“Why I hope kids in Ethiopia can teach us something profound about education.” by Nicholas Negroponte

I believe that we get into trouble when knowing becomes a surrogate for learning. We know that a vast recall of facts about something is in no way a measure of understanding them. At best, it is necessary but not sufficient. And yet we subject our kids to memorizing. We seem to believe that rote learning is akin to physical exercise, good for their minds. And, quite conveniently, we can test whether the facts stuck, like spaghetti to a wall. In some cases knowledge is so drilled in that you know and hate a subject at the same time.

The closest I have ever come to thinking about thinking is writing computer programs. This involves teasing apart a process into constituent parts, step-by-step functions, and conditional statements. What is so important about computer programs is that they (almost) never work the first time. Since they do something (versus nothing), just not what you wanted, you can look at the (mis)behavior to debug and change your code. This iterative process, so common in computer programming, is similar to learning.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a non-profit association that I founded, launched the so-called XO Laptop in 2005 with built-in programming languages. There are 2.5 million XOs in the hand of kids today in 40 countries, with 25 languages in use. In Uruguay, where all 400,000 kids have an XO laptop, knowing how to program is required in schools. Estonia just did the same. In Ethiopia, 5,000 kids are writing computer programs in the language Squeak.

OLPC represents about $1 billion in sales and deployment worldwide since 2005—it’s bigger than most people think. What have we learned? We learned that kids learn a great deal by themselves. The question is, how much?

 To answer that question, we have now turned our attention to the 100 million kids worldwide who do not go to first grade. Most of them do not go because there is no school, there are no literate adults in their village, and there is little promise of that changing soon. My colleagues and I have started an experiment in two such villages, asking a simple question: Can children learn how to read on their own?
If you want to learn more about this research, read the original post here.


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”

New XO-3 image gallery online

A new batch of photos of the XO-3 in use is up on the posted on the OLPC wiki, along with images of the alpha test boards and schematics.

Nothing like a little transparency to start the week off right…  This is still not the final ID, there are still changes being made to the ports and cover, but we’re getting verrry close.

Why laptops? Advice for parents from New Zealand

Rob McCrae, ICT Director for Auckland’s Diocesan School for Girls, shares a conversation he had with parents at his school about why laptops are a fundamental platform for children learning. Via Scott McLeod.

What has become important is the “just in time” model. A model which sees essential habits and attitudes of learning being the focus. A model which sees the ability to think about our own thinking as a focus.

And expect to see traditionally-held beliefs challenged. Here is a model of the human brain showing the areas that are being engaged as the same person (an experienced Web surfer) reads a book and, at a separate time, is browsing the Web

read more…