still at MIT or at least having just arrived at MIT, came up with a very simple observation and that is that when children write computer programs about something like drawing a circle, they have to understand the concept of circleness a lot more than if they just read about it in the text book or somebody describes it on a blackboard. And for those of you who have written computer programs, you know that in fact, the first time you write it, it has bugs. And that when you de-bug a program, you are actually performing a set of operations that is the closest you can get to thinking about thinking.

Consider it for a moment. Writing a program and then de-bugging it is a very interesting microcosm, that children actually then engage very differently in their own learning. And we can prove that. So this goes back to some very, very fundamental concepts and very fundamental theories of children and learning. And you will almost never hear me use the word "teaching". Almost never. And teaching is just one way of learning. And most of you probably will admit that it wasn't necessarily the largest or the disproportionately hyped, that most of the learning we have all done has been quite different.

And in fact, in the first years of our lives, we all learnt how to walk, we all learnt how to talk, in ways that didn't include teachers. What they included was interacting with the world. You learnt how to walk because standing up got you something. You learnt how to talk because talking allowed you to ask for something. And you interacted with this world around you and you did a great deal of learning.

Suddenly, at about the age of six, you're told to stop learning that way, and for the next 12 years if you're lucky, you'll do all of your learning by being told, somebody like me, standing here on the podium, maybe a book, maybe something. But some form of instruction. The key word being that I instruct you, I have some body of knowledge in my head, and the job is to get it out of my head and put it into your head. Well, that is a very small fraction of learning. You certainly want the pilot on your airplane, you certainly want the brain surgeon in the hospital to have done a lot of learning that way. But for children learning learning is really very, very fundamental.

And the last point, what I mean by number three, is, if you look at the world as a whole, there are, in rough numbers, 1.2 billion children. Of those children, about 0.5 billion live in rural parts of developing countries. If you go to a rural part of a developing country, you find that the education is even more primitive. This is certainly true in China and India.

By the way, China and India together have almost 50% of the children in the world. Now when you go to these rural schools, the teacher can be very well meaning, but the teacher might only have a sixth grade education. In some countries, which I'll leave unnamed, as many of as one-third of the teachers never show up at school. And some percent show up drunk. So really, if you are going to affect education, you cannot just train teachers and build schools. That will take you the next 30 years and it's a long and slow process. So the only alternative is to leverage the children themselves and that's what One Laptop Per Child is. It's how can you give the child an opportunity to have a bigger role in his or her learning."

Not only is this profoundly anti-teacher, it also misinterprets experience learning. Children learn language by interacting with their family. Almost all learning takes place in a teaching context. Yes, of course, there is learning by the individual alone, but most "learning" takes place in a context of a guide, a coach, be it parent, teacher, priest, older sibling, whatever. Learning without guidance results in what is happening in some of villages in Africa where the XO laptop is being tested--kids are plugging into pornography online. Or swapping photos, which appears to be the most popular application.

I think the educational establishments in India, China, Nigeria and other nations are rejecting the olpc approach because they feel insulted and misused. One Indian professor told me recently in Bangalore that sure, India has a rote educational system that is the anti-thesis of experiential learning but it has brought 200 million out of poverty in a decade so what's so wrong with that? And China has brought half a billion people out of poverty within a rote educational system.

In fact, as I think about it, if your economic advantage is efficiency--to do the same things again and again at lower costs-- a rote education system may be the right one for you at this time in history. China does this through manufacturing low-cost goods for export and India does this through low-cost services for US, European and other Western global corporations.

Say what you will about Intel's commercial actions, it's approach to education in poor villages has been to work with teachers on the ground, training them and creating local curricula. Yes, I know olpc is doing some of that in Brazil, but it's major thrust is to bypass teachers, not co-create with them. Intel's success, if it has much, may well turn out to be that it embraces the local educational establishment in both its pedagogy and its business model, while olpc does the opposite.

The disaster at olpc has many lessons. One of the most important is that, despite good intentions, technology, design and innovation by themselves cannot solve problems if they ignore local culture and history. The XO laptop for the world's poorest children is being rejected by India, China and Nigeria as yet another form of foreign Western colonialism. And it is.

