03 November 2012

Self-learning Success: A box of tablets and no instructions

Photo Credit: One Laptop Per Child

The One Laptop Per Child organization proposes to use technology as a way to promote self-empowered learning in the developing world.
The One Laptop Per Child project started as a way of delivering technology and resources to schools in countries with little or no education infrastructure, using inexpensive computers to improve traditional curricula. What the OLPC Project has realized over the last five or six years, though, is that teaching kids stuff is really not that valuable. Yes, knowing all your state capitols how to spell "neighborhood" properly and whatnot isn't a bad thing, but memorizing facts and procedures isn't going to inspire kids to go out and learn by teaching themselves, which is the key to a good education. Instead, OLPC is trying to figure out a way to teach kids to learn, which is what this experiment is all about.
Dvice writes about a new strategy used in two villages in Ethiopia by the One Laptop Per Child organization where they delivered the tablet computers in taped-shut boxes, without as much as a single instruction or person to help. These are villages who have no contact with the printed word - no books, newspapers, street signs, or labels on packaged goods. And when they returned, they were in for a suprise of a success story:
"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 just goes to show that learning doesn't have to be an activity that happens only in the classroom, around an accredited supervisor. Learning happens our whole life long, and the amazing potential in the younger generations just needs an interesting problem in order to be unlocked.