OLPC (one laptop per child) advert-ical in the NY Times.

Well… I’d meant to make my next blog post about the really fun conference and the really cool stuff I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks but I just couldn’t do it. I saw the article from the New York Times via Bob Sprankle via OL Daily and had to say something about it. As the few of you who’ve been kind enough to read this blog and listen to edtechtalk probably realize… I’m not a big fan of the OLPC program. I have many basic reasons for feeling that way, some environmental (I’d like to see the computers that are being thrown away have linux thrown on them and reused see this fantastic program running in Macedonia on $40 computers) some of them are more fussy (I don’t personally think a computer is ‘an educational tool’ however much Negroponte argues that “Nobody I know would say, ‘By the way, let’s hold off on education.’) Education can happen on a laptop like it can happen anywhere. I’m a geek… i like computers as an educational tool… but simply having one doesn’t make someone educated.

Some disclaimers and baselines of understanding… This is where I’m coming from. Education is good. Bridging the digital divide is good. Computers that conserve power and are bullet proof are good. I don’t particularly have a problem with the theory of constructionism. I don’t particularly think that it can solve the worlds educational problems without outside help. ‘Helping the third world’ can be good, but is not unproblematic. If helping the third world was easy, or about giving people ‘stuff’ or ‘money’ the cagillion dollars donated would have managed more success. Wars cause alot of the suffering in the world. Wars are definitely not stopped by computers and may or may not be mitigated by education. Reporters mindlessly repeating the press releases coming frohttp://m a very large, very risky, high stakes projects is not necessarily good.


Let’s start with this line from the article

Clearly, the XO’s mission has sailed over these people’s heads like a 747.”

The author’s argument as far as I can read through the sunshine that backlights my monitor when i read it. Think about the quote in the context of the explanation for it.

  1. some kids love the XO (this is silly talk, we wont know if kids love it until they try doing something useful with it, anyone who’s spent a few hours in a lab with kids realize that the cool factor fades VERY quickly)
  2. low power (this is very good)
  3. good resolution (this is also good)
  4. regular, wireless and mesh connections (fine, fine and woohoo)
  5. mesh connection shows where people are (very cool… for someone who lives in a safe country where they never worry about someone coming to find them to take their stuff… but mesh is very cool)
  6. “power users will snort at the specs on this machine” (this should refer to ‘normal users’… the $40 dollar computers i linked to in my first paragraph would blow away these computers. The disgust of ‘power users’ has been used by many a folk over the years to make apologies about their system. It’s a cheap argumentation device.)
  7. programs work fine once they load after 2 minutes (not a big deal either way… it’s the kind of thing kids will accept)
  8. it has software (really, an operating system that supports basic software. i tire you needlessly by mentioning linux again)
  9. it created a new programming language that you can see (well… linux would have done that without creating the language… the lifetime of clever new languages has never been great)
  10. emphasis on understanding programming languages is helpful (mmm…)
  11. programs are shareable on the mesh network (K12 Linux Terminal Server Project anyone?)
    the software doesn’t entirely work yet… but it will (faith… i like it. Might be true)

and then this Gem

No, the biggest obstacle to the XO’s success is not technology — it’s already a wonder — but fear. Overseas ministers of education fear that changing the status quo might risk their jobs. Big-name computer makers fear that the XO will steal away an overlooked two-billion-person market. Critics fear that the poorest countries need food, malaria protection and clean water far more than computers.

(The founder, Nicholas Negroponte’s, response: “Nobody I know would say, ‘By the way, let’s hold off on education.’ Education happens to be a solution to all of those same problems.”)

Wrapping up the critics of the OLPC project with ‘Overseas ministers of education that fear changing the status quo’. Weirdly cheap tactic again…

The line we started with was “Clearly, the XO’s mission has sailed over these people’s heads like a 747“. The rest of the article was not a description of the mission, but a description of the specs of a computer designed and built at enormous expense. A computer built for what exactly. To solve problems. To bridge the digital divide. These are not plans. This is a sales pitch… and a sales pitch written down word for word in the NY Times.

Here is the mission statement of OLPC
The wiki FAQ page (take a look at the titles for FAQ pages)
The ‘Learning Vision’ page At time of blog posting the ‘Claudia Urrea’s wiki page for the CREATE project for more details.” link contained the following content.

“Create Project
From MLPedia
Jump to: navigation, search


There is also a link to Papert describing his work on constructionism and three learning parables.

Their ‘Education Portal‘ has 20 some odd entries from ‘Lauren’ from a 3 hour period on July 10th, 2007.