Reader Comments

Adam Richardson

January 6, 2008 9:17 PM

Thanks for this enlightening post and calling a spade a spade ("disaster", "colonialism"). That quote from Negroponte certainly sheds a lot of light on the approach. It does seem naive to think that children can essentially teach themselves without guidance, as he is implying OLPC will empower.

You make an excellent point about matching the educational system to the economic/vocational context. A rote educational system worked for Europe and America actually quite well for a couple of centuries before the cracks appeared.

The critique that is always leveled at OLPC is that it is a technical solution to a problem that is social, cultural and economic in nature. While I'm all for pushing innovative thinking with technology, rarely does this type of tech-focused approach work, even in developed nations (or corporations). And Americans giving their OLPCs to their children and saying it's a success because their kids love it, completely misses the point.

A much better approach is to work with the societies to develop their own solutions - better but slower and less "visible". But look at the Aravind Eye Hospitals for how they've been able to take a boring old rote educational approach to solving a very pressing social need, curing blindness in India.

But I also think that even the fundamentals of the technology and business approach are not going to work in OLPC's long-term interest. I wrote a blog post on Cnet a couple of days ago asking the question, "Will OLPC be the TiVo of emerging market PCs?" (http://www.cnet.com/matter-antimatter/8301-13641_1-9840950-44.html?)

Gong Szeto

January 7, 2008 4:36 AM

hi bruce, this is one of your best posts. why? because i feel i am catching a glimpse of really what makes you tick. this post is about the darker side of innovation - innovation that is not grounded in anything but ego (in the olpc case...id)

your theory about china, india and nigeria rejecting olpc on the grounds of its educational philosophy i think is probably more right than wrong. you also have ot remember that they are some of the fastest growing economies and pretty command and control in terms of political structures.

at the heart of papert's philosophy is a fantastical optimism for the capacities of human learning, and we should al admire him for that.

but the reality is that most of the output of academic instituions like the MIT Media Lab are fairly divorced from reality, and reality is never ideal. constructionism is frankly a utopian construct and the OLPC project can only be construed as a monumental and magnificent effort to codify the tenets of constructionism into a device and literally drop ship millions of them on the billion children out there, and snooker their respective governments to pay for it.

the argument to leverage self-directed learning in lieu of undersupply of qualified and reliable teachers is actually not a bad rationale, but this is an interpreted mission at best.

utopian visions always get trumped by the messiness of reality. i believe why olpc will be one of the biggest trainwrecks in tech history is that they actually did pull the wool over most people's eyes. of course, they weren't doing it intentionally nor out of any malice. but somewhere in those brilliant minds there must be decades and decades of unrealized fantasies about changing the world with their ideologies, and goshdarnit, they almost pulled it off. and i think that really is how they will be remembered. (and what adam said too re: their technological contributions).

i have so many conflicted feelings about it, but in the end, china and india (i cannot really speak for nigeria not really knowing its cultural history) are really friggin pragmatic cultures.

pragmatism trumps idealism any day of the week. sad but true.

judging from negroponte's recent hissyfits, really, my "id" comment about olpc is spot on. IMHO, of course.

steve

January 7, 2008 12:37 PM

"Ignoring the local culture"...

I see this time and again from the transplant European designers I interact with. The idea of creating your own world by your own passionate vision or making up your own rules without regard for history or current culture may play well in Paris or Vienna, Boston or Pasadena...but the rest of the world is just too practical to play by these rules that only apply to a few idealistic crack-pots with access to mainstream western propaganda channels.

The world of design is just beginning to wake up to the actual size of the globe and the people (with cultures older than we can imagine) who really inhabit it.

Rick

January 7, 2008 5:41 PM

I have yet to have someone explain to me why it is a great idea to give these computers to children in countries where the political situation is the main reason they do not all ready have them. Then double the price to my kids, when the individuals involved have all been recieving tax dollar supported educations and jobs for their entire career.

Arby

January 7, 2008 5:59 PM

Both sides of the argument in this article miss the key facts!
OLPC is not about handing a kid a laptop and saying "here, now get educated"!

The kids still go to school. They still attend a class. They still INTERACT WITH A TEACHER!

