Archive for December, 2009
I’m invited for the scientific committee and a keynote presentation at the ATEE (Association for Teacher Education in Europe) winter conference in Prague, February 2010. The conference theme is “Early Years, Primary Education and ICT”. This is the title and abstract of my keynote:
What can we learn from One Laptop Per Child Projects?
Five years ago, Prof. Nicholas Negroponte announced the “One Laptop Per Child” idea. The mission of the non-profit OLPC foundation is to give the children of developing countries better opportunities to explore and learn by means of a cheap Internet laptop (the XO). The laptop and software is specifically designed according to constructionist learning theories and aimed at primary education. Many critical voices dismissed these ideas as undesirable and impossible. Why laptops while there is a shortage of food, teachers and electricity? Why a laptop per child instead of a few computers per school or class? Isn’t this a form of neo-colonialism?
Whether today OLPC is a failure or a success remains in the eye of the beholder. The projected milestones proved too optimistic. The XO laptop still costs around $188 instead of the projected $100. Over the last two years, “only” one million XO laptops are rolled out in 40 countries. The impact on the computer industry is very visible: the XO gave inspiration to a dozen cheap netbook models, increasingly popular at least in the developed world. The impact on education and the developing world is less visible. Two years of pilot projects and national deployments is understandably short for long term research evidence. Establishing a deployment is hard, but the first results are promising. Teachers report that the children are more motivated to learn, read and write and that they do so more accurately. The children teach each other and their parents what they learned. The one laptop per child ratio, the children’s ownership and the fact that they can take the XO home seem to have indeed the desired benefits of equal access (no matter the gender, competencies or socio-economic status) and low incidences of theft or maintenance needs. The children are most positive about the Internet connection, which gives them a window on the world, not only for exploring, but also for expressing themselves. The laptops and the software seem indeed well designed to allow a lot of learning by self-exploration. Of course many things are hardly self-discoverable, and the quality of learning remains mainly influenced by the teacher’s design of learning scenarios. Teacher training plays a crucial role, not only about the laptop and the software, but mainly about learning methodologies that fit best with these technologies (and today’s society).
The OLPC foundation focuses on developing countries, where the need is highest. But the demand for similar projects in developed countries is rising. The challenges are smaller in countries with good education and good availability of ICT. This means however that the increase of learning efficiency can be expected to be smaller. Recently, the first small pilot projects in Europe have started. These projects deserve the attention of European teachers, teacher educators and researchers.
I’ve bookmarked the most relevant OLPC reports and evaluations in my Diigo library. I’m still preparing the presentation, so contact me if you want yours or other additional OLPC reports and evaluations shared with the European Teacher Educators community!