The One Laptop per Child project was started in Ethiopia earlier this year with an aim to deliver technology and resources to schools in countries with little or no educational infrastructure. By using inexpensive computers the project aims to improve traditional curricula.
So, what happens when you give a thousand Motorola Xoom tablets to a bunch of Ethiopian kids who have never seen the printed word??
Well, the answer is they’ll start teaching themselves English within five months while bypassing the security on the operating system to customize the settings and activate disabled hardware! Yes, the genius you’d say!
Over the last six years, the project has realized that teaching kids stuff is not that important instead the key is to find a way to teach the kids to LEAR, which is what the project is all about. Instead of handing out the laptops (they’re actually Motorola Xoom tablets plus solar chargers running custom software) to the kids in schools with teachers, the project organizers decided to do something different.
They delivered some sealed boxes of tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, taped shut with no instructions at all. Just to give you a sense of what life in Ethiopia is like, the kids there have not seen a word, no books, no newspapers, and no labels on packages of foods and goods, nothing!
So you might think that it’s better if you’re going to give out fancy tablets to kids like that they might as well have someone show them how they are to be used. but the OLPC project people just left the sealed boxes there with one tablet for each kid in the two villages (approximately 1000 tablets), pre=loaded with an English language OS and SD cards with tracking software on them to record the usage stats of the tablets.
So here’s how it went as related by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference:
“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”
This experiment was started earlier this year and what they really wanted to see is whether these kids can learn to read and write in English. there are 100,000,000 kids around the world who don’t even make it to grade 1 due to lack of proper educational resources and very few literate adults and if it turns out that for the cost of a tablet all these kids can teach themselves then it has huge implications on the field of education.
And it goes beyond the kids as studies have shown that the kids will use their computer to teach their parents to read and write as well. This is an amazing and incredible step towards global literacy!!