The key to OLPC is providing a tool that:
1. Engages the child. (The OLPC pilot programs showed huge decrease in truancy, and other problems. If the laptops bring kids into the classroom and keeps them there, then already this is a successful idea).

2. Provides the child with a means to continue learning outside the classroom.

3. A link to the outside world.

Watch his 20 minute presentation here, and it becomes clearer: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/41

Jeff Wagg

January 7, 2008 6:13 PM

Forget the philosophy.

If you get laptops into the hands of children, they will do things with them. Amazing things. Possibly scary things.

Let them. Give them the power.. let what happens happen. Don't impose your values on them.. Eastern or Western. Let them create their own.

It's not about pedagogy or education. It's about.. wow, what if....?

Steve Harris

January 7, 2008 6:41 PM

Bruce,
You are failing to fully understand the olpc arguments. How can the cheapest laptop possible be a danger to children ? Are we to stop because of the danger of pornography ? In effect the arguments you are using amounts to the old arguments where the internet was proprietary and people like AOL tried to restrict access. OLPC is trying to unrestrict access to all types of learning and that is why some authoritarian governments dislike it.
In effect it is they that have the colonial attitudes, inherited from there colonial forbears.
It seems these countries are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the colonial powers too.

wild

January 7, 2008 6:50 PM

This is good, but what about making laptops affordable here in the US? I fix computers on the side and have refurbished a couple the client wanted to throw away. I've given them to my niece who is a school teacher. She uses them in her class and said they really help.

Michael Tiemann

January 7, 2008 6:53 PM

While I have heartily endorsed Mr. Nussbaums past writings in my own writings, I take issue with this article.

I agree that Negreponte's quote about drunken teachers, in context or out, is perhaps the ugliest part of logic that I otherwise endorse (experiential vs. rote learning processes). And the worst part about ugly arguments is that they tend to breed more ugly arguments. Mr. Nussbaum falls into the same trap by first misrepresenting the theory of experiential learning (when he says that almost all learning takes place in a teaching context--I dispute that). But then Mr. Nussbaum makes a statement that stoops to the level of Negroponte's worst:

"In fact, as I think about it, if your economic advantage is efficiency--to do the same things again and again at lower costs--a rote education system may be the right one for you at this time in history."

WRONG! A rote education merely accelerates the rate of the *negative* forces of capitalism and globalism. I strongly believe that unless we shift the human race from efficiency to creativity as the measure of advantage, we will all march in lock step to a state of global doom. Surely somebody who understands the greater potential of design can comprehend that!

Aleks

January 7, 2008 7:05 PM

To say the OLPC is a disaster from a non-profit business model, per se, may be accurate. Then again, it's too early to say. There are many fundamental things going on here and education is one of them. The fact the Negropante speaks about education as the central tenet of OLPC speaks volumes. There are way too many points in the article (and in the few comments, too) that poorly address the issues of poverty and education and overly criticize OLPC for its lofty goals of free and accessible education. Children in poverty need basic essentials and a good education. OLPC doesn't target those children that have been raised up from poverty, it targets children who are in poverty. India and China are doing good jobs of raising people out of poverty. No criticism there. Even if it's not OLPC laptops ending up in children's hands then it will be another maker's laptop and that will be because Negropante stood up and addressed that very issue. If Intel wants to enter the market that OLPC has addressed then so be it. Let China import whatever laptop has more Chinese components if that makes them feel any better. They will be imitating a Western model of economics anyway and the non-OLPC laptop will probably have a closed-source OS installed with software chock full of intellectual property, digital rights management and software patents.

Alfred Bool

January 7, 2008 7:15 PM

Hey teacher!

The construct "it's" is a verb.

The fact that you use it impproperly (meaning you can't spell) tend to diminish your message as a 'teacher'.

Erik

January 7, 2008 7:16 PM

>>Almost all learning takes
>>place in a teaching context.

>>most "learning" takes place
>>in a context of a guide,
>>a coach, be it parent, teacher,
>>priest, older sibling, whatever.


Citing your sources on big issues like this would lend a lot to your argument.

Separately, olpc is capable of working in a collaborative environment -- so I'd say that it supports both guided and unguided learning.

matt

January 7, 2008 7:37 PM

This article is a bit of a joke. My wife is an expert on early childhood ed. Guess what her teaching emphasizes? Self-directed learning. A child playing with blocks, riding a bike, or even playing a game on a computer is also developing their mind.

