Thursday, November 8, 2007

An Inspiring Initiative

I recently stumbled upon an innovative and exciting enterprise that I actually thought would be something worth giving my hard earned money to (and I’ll admit I’m a pretty stingy person). The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) movement is a non-profit organization that has really got their stuff together and is doing some exiting things. Yes, I’ll admit that I am a bit biased toward this kind of thing being an elementary computer teacher and all but still this is cool.

They state in their vision that the children in the developing world are inadequately educated but they don’t just leave it at that and move on, or give you some whining Sally Struthers like, broad and unspecified let’s all help the children line. No, they give a very specific and detailed plan as to how they propose to provide children around the world with the chance to grab at an education for themselves.

The way they plan to do this is, as their name would suggest, is by providing one laptop per child the world over. And they’re not talking about some cheap, Microsoft Windows 98, bottom of the line, bustedass laptop either. These little machines they’ve created are some rough and tumble, Linux based (aka open source), sweet little gizmos that are specifically designed for kids in third world environments.

Here are some examples of why I’m so impressed with these little 188 dollar bad boys or "XO" as they call them.
  1. Each machine is a full time wireless router, which means that the kids will be connected both to one another and to the internet. This is a type of technology which you will never find in any laptop currently on the market.
  2. The 7.5 inch display features 200 DPI resolution, which is more DPI than 95% of the laptops out there. The display is also cushioned with internal bumpers.
  3. It takes less than two watts to run one of these puppies. Which happens to be less than one tenth of what a standard laptop consumes. In fact it’s such a minuscule amount that the XO can be recharged with human power. That’s right, it ships with either a crank, pedal or pull cord so it can be hand powered…now I’m jealous. How cool would it be to be on one of those long trans-pacific flights and while everyone else’s batteries are dying you just whip out your hand crank and give it a few spins and your back online?
  4. The integrated handle is kid sized, as is the sealed rubber (so no worrying about spills) keyboard. The dual mode extra wide touchpad supports pointing, drawing and writing.
  5. There’s no hard drive to fail and there are only two internal cables, items which cause the most problems in standard laptops.
  6. It comes with 3 USB ports, external speakers, a built in gaming pad, microphone, camera, SD slot, and an extra powerful wireless antenna. There’s much more and I could go on and on so if you’re really interested check out their website (which is itself very well done, very clear and concise) but I’ll sum up by saying that it comes in a kid friendly green and white color scheme and all of this for under $200 is in a word…impressive.


Shoot, I’m from the “Developed World” and if I had kids I’d want one for them…which brings me to another remarkable aspect of this organization in regards to their marketing. You see, the only way you can actually get your hands on one of these little doo dads is by first giving one to a child in need. They’re currently running a "Get 1 Give 1" campaign where for $399, you purchase two XO laptops—one that will be sent to “empower a child to learn in a developing nation,” and one that will be sent to your child at home…all I can say is that someone was thinking.

Now, if we only had that kind of ingenuity and thinking outside of the box up on Saipan’s Capital Hill imagine where we could be.

One Laptop Per Kid Quote of the day:

“I think the laptop is very good. It helps us to find some words, like our uncle [teacher] will teach us... The things we didn't know, we go check on the laptop.” — T. (Primary 6), Galadima School, Abuja, Nigeria

7 comments:

Boni said...

I have a 15, 12, 7 and 3 year old. Is this laptop going to meet their needs or only the 7 year old? I don't see Word on the applications. What do you think about their practicality and usability?

Bryan said...

In my opinion I do think it would be both practical and usable for your kids age range. Being that it's running a Linux operating system and not Windows you won't see Word but you should be able to load the just as effective and best of all free OpenOffice.org suite of apps.

See, unlike Windows the Linux OS is based on open source software so it's highly flexible and programmable and there are literally tons of free programs out there for it, much of it educational based even. I'm just beginning to dabble in the whole Linux scene myself (in fact I'm writing this post using the Ubuntu version) but from what I've seen so far I've been pretty impressed with it.

One of the aims of this initiative is to motivate children to actually go in a do some of the programming themselves, a lofty goal I know, but imagine learning the absolute basics at 3 years old...by the time your 15 you'd be writing your own programs. That's why I get excited about it and would want my kids to get into it.

Being that this group is an offshoot of an MIT program they really subscribe to this whole constructivist idea of ¨learning learning¨. Here's a quote from their website (http://laptop.org) which sums it up pretty well:

¨A computer uniquely fosters learning learning by allowing children to “think about thinking”, in ways that are otherwise impossible. Using the XO as both their window on the world, as well as a highly programmable tool for exploring it, children in emerging nations will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential.¨

Boni said...

Its called duetero thinking, formally called metacognition. I completely agree that our kids need to begin evaluating their thinking methods. Knowing why we do what we do is half the battle. Or half the victory, eh?

lil_hammerhead said...

I will say this about computers and learning.. every single classroom, from kindergarten through high school should be wired. Every single desk.

Communiciations, writing, accounting, drafting, engineering, advertising, etc., are all done on computers in today's world. You can no longer employ a drafter or architect who does not know CAD, an accountant or administrative staff that can't employ excel and other common office software are near useless.

We need to prepare kids for the world that is.. not the world that once was. You can be the greatest on paper architect on the planet.. if you don't know CAD.. you're not getting hired. It is that simple.

Education systems need to look at how their going to seriously address this. Praxis tests for teachers aren't going to address this. It is not just about money for the hardware and software, but requiring that the teachers of various subjects are qualified and able to teach students this tool. Accounting teachers should be working with accounting software, creative writing teachers should be working with word processing and publishing programs, art teachers should be working with graphics software, etc.

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