OLPC “fails in Peru”: Economist

Image representing One Laptop Per Child as dep...
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The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has failed to live up to its sponsors’ expectations in Peru, reports The Economist.

As the paper says:

Part of the problem is that students learn faster than many of their teachers, according to Lily Miranda, who runs a computer lab at a state school in San Borja, a middle-class area of Lima. Sandro Marcone, who is in charge of educational technologies at the ministry, agrees. “If teachers are telling kids to turn on computers and copy what is being written on the blackboard, then we have invested in expensive notebooks,” he said. It certainly looks like that.

I was working for the Labour Party when, in his 1995 conference speech, Tony Blair made a pledge to deliver laptops to kids in schools (the exact details escape my memory over this distance but it was not quite at the OLPC level of provision). Even then I was a bit dubious – a computer needs to be for something – but the pledge was also extremely popular.

The problem in Britain – and I suspect in Peru also – was that computers were handed out to people to write documents, spreadsheets and presentations. But if you cannot write good English, or understand percentages, then having a new wordprocessor or spreadsheet is not going to help.

In Britain we have created a culture where computer science has been neglected in favour of teaching children how to use (as in type in) wordprocessors. It bores kids of all abilities and no wonder.

Computers need to be used as educational tools aligned with the core curriculum subjects if they are going to make a difference. This is why teaching some programming would be far more useful than how to manipulate the last-but-one version of Microsoft Powerpoint.

I sent off my order for the Raspberry Pi – the device which many hope will lead to a revival of computer science (as opposed to ECDL type teaching) in British schools today – I registered for it close to three months ago but was only give the option to “pre-order” it this week, so huge has the demand been. Reminds me of the “28 days” of the Sinclair era – though I am sure Raspberry Pi’s makers are not making their money from cashing money in the bank, given today’s interest rates.

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5 thoughts on “OLPC “fails in Peru”: Economist”

  1. OLPC software is certainly not limited to MS Word or MS PowerPoint (those are not even included). It has great potential for what you are asking for.

    What I don’t know is how each country’s government has invested in software to support their curicula. And how they support the teachers and students.

    1. Yes, I know it hasn’t got those pieces of software on it: my point was about how the British (or, specifically, the English) ICT curriculum has developed.
      I think OLPC is a great idea, but I also get the impression that it is not fully thought through in the sense that the computer is seen (as it was in