A computer is a tool, not a religion. The OLPC is a much better tool for learning than the "me too" offerings developed by Intel and Microsoft. It will be a success, despite the many missteps of the founders. Their real problem is trying to use a "cathedral" approach of only selling in millions, instead of the "bazaar" approach of multiple iterations using small quantities.

Finally, his comments about prn and "exchanging pictures" must be a joke. That is what everybody is doing with their computers -- including many Fortune 500 desktops. The "Colonialism" comments are utter rubbish, and merely reveals the authors bias.

Jong

January 7, 2008 7:38 PM

Stop the philosophical nonsense, because it is all talk. Listen to yourselves colonialism, educational assumptions, local culture? Oh come on, give me a break.

I am using a computer made in China with parts designed in Taiwan, CPU made in Germany, displaying LCD made in Korea, all running programs coded by Indians and Pakistanis packaged by a mega corporation in the US. This is reality.

PCs changed the world. Computers, network, and the Internet changed education. Mostly because almost everyone have one or have access to one. This was possible because it is personal, affordable, and decentralized. We now use computers for things we never dreamed possible.

OLPC laptop may be the most efficient and affortable way of giving something similar to children in poor countries where resources (human and material) are scarce.

Now Intel's classmate is better or more appealing to poor countries because it is Windows and MS word (the world standard), while OLPC has too many alternative and strange technology these governments never heard of. However it is too expensive to be given away to children, and that is its draw back.

Whether OLPC or classmate, make it cheap enough and every child can have one. OLPC has a realistic chance of reaching that point, while Classmate probably will not.

Charlie

January 7, 2008 8:18 PM

Right on!

The problem with over educated elites is they think they are better human beings. They think it is up to them to save the rest of humanity. The truth is more or less the opposite as history have shown us.

Even Confucius admitted there are some to learn from ordinary people when he said "there is a teacher in every three people on the street." Stop taking yourself overly seriously, all of sudden you may find beauty everywhere.

Hmmmm. That applies to me as well. Hehehe.

Rob

January 7, 2008 8:55 PM

I am blown away by the total lack unbiasedness.

What makes anyone think Intel and Microsoft have the planet's children's best interests at heart? The sad fact is that Mega corps of the US are intent on reducing competition and making profits above ALL else (Wal*Mart trumps all).

As for the OLPC, XO, it is simple enough for a child to figure out and is not under the control of a profit making entity. That by itself says how much thought and effort when into the project, forget about the low power consumption, incredible wireless range, and repeater nature to extend the networks. Adults are slower to pick up technology, are content with remaining ignorant, and slower to embrace change.

If OLPC was to really succeed, get rid of the self serving dinosaurs in governments and at the head of these mega corps, start embracing one planet, look forward to the human species uniting to make life better and save the planet.

jameson

January 7, 2008 9:07 PM

I do not think that the fat lady has sung for OLPC quite yet. They have accomplished an impressive amount of work to redesign a new OS from the ground up (note that I say redesign, not rebuild - of course 90% of the components come from a stock Linux system, but the result is at least as innovative as the difference between Mac, Windows, or Linux). The clock is running now for them to finish making something that is a compelling advantage over what Classmate or another competitor can offer. And that means creating teacher-centric tools, among other things. "They" have to "decide" whether to be irrelevant evangelists for purist constructivism, or a real-world platform with a combination of constructivist and non-constructivist aspects. (I use quotes because these words have unusual meanings in the context of open-source community development).

If they do fail, you may well have written the right epitaph (though the asymmetrical fight against Microsoft is another aspect that you neglect). But given the remarkable pace of development they have achieved through their existence, they still have time to prove you wrong.

Chris Moss

January 7, 2008 9:22 PM

Stop the philosophical nonsense, indeed. Jong's right but Classmate, OLPC, Lenovo, Acer all bringing cheap student computers to market is a GOOD thing for the world. If Nicholas Negroponte's ego is more important to him than his "mission" that's just sad and he needs to pass OLPC on to managers who can work toward helping kids get computers. Seems he's just concerned with being the person who gets credit for doing it rather than just getting it done and the OLPC effort has suffered from his hubris.

