Rwandan OLPC mentors: students with business cards

Back in May, we held an international Scratch Day event in our office called “Rwandese Kids Scratching their Communities.” This event had local students familiar with Scratch, an interactive programming activity on the XO laptop, planning and holding their own workshop. They taught teachers, family members and anyone else who came how to create Scratch projects.

This day was open to all and many new children found their way into our offices to learn more about Scratch and the XO laptop. Two such boys were Joseph (grade 3, 10 yrs old) and Erize (grade 2, 11 yrs old).

In the months that followed, Joseph and Erize kept coming to our offices (near
their houses) to use the laptops. During this time, they not only mastered use of the laptop, they spread word to their friends, and now help and guide other children who have begun coming to the office. Their homes have become popular places with family and friends coming each night to learn more and use the laptops.

The boys had been reserved and quiet, but are now outgoing and confident. Their English has expanded from a few sentences to conversational in just a few weeks. It is clear their work with the laptop has empowered them. They are so happy to be involved with OLPC, that they have each created their own business card and tell everyone in the neighborhood that they work for OLPC!

Joseph and Erize, on their own, chronicled through pictures an afternoon of themselves and their families at home with their laptops:


Children talk about OLPC in Rwanda

OLPC Rwanda, which is planning to expand their OLPC deployment to 160,000 children and teachers by next summer, has been talking more about their work and interviewing those currently involved. Africa Online has been running a series on OLPC over the past two weeks, including a recent article on XO use in schools in Kigali.

Introducing children to programming

A recent CSM article about getting young people involved in programming and hacking (noting both OLPC and Raspberry Pi) quotes Rodrigo on students’ accomplishments in Uruguay:

Debugging a program is the most perfect way of learning… We have already 12-year-old children in Uruguay that are proficient programmers. You cannot imagine the stuff we are beginning to see in these young kids.

 

Computers as reading prostheses

by Antonio M. Battro, Chief Education Officer, OLPC

Children can learn a new common and universal language that we may call “digitalese”. Even before speaking, infants can perform with the computer many interesting actions by pressing a key. This elementary action, the “click option” – to click or not to click- is the consequence of a conscious choice made at the cortical level of the brain. The remarkable ability of our brain to make simple choices and make predictions about the outcomes of an action is the basis of the acquisition of a universal “second language” by any kid in the world with access to a computer, the so-called “digital natives”. In a sense we are witnessing the unfolding of a new “digital intelligence” (Battro & Denham, 2007).

Children learn to speak any language without the help of a grammar, just by hearing how others speak in their community, and they also learn to communicate with a computer -and via the computer with other people- when they share the same digital environment just by peer-to-peer interaction. This is why “saturation” is a central principle of the OLPC program. It is a matter of scale. We need a large numbers of participants in different cultures to enhance the diversity of strategies for teaching and learning.

It may take some time to find the best spontaneous strategies to learn how to read and write with the help of a computer but we already have some hints about successful prosthetic devices in education. For instance, nobody will deny that the cochlear implants have changed the life of a deaf person. Today the implanted deaf person can hear not only environmental sounds but understand language as well and early implants in deaf infants is increasing the formidable success of those neuro-prostheses. We can expect similar neurocognitive breakthroughs in reading and writing soon thanks to the “prosthetic” use of a computer at a very large scale.

As a matter of fact, many children using the OLPC platform since early ages (another basic OLPC principle) learn to type before they learn to write with paper and pen! In a sense we are witnessing something that educators didn’t predict. In most schools the explicit or implicit rule is to learn handwriting before typing and children start with the difficult analog skills needed to draw a letter, a word or a sentence (by a continuous and precise hand movement) before they are allowed to use a keyboard, a much simpler digital skill (a simple discrete action). The alternative is to start with the digital skills before “going analog” but for many educators and parents this strategy is considered a “forbidden experiment”. However it happens that nowadays in many places children enjoy the right to use a laptop not only at school but at home, and the once forbidden experiment is happily and spontaneously performed. In the “expanded school” of a digital environment children don’t need a pen and paper to write.

In this sense, we should also experiment with spontaneous reading using a computer. OLPC will start now to deliver XO laptops with special software to remote communities with no schools where children and adults are lacking reading, writing or number skills. An inspiration was the famous “hole in the wall” experiment done in India with illiterate children who spontaneously started to read while sharing an unsupervised computer, what Sugata Mitra calls “minimally invasive education”.
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A time to learn

In early May, Save the Children‘s State of the World’s Mothers 2010 report ranked Afghanistan last among the 160 countries surveyed, in terms of how easy it was to raise children.

While medical care is often limited, and being an infant in Afghanistan poses many risks, it is also a tough place to grow up. Only 52% of primary aged school children are enrolled in school, where classes are often made up of more than fifty students. Despite the extraordinary restoration of public schools and teachers over the past decade, there is still a lack of teachers and school buildings, and children receive an average of 2.5 hours of school a day. That is half of what children in developed nations (OECD) receive.

