There are millions of kids across the globe without access to education. The children are willing to learn but there is no one to teach them and there are 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling. So One Laptop Per Child organization is taking an initiative to address this concern. The Organisation is providing tablet computers with preloaded programs in two remote Ethiopian villages.
The organization wanted to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, starting directly with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.
Early observations are encouraging, said Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC’s founder, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.
Kids were given Motorola Xoom tablets with a solar charging system, which OLPC workers had taught adults in the village to use. An OLPC worker visits the villages once a week and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.
After several months it was found that the kids in both villages were having fun while learning with the help of tablets and their excitement didn’t fade. They had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”
The experiment is being done on 40 first-grade-aged children in two isolated rural villages about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Rift Valley. Those kids had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.
OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”
Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer explained that the kids had gotten around OLPC’s effort to freeze desktop settings. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” McNierney said. “And the fact they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning.”
“If they can learn to read, then they can read to learn.”
Negroponte said “If it gets funded, it would need to continue for another a year and a half to two years to come to a conclusion that the scientific community would accept,” Negroponte said. “We’d have to start with a new village and make a clean start.”
Giving computers directly to poor kids for educating without any instruction is even more ambitious than OLPC’s earlier pushes which included deploying custom miniaturized and ruggedized laptop, the XO in the schools of Peru. “What can we do for these 100 million kids around the world who don’t go to school?” McNierney said. “Can we give them tool to read and learn—without having to provide schools and teachers and textbooks and all that?”