Lens

January 7, 2008 9:36 PM

Drivel

professorai

January 7, 2008 11:08 PM

Whether or not OLPC succeeds, eventually there will be billions of $100 machines, whether used laptops, smartphones, or networked calculators.

The problem is that even in the US, nobody has figured out how computers help children learn. Even LOGO only works when a brilliant and charismatic Papert is the leader.

Sure, if there was "true human level AI", the computer and robots would replace the lowly paid and poorly trained teacher. Or, if video game economics weren't based on profit motive/hollywood copyrights/addiction, games for learning wouldn't suck compared to Halo.

BEEweb is a scientific project to design a game incentive protocol for all content areas where kids are motivated to become each other's individual tutor once they are playing online. But it doesn't have the money of Negroponte or Intel, so you never heard of it.

thinkdata

January 7, 2008 11:37 PM

now THIS is a great thread. It is also an interactive, collaborative, peer-based discussion. hmmmmm...

Joe Capko

January 8, 2008 12:05 AM

OLPC is a vision of getting a powerful and innovative tool in the hands of children that have little or nothing. The above argument seems seems to me a bit like saying that if you give someone a screwdriver you're anti-hammer.

Another consideration is that OLPC is a non-profit and are at a huge competitive disadvantage because they can't come to the local authorities with a bag of cash, as tradition dictates in many such places. Western colonialism? Give me a break.

John

January 8, 2008 2:23 AM

Whether you agree or disagree with Dr. Negroponte's OLPC mission, he and his team should be revered for trying to do something positive for the children of this world. As for my personal beliefs? I ordered two under the G1G1 program.

Youdontgetit

January 8, 2008 4:21 AM

I think that Nussbaum's last statement was his worst:

"The XO laptop for the world's poorest children is being rejected by India, China and Nigeria as yet another form of foreign Western colonialism. And it is."

OLPC gives away laptops for free. Those laptops enable children to: communicate with each other, learn how to compose music, and learn how to program, among other things, with the software that comes included.

Colonialism can be defined as "control by one power over a dependent area or people, or a policy advocating or based on such control."

I'm sorry, but the XO laptop is not colonialism.

It is a sad, sad day when people start giving others a hard time that dedicate their livelihood to doing what they can to help raise children out of poverty by giving them access to tools that help them to learn and succeed that they otherwise would never be able to afford. Regardless of what you think of capitalism, OLPC, or Negroponte, it does absolutely no good to write this garbage.

Amit Bhati

January 8, 2008 4:48 AM

I challenge you to show us any concrete statistical proof of the figures you quote: that India has brought 200 million people out of poverty within 1 decade via education. This is how journalists like yourself substantiate seriously flawed stories.

I suppose your argument is that poor children in third-world countries should not be given these PCs because they will end up performing repetitive tasks anyway! Should we give then typewriters instead? That would definitely help their life-long need for patience at repetitive work!

Observe Mr. Richardson that you cannot bring forth any economic or financial analysis, to demonstrate that the OLPC PC, as compared to the Intel PC, is less cost-effective or even generally less effective by any other comparative measurement. Lately Business Week has descended to the level of journalistic depth and excellence that would make Bill O'Reilly look like an highly educated and balanced political commentator.

kamla bhatt

January 8, 2008 4:52 AM

OLPC was rejected here in India and I was curious to find out the reasons behind it and discovered that some of it had to do with price point of the laptop. While the government appears to have said no to OLPC, there is a private group that is testing the laptop in one of the Indian states.

Interestingly, there is an Indian version of sorts of OLPC from a company called Novatium that is headed by Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT, Chennai. Prof. Jhunjhunwala is an amazing visionary, whose focus is all about how do you bring technology to the rural areas of India.

