A visit to Wonchi: OLPC’s Ethiopian Literacy Project

Evan Szablowski was in Addis Ababa, spending a week meeting Ethiopian entrepreneurs. Michael, one of the tech leads for our literacy project in Ethiopia, was one of the people he met with. He was captivated by the literacy project, and on hearing that Michael was heading to Wonchi (one of the two villages taking part in it), he and his teammates decided to tag along.

While he was there he met some of the students eager to show off how they liked to use the tablets (they are using Motorola Xoom tablets with mainly off-the-shelf Android literacy apps, with a few custom apps and tweaks by OLPC). At some point, one of the children (below) stood up to quiz the others on what they were learning.

Evan wrote up the experience in a beautiful essay on his new blog, illustrated with photos from the day.

While this is just one anecdote from the project, the photo series is priceless, and puts the whole effort in context: the geography of the town, the social setup of the small farming community, and the economic circles of the village and the technicians supporting them.

An overwhelming sense of excitement and optimism overtook us, and we couldn’t stop smiling as we watched. We left with such a feeling of inspiration and optimism, amazed at witnessing two completely different worlds [fuse] with one another… Zach said this was the best thing he has done in a long time, and I agreed.

I hope they realize it someday. I hope that someday one of those kids will say, ‘When I was only 4 years old, the laptop project from MIT came to my village, and it forever changed my future.’ What an amazing perspective that person will have.

This was not foreign aid, or handouts… This was education, and just the first step in enabling them. Enabling the young minds of Africa for brighter futures. For a brighter nation, and a brighter continent.

@Evan: Thank you for sharing the day with us!

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”