Reading and growing up with Nell

Scott posts a quick update on the status of the Nell designs for narrative interfaces and its application to OLPC’s recent literacy project in Ethiopia:

The Literacy Project is a collaboration between four different groups: the One Laptop per Child Foundation (“Nell”), the MIT Media Lab (“Tinkrbook”), the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, and the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University (“Omo”). The goal is to reach children even further from educational infrastructure than OLPC has ventured to date. In particular, the Ethiopia pilots are complete child-led bootstraps, attempting to teach kids to read English (an official language of Ethiopia) who neither speak English nor read in any language yet. There are no teachers in the village, and no literate adults either.

Adapting Nell to this environment has some challenges: how do we guide students through pedagogic material with stories if they don’t yet understand the language of the stories we want to tell? But the essential challenge is the same: we have hundreds of apps and videos on the tablets and need to provide scaffolding and guidance to the bits most appropriate for each child at any given time, just as Nell seeks to guide children through the many activities included in Sugar. In the literacy project there is also a need for automated assessment tools: how can we tell that the project is working? How can we determine what parts of our content are effective in their role?

OLPC Rwanda: building a platform for expression for the whole community

In an Op-Ed in Uganda’s Independent, Andrew Mwenda notes that Rwanda has set itself apart from its neighboring countries in almost every field; including with its tremendous fiberoptic network and olpc laptop program. “building one of the most promising platforms of democratic expression”. He notes:

Kagame has predicated his presidency on performance by his government. Hence, the delivery of public goods and services to all its citizens regardless of their station in life… It is Kagame’s political genius and greatest achievement and is unrivalled in post-independence Africa. But equally it is the greatest source of frustration among elites.

The article is worth a read.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo is in Rwanda this week to thank President Kagame for his amazing work in supporting OLPC for all children in the country, and to learn from the program there.

Rwanda’s next 100,000 laptops arrive this month

Rwanda will have 200,000 children using XOs by the end of the year. They are putting the second phase of their deployment into place over the next few months, in time for the second term this year. The laptops will start to be delivered later this month.

Each participating public school – at least one per sector – will have a school server installed with mathematics, science and English software to enable teachers to teach using laptops. Two teachers at each school are taught to handle troubleshooting hardware and software. Schools with no access to electricity will continue to be connected to solar energy.

The program has been particularly popular among parents of children receiving the laptops. And private schools and individuals can buy laptops for $200 apiece.

Nkubito Bakuramutsa, the head of the initiative, said of the new schools joining the program: “I call upon parents and teachers to support the OLPC project. I am optimistic that the beneficiaries will compete favourably on the labour market after completing their studies.”

Learning to read with One Tablet per Child

Can tablets make a difference to a child learning to read for the first time, without a teacher or traditional classroom structure? That’s the question we are exploring with our reading project, currently underway in Ethiopia.

A few dozen children in two rural villages have been given tablets which they are using for a few months. They are interested in learning to read English, and understand this is something they can learn with the tablets; which also come with hundreds of children’s apps.

They are equipped with software that logs all interactions, building up a clear picture of how each tablet is being used. Data from the tablets is gathered each week and sent back to the research team, which also rolls out new updates to the tablets week by week.

Richard is in Ethiopia this week, to get better first-hand knowledge of how the tablets and other infrastructure are holding up, and a visual sense of how they are being used.

“if a child can learn to read, they can read to learn”

On Kindles and the importance of fixable machines

Kyle Wiens of the Fixers project is tracking how electronics and other gear is used and fixed across Africa — and which things are destined to be landfill. He writes in the Atlantic this month about the challenges of maintaining computers in rural schools.

He looks at a popular Kindle-as-bookreader program, noting how predictable their high levels of breakage were, and how useful it would have been to be able to repair them in the field.

He cites OLPC’s design, public repair guides, and comprehensive list of parts as models for others to follow. And he kindly offers to help projects like Worldreader and others write a good repair manual if they would only do so and ship it with their devices. Take him up on that — he writes well!