I clicked a dozen other links and saw the start… the shell of an educational plan. Nothing concrete, no clear plan for bridging the gap of literacies between people who are in an educational system completely dependent on the knowledge and intelligence of an teacher because there is no money to do anything else and a classroom full of computers. A couple of stories of how ‘uber teachers’ fully supported by OLPC staff can use the computers. Of course they can. There is some talk about “even if 1% of the people learn to computer program that’ll mean that 10,000 people will being to program computers.” 😐 Sounds like quite the pedagogical success rate.

Real teachers like you and me are going to get this stuff foisted on them. And results are going to be expected.

I want someone, anyone, to tell me how this is going to work. Point to an article. Show me the content. Show me the plan for this to work on the ground. According to the ‘progress page’ on OLPC this project was conceived AS AN EDUCATIONAL PROJECT in January 2005.

And there still doesn’t seem to be a plan. Call me a ‘blogger who doesn’t understand if you will.’ I’m VERY willing to understand. I would love to think that someone, somewhere, isn’t going to hand a million kids a bunch of computers and expect their teachers to ‘get results’ from them armed with contructionism and some empty wiki pages. I would like to think it.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

4 thoughts on “OLPC (one laptop per child) advert-ical in the NY Times.”

  1. The cost of developing these must have been enormous and yet there are literally hundreds of recycling firms and charities that are providing higher spec machine at a fraction of the cost (http://www.wasteonline.org.uk/resources/InformationSheets/ComputerRecyclersRefurbishers.htm). Wouldn’t we be better off spending the $40 on a recycled machine and the remaining $360 or $160 on health, food or even, a radical thought, training teachers to teach the kids. Although after reading the NY times article I believe that the teachers will be redundant and the laptops appear to have some kind of education osmosis patch that will provide ‘education’ out of the box.
    Luckily my home town will be hosting a conference next year where the Chief Learning Architect for One Laptop per Child, David Cavallo, might actually outline how – if I have to go to the conference I’ll certainly be asking him! (http://www.alt.ac.uk/docs/altc2008_flyer_low_res.pdf)

  2. The “hole-in-the-wall schools” in India have shown that children can learn how to use computers without any adult guidance and will work in groups to teach themselves basic skills and knowledge. They’re not a replacement for teachers and schools but kids can learn much on their own if given a window on the world via computers.


  3. Columbia Broadcasting System’s Sixty Minutes and Education Week both published an article about the issue of every child in the world receiving a laptop. Lesley Stahl, a correspondent for Columbia Broadcasting System, discusses this issue with the head leader of this project. Nicholas Negroponte had a dream about the positive possibilities of children’s futures. He thought this could happen by introducing a new non-profit project called “One Laptop Per Child”. What I learned from the article was it seemed that Nicholas only was interested in helping underprivileged children. Most of these children had never seen electricity and he wanted to supply them with cheap costing laptops. Sounds like an ineffective teaching skill to me. You cannot expect to hand a child with hardly any educational background a computer thinking he or she could learn. I have seen underprivileged children trying to learn and it does not just come with a click of your finger. Nicholas realized his dream two years ago when he visited a school his family started in Cambodia. This small village did not have electricity or running water. His family supplied the school with generators, a satellite dish, and laptops for the children. That is wonderful and I totally support his family’s school but children need educators along with technology, not just here is a computer now go learn something. Nicholas even mentioned on how fast the children would learn to use a computer. “They get it instantly. It takes a 10-year-old child about three minutes”. Really, only three minutes?, that sounds hard to believe a child who has had no electricity or running water could learn to use a computer in that short amount of time. “The One Laptop Per Child computer is a computing revolution,” Nicholas stated. Everything was going as planned until Nicholas realized he had some competition. “This lab in Sao Paulo is testing two other laptops the Brazilian government is thinking of buying for school children, including one made in India and Negroponte’s biggest competitor: the Classmate by Intel, the giant chip maker”. Nicholas thinks that, “this competition will force him out of business”. If it is a non-profit organization, why would he not want more people to help? He only wanted, “the potential of young children’s minds to expand with great knowledge”. Did he mean to say only underprivileged children? He said, “Intel is ruining his dream. His future he had planned to help underprivileged children”. He should be thinking about how to educate all children in the world. After reading this article on Nicholas’s dream of OLPC, it seemed as though he was just worried about another company taking his invention, “his dream”. What about the children not only in Cambodia, but everywhere in the world who needs a better education? That should be the important aspect.

    Stahl, Lesley. “What If Every Child Had A Laptop?” 2 December 2007: 3-. CBS Interactive Inc. 17 June 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, the content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.