These numbers reflect a vast improvement from when the Taliban controlled the country – over the past three years, school enrollment has grown from 800,000 students to 4.5 million. But youthful curiosity is not bounded by time spent in school.  We are working to make sure that, district by district, these children have tools and projects to explore and to experiment with, so they can have time to learn even when school does not have time for them.

A class of Afghan girls at work on their XOs. Photographed by Elissa Bogos

Note: Some information comes from the latest OLPC Afghanistan Briefing Note.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Afghanistan

Apostle of the Apoxolypse: Derndorfer’s wandering star

Christoph Derndorfer, widely known for his ministry to young XO pilots, fashion sense, and active speaking / writing /editing about OLPC, has recently kicked off a Latin American Tour.  (Todd Kelsey, where are your tour-badge-printing skills when we need them?)  He plans to visit all of our country partners in the region with significant deployments this summer, documenting his experience.

Christoph’s travel reports are enchanting.  Take for instance the recent photoessay from Montevideo’s  eXpO photo exhibit in Uruguay – composed entirely of photos taken with XOs by students in 4 primary schools.  And with his iconic beard, long hair, and thousand-meter stare (seen below by the pool at the Fame Factory), Christoph is becoming as known for his xoly presence as for his love of good design and Sugarized icons.

ChristophD caught mid-sentence, with an open XO in his raised left hand

ChristophD preaching the End Times (or at least the Shutdown Screen Icons)

To stalk with him across the southern slopes, deployment by deployment, you can follow his online writings, photos, and twext.  He is looking for personal contacts along the way, especially people who have played a role in OLPC deployments, so please get in touch with him if you know someone he should meet.

http://christoph-d.blogspot.com/

The impact of laptops in education

By Antonio M. Battro, OLPC’s Chief Education Officer

As stated by the Millennium Goals of the United Nations, it is our duty and responsibility to provide a good education for all children. The purpose is to provide at least elementary schooling to every child in the world by the year 2015.

Education is essentially about universal values of truth, beauty and good. These values are embodied in historical times. We must recognize that today a new artificial environment interacts with our planet: the digital environment. The sad fact is that while many of us live in the digital era, many more are excluded. The digital divide is one of the greatest obstacles to overcome in contemporary education, especially in poor communities.

An isolated school without computers and connectivity to the Internet is incompatible current educational requirements. But of course, technology is not sufficient. Technology may have an impact on education only if constructive dialogue is occurring among teachers, students and their families. Moreover, digital technology should be in the hands of children at an early age for them to learn the new digital language as a second language. And it must be mobile (laptops or netbooks, instead of PCs) because children learn in many kinds of settings, not only in the classroom.

Some economists have tried to measure the educational impact of digital technologies, but they have reported conflicting results (cf. Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality, by Randall Stross, New York Times, July 9, 2010). For instance, children using computers at school and at home have attained good computer skills while their grades in mathematics and language declined. The more so if they live in low income households. These results need clarification.

First, it is important to understand that time is needed to produce a cognitive transformation in a student. It is possible that some of the reported failures are biased because academic performance was evaluated too soon. Any evaluation must factor in the time span of an entire cohort, which is the basic unit in education. The time cannot be abridged; it requires the entire development of the young mind, from childhood to adolescence, some 10 years since the child enters first grade when most of the connections of the developing brain are made. Many cognitive capacities may be latent for years before they are expressed. Currently, tests are frequently done in static and conventional cross sections during the school year instead of in longitudinal studies of individual cognitive dynamics.

Second, in the digital era we can use digital tools for assessment (e.g., online monitoring of the student activities) but we still need new methodologies to obtain robust results. In particular, traditional statistical comparisons between experimental and control groups (as reported in the quoted studies) are not possible when the digital divide disappears and the entire population of students and teachers of a region or country has full access to the digital environment at school and at home. In that case, the control groups disappear and all students have been “vaccinated.” We must invent new methods of evaluation for the digital era.

Third, scale creates phenomenon. We need to change from microscopes to telescopes in order to encompass the wide spectrum of natural phenomena at different scales. The same is true in education…

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OLPC Photo Galleries

“The photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.” -Diane Arbus

PaleXO West Bank IMG_1319

I am starting to appreciate how difficult it is to find compelling photographs that capture the spirit of learning. How do you represent collaboration and learning by doing? Basic interactions among children are often similar across different environments — with features and dress and surroundings the greatest change from town to town. But collaboration can happen between students sitting next to each other, across the room, or kilometers away… Great photography captures and makes you wonder about what is not seen in the image.

