One of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations is to offer a sound elementary education to all children of the world by the year 2015 and to increase their access to information and communication technologies. One Laptop Per Child has worked since 2006 on this urgent educational mission in collaboration with public and private organizations in some forty nations, mostly in developing countries.
The great diversity of educational environments – or the lack of them – is the principal challenge here, and needs careful programming based on local conditions and human resources. OLPC is founded on five principles: ownership, early ages, saturation, connectivity and free and open source collaboration. This is the result of decades of research and development in advanced centers of study, and the XO laptop and the Sugar platform are two remarkable products of this international collaborative work. Other products will come soon as OLPC evolves to give answers to the increasing demands of education.
The central question is how to scale up the OLPC program from a town to a province to a country, in order to satisfy the educational requirements of different student populations. The agenda is getting more complex with the expansion of the geographic area involved. The local authorities must establish a detailed agenda in several steps, to provide a sound educational program to different cohorts of students, continuous training of teachers, and distribution of laptops to all children and teachers. Also the implementation of servers and internet connectivity in schools and public places, the logistics of repair or substitution of the laptops, etc. This whole process is part of a dynamic “cultural evolution” that produces a great variety of results, some unpredictable and innovative.
Professors Doug Kranch (of North Central State College) and Terri Bucci (of Ohio State University) are launching an XO Educational Software Project this year. This will be a collaboration between them and their students, and partners in Haiti, to develop math and science modules for the XO. They are also developing a simple router/server setup that Haitian teachers can use to support such software — NCSC’s fall course on client/server development will focus on this work.
The project aims to meet Haitian curricular standards, with ongoing feedback from schools around Croix des Bouquets, in collaboration with teachers, students, and university faculty and students from University Episcopal in Port-au-Prince. These contacts are supported by Ohio State’s ongoing Haiti Empowerment Project.
As exciting as the introduction of the new tablet was for the small group of attendees at the seminar, Sugar was the focus of the discussion and one that Mr. Bender talked passionately about. Designed on OLPC’s principle of “Low floor, no ceiling”, it’s designed for inexperienced users, providing a platform, or low floor, on which to explore, create, and collaborate without any limits to its possibilities.
Exploration is key to Mr. Bender’s philosophy. Designing Sugar and the computers from a “constructivist” perspective, he referred to Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and his learning theory of “learning by doing” when discussing the intuitiveness of the system. “We want to raise a generation of independent thinkers and problem solvers, “ he said after displaying a picture of students taking apart and fixing one of OLPC’s laptops. “Every deployment has students who repair computers and they are designed so that students can fix them themselves.”
Walter and Melissa Henriquez ran Turtle Art and Scratch workshops las tweek, during a “vacation camp” for 3rd and 4th graders from Holmes Elementary School. It sounds like a it was a great success, with the children using Portfolio to make presentations of their work at the end of the week. Read more about it in the weekly Sugar Digest.
Our principal partners in Sugar development were a small engineering team from Red Hat and Pentagram. The Red Hat team, under the leadership of Chris Blizzard, an experienced systems engineer, was tasked with leading the software engineering effort behind the development of the Sugar desktop. Lisa Strausfeld, a former MIT Media Lab student, led a team from Pentagram tasked with developing the interaction design and graphical identity of Sugar. In six months, this core group was able to produce a basic framework for Sugar upon which a community of pedagogists and software engineers could build learning activities. The team used an iterative-design process: rapid prototyping of ideas followed by critiques, followed by coding. We went through two to three cycles per week until we reached consensus on a basic framework.
In April Mr. Juma came to Eshibinga to teach us on how to use an xo laptop. His teaching is helping us now. We got two new computers today. Then our teacher Mr. Peter told us to remember some of the things we were taught.
I just remembered one word. Sugar. We were told that sugar is the operating system for the XO. It organizes the systems that run the clock, activates the Activities, and store the Journal entries. The Terminal Activity runs text-based commands for your XO instead of the Sugar graphical commands.
What nobody has told us is , why did they name it sugar? Why not give it a name like coffee, or milk or water?
OLE Nepal has focused on health activities for some years now. Recently they undertook a project to develop a suite of them with educators from the UN’s World Food Program. In their August newsletter they announced that project’s successful conclusion:
OLE Nepal has completed the development of interactive digital learning activities designed to promote awareness in agriculture, food security and nutrition amongst school children. This set of thirty activities were developed with support from [the WFP] and are correlated with the Grade 5 “Science, Health and Physical Education” subject prescribed by the national curriculum.
OLE Nepal developed the activities in both Nepali and English. [They] have already been integrated in OLE Nepal’s larger E-Paath activity suite, and distributed to all OLPC program schools.
This is great news. Now we just need to upload them to the Sugarlabs Activities Hub and help get them localized into more languages. The E-Paath bundle and wiki pages could use updates as well.
Separate from the national program being rolled out in Eastern Ghana, Princeton University has a student-run Ghana School Library Initiative which is building a physical library in Ghana stocked with books and OLPCs. This program started in 2008, and is one of three projects coordinated by the Princeton University chapter of Engineers Without Borders. They shared an update with East Coast OLPCers this Spring, and have been writing about their new milestones this summer, as the library nears completion.
After some work earlier this year to repair and update some donated XOs, children have started working with their own laptops at the EP Basic school in Ashaiman, Ghana, where the team is working. They recently completed a week of physical construction and two classes a day with the students. The classes included working on educational activities with the children in Sugar, “to whet their appetites” to use the XOs more on their own.
Registration is now open for the 2nd SugarCamp Paris. Please join us in making Sugar a better learning experience!
This event is organized by OLPC France, and takes place in Paris, France from September 9 (evening) to September 11 (evening).
The goal is to enhance Sugar as a free learning platform, already used by ~2M kids around the
world, and to focus on a specific problem: how to make Sugar *documentation* better with respect to accessibility and readability?
Partial travel refunds are available for regional trips for those who could not otherwise come. Please contact the organizers with any questions.
Let’s take this challenge, and enjoy a good time with many members of the OLPC/Sugar community!
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.“
The eduJAM! convocation is going strong, with 2-3 days of Sugar camp and discussion among developers and teachers from across the world. Keep an eye on the ceibalJAM site in the coming days for videos and notes from the event.