Kamla Bhatt

Manuj

January 8, 2008 6:01 AM

The so called $100 laptop is only good in the poorest countries where even electricity is expensive. On top of that, this laptop doesn’t even address geographical differences in the world – such as humidity, atmospheric pressure due to elevation, eroded soil that makes dust look like SF fog, etc… Another thing is that in some developing countries (especially India and China) this laptop might look like a novelty and after a while it will be used as a tray for tea cups. Are we trying to help unprivileged children learn about technology, or are we promoting an MIT diva with no feasible upgrades? If MIT wants to help the poor, then they should promote environmentally friendly products that create electricity, clean water… That can easily be done if they think outside their fossil fuel mentality.
The concept of this laptop is brilliant, but the approach is more like a Hollywood soap opera controlled by egos.

diva

January 8, 2008 7:49 AM

Yes Negroponte should hand over the project to less egoistic team members. It cannot be a "my way or the highway" attitude. The world needs OLPC, Classmate PC, eePC and a host of such affordable solutions. Maybe competition is good and will bring affordable yet best in class computers to under-priviledged children across the world

diva

January 8, 2008 7:49 AM

Yes Negroponte should hand over the project to less egoistic team members. It cannot be a "my way or the highway" attitude. The world needs OLPC, Classmate PC, eePC and a host of such affordable solutions. Maybe competition is good and will bring affordable yet best in class computers to under-priviledged children across the world

Eman

January 8, 2008 7:56 AM

It is naive to say that China, India or Nigeria rejected the OLPC because of the OLPC's approach to learning. These kinds of deals are made or not depending on the number of strings attached which, in my guess, would be more than a puppeteer can count. Direct sales competition is only one of the ways a company like Intel or Microsoft can undermine Negroponte enough to give him tics.

Bryce

January 8, 2008 7:59 AM

I found Negroponte's speech far more convincing than your rebuttal. Of course language can only be developed if a child can hear the speech of those who already have it. But that's a long way from saying that language must be taught in a formal way. I watch my one year old niece playing, babbling to herself, and I know she's building those neural pathways, even when she's babbling at a toy, and could care less that there are adults in the room. I also know that she'll be constructing grammatically correct sentences years before I can explain the concept of a noun or an adjective to her.

The same goes for motor skills. Nobody has to teach children to walk, or to manipulate objects. Sure, it helps to see an older person perform a task, but the kids can do quite well without formal instruction. My niece teaches herself something real and concrete about the world every time she throws a ball or tries to feed herself.

I don't believe that setting children loose is the be all and end all of educational strategies. But there are lessons that cannot be planned into the day, that cannot be codified into a lesson manual. Powerful, free-form tools like the OLPC, with their collaborative tools and "here are the guts" mentality, can bring about that sort of serendipity.

What I'm hearing from you is nothing more than, "I'm a teacher. I am critical to education. Negroponte is dissing me, so I'll diss him right back." You're just being overly sensitive. Negroponte didn't say that all teachers are bad, or that all formal instruction was an impediment to learning. What he did say was that an open-ended, child-directed learning tool can be a powerful defense against poor formal instruction (and there is a lot of that out there).

The OLPC is only good for browsing porn and swapping photos? Jesus, but you think a lot of yourself. Anyone who could claim that "almost all learning takes place in a teaching context" is either a poor teacher who has never noticed the unparalleled enthusiasm of a child who is wading into a subject solely to satisfy their own curiosity, or someone cynically trying to justify their own salary.

There is a place for rote learning. There is a place for instructor-led education. But too much of the former crushes curiosity, and too much of the latter makes children incapable of exploring the world on their own.

Finally, I won't even get into your belief that there is a "right time" in a country's history for educating their populace to be unimaginative automatons, suited only for plugging the same screw into the third-from-the-left hole twelve hours a day. I rolled my eyes so far into the back of my head that they came back around the bottom, so I ended up reading it again.

Professor Chaos

January 8, 2008 8:25 AM

Why not just refurbish and give them the thousands of pentium/amd laptops being thrown away?

Niyam Bhushan

January 8, 2008 9:35 AM

Neither the OLPC nor the CMPC can impact education in India. What we need is free education content. Then we'd need to couple that with a new pedagogy to bring new innovative approaches to both teaching and learning to the classroom. All these are way beyond Intel and OLPC, as they just provide a piece of the puzzle.
Meanwhile, for all the cryin' on India's education system, surprising to note how Indian teachers are now being sought in the developed west to teach at schools and colleges.

regards
niyam bhushan

Anarcissie

January 8, 2008 12:48 PM

While the OLPC project was bound to run into problems with traditional authoritarianism in both the pedagogical culture and politics of Third-World countries, I think its main problem is that, being Linux-based, it offends and frightens Microsoft and Intel. They wish to maintain and extend their stranglehold on the PC world, and they will use whatever threats, punishments and payoffs are necessary with the local bureaucrats. There is not much more to it than that.