Some of the more exciting images are of children discovering something new on an XO; or share with their neighbors something they have discovered. I love to see their looks of delirium:
PaleXO West Bank 147

There is a beautifully lit image of a student posing with her laptop, the water stained ceiling of the classroom telling of the need for a new roof:
Girl_with_xo_classroom_Sierra_Leone

Or the picture of children on the steps of a red clay mud dwelling exploring together, with a yak grazing in the foreground.

OLE Nepal cover

We have a new Flickr gallery of photographs of children learning in deployments, where you can see more as they are submitted. If you have a great set of photos from your own deployment, please post a link to it.

A great video from Yirkalla

Yirkalla is being well-covered by Australian media. TEN Digital devoted part of a weekend episode to the deployment, including this video from the classroom during the first day of the deployment. They catch a priceless expression on this child’s face 1:10 in, as he either learns to play Maze (as the shot suggests) or discovers Rick Astley for the first time.

Updates from Alabama: NSF research and spring break XO camp

In 2008, the city of Birmingham started an OLPC project for their 15,000 elementary school students, to bridge the city’s digital divide. Last summer, the NSF funded a two-year analysis of Birmingham’s deployment, focusing on 4th and 5th grade students across the city.

The research team, led by Shelia Cotten, includes Julian and Shani Daily of g8four, who ran the initial workshops in Birmingham and spent the following year there getting the project off the ground, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which has been advising the deployment for some time.  You can read more from Ellen Ferrante’s early report.

The Birmingham community remains the largest in the US, and holds regular school-based events, such as this year’s spring break XO camp in the West End Library.

Save the Children and scheduled giving

I became a Save the Children sponsor this week, both because I admire their good works, and because I want to see how they connect donors to specific recipients — something they do as well as any international donor agency. They strongly encourage small recurring donations over larger one-time donations, and I understand why: this is a reason to stay in touch, a reliable predictor of future support, and forges more of an identity than a one-time gift.

This week Brand Labs in Michigan also started a weekly donation to OLPC – giving one laptop a week. Co-founder Dane Downer said of the project:

“The entire world is rapidly going online and the more people that join the Big Conversation, the better off we’ll all be. If we can do a little bit to add some new voices to the chorus, we’ll be extremely proud… We haven’t put an end date on the program because we don’t want it to end.”

We receive a number of one-time donations of more than $10k, but there’s something compelling about this sort of steady project. Thank you to Brand Labs, and to everyone doing what they can each week to support projects they care about.

Sinhala/Tamil XOs in Sri Lanka

OLPC is making great strides into Sri Lanka, as reported recently in the Sri Lanka Daily News. The small island country, just off the southeast tip of India, is looking to turn a corner after years of internal strife, exacerbated by the devastation of the Tsunami in 2004. It is with great pride and anticipation that OLPC is able to join the Education Ministry and University of Colombo in their goals to provide the nation’s younger generation with skills in Information Technology and the English language.


These complimentary aims, reported by the paper as a motivation for the program that will bring 1,250 new laptops to students in thirteen separate schools, have been widely cited as twin engines propelling innovation and progress in Bangalore, not far across the Palk Straight.

1,250 XO laptops are heading to Sri Lanka!

In addition to the operating system in English, the computers are enabled to operate in either Sinhala or Tamil languages. Please check in (or, better yet, leave word) for progress updates coming out of Sri Lanka. We’re very excited about this new venture and can’t wait to hear back.

OLPC and the Ethiopian Sports Federation in Chicago

This is the second year that OLPC has had a booth at the annual soccer tournament hosted by the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA).  This is one of the big events of the region’s Ethiopian diaspora each year, and we have been working together  to bring laptops to children in Ethiopia as we strive to focus attention on children’s education.

This year the OLPC booth drew a lot of children to the booth, and provided a very different kind of activity for children who were present at the stadium!  We had non-stop traffic from 2:00pm – 9:00pm every day of the tournament.

Three children who came on the first day, ended up volunteering for the duration of the tournament giving demos, and showing others how the XO works. The XO machines setup at the booth drew children to the booth, and many people came up and asked on how they could get one for their child or get involved with OLPC-Ethiopia.

We hope you share our excitement for what the future holds for Ethiopian children and join our efforts in putting laptops in the hands of more children in Ethiopia.

If you have any questions, or would like to join the OLPC Ethiopia community, please email us at Ethio@laptop.org .

Telephony in Ethiopia

When Matt Keller was in Ethiopia recently while travelling through East Africa, he met a young student who was making phone calls between a pair of XOs.  Here he is preparing one of the laptops:

This is both simpler and more homegrown than the work Stephen Thorne and Pia did In Australia last winter, where a school ran regular Video Chat sessions with students on a small island who were using their XOs for the first time.

If you’ve had your own telephony and videoconferencing experiences, please share them (better yet, post videos:).