Jacob

January 8, 2008 2:13 PM

I hear a lot about ego here. We have two egos in any transaction or agreement, remember that. A teacher's ego is affected by having to think that a child can learn on his/her own.
Personally, I think we are seeing a culture difference between MIT and Intel. MIT does not have to worry about profit from the things they create. Intel does.

otto

January 8, 2008 5:52 PM

Personally, I am for getting the OLPC laptops into the hands of all kids around the world.
Microsoft and Intel are in it for the money. For the future, "almighty dollar" that they will get when these kids grow up and buy more and more MS and Intel products.
The OLPC laptops are great tools for kids to learn about the FUTURE out there... rather than being stuck in the past.
Sometimes it seems that the rich want to control the poor ... to keep them down ... so as not to disturb the foundations their towers of wealth are built on.
I say let the kids see that there is more than one player out there.. that there is more than one way to do things... that there is more than one computer tool out there that can make things happen.
Don't keep the children tied to the ground. Give them the tools to learn about the whole world around... about where the human race can go and not just where it currently seems to sit and stagnate.

regards,
otto

Carla

January 8, 2008 7:18 PM

Teacher-centric learning vs. learner-centric learning -- why do we think it has to be one or the other? How about "both/and"?

Mae

January 10, 2008 12:29 AM

The countries involved are not buying 'laptops', they're buying 'educational tools'. As a tool, OLPC's theory is "do it yourself, you'll learn a lot", whereas Classmate's theory is "here's where it plugs into your existing system."
Which theory would you think is more attractive to a government?

Robert

January 13, 2008 3:13 PM

This is an interesting discussion. I am pretty new to this whole topic but the observations of Manuj are pointed and correct.
On the one hand, I keep hearing the arguments of open source ideologues who see microsoft and intel conspiracies under every rock-ignoring the fact that for most people like myself, linux is a fundamentally useless product because it does not have a broad based system of general applicability. I hate to say this because I'm no friend of Bill G, but windows IS the default operating environment for the entire world, and if kids don't learn to navigate in it they're losing out on something important-if the goal is that they acquire some useful skills.

There's another core group of people with a "field of dreams" idea that if we put the product into enough hands something good will come of it.

There are also a lot of mixed messages coming out of the people at the OLPC project. It's a soap opera on a grand scale.

There seems to be a core assumption that if you put this device in the hands of enough kids they'll learn-something. However, one questions whether the folks who are so gung ho have ever studied appropriate technology.

I'm reminded of a project I studied as an undergraduate in which the French provided pipe, drilling equipment and pumps to Morocco for clean water projects. What happened was that nobody'd ever stopped to consider that the aquifers had so much sand in them that it ruined the finely made French water pumps and all the piping ended up supporting television antennas all over Morocco.

The money being spent on this project would buy a lot of pencils, notebooks, textbooks, and training for village schoolmarms. That would last long after the OLPCs are used for tea trays or to pound stakes into the ground or get stepped on by the village milk cow.
In addition, if a kid's got a pretty significant chance of getting struck down by cholera, typhoid, bilharzia or river blindness before he or she reaches the age of majority, the OLPC seems to be a proxy that draws attention away from more fundamental goals of public health and food security.

F Razo

January 22, 2008 6:04 PM

Why go around the world to try to explain a problem we have here in the USA? Just visit your local school and find out how much computers are helping students improve their academic achievement. And how much money has been spent already?
Much like in business, there will be limited, or no progress in the eficientization of education until there are sufficient, really effective "killer applications" that can help the children learn and master their 3 R's, with, or without assistance, under constructive, cognitive, or simple, common sense blending of whatever WORKS. Giving children "stuff", as it can be radio, television, or computers, with the hope of them knowing what to do, and actually doing it effectively seems quite unrealistic, arrogant, and perhaps ignorant towards the profession of teaching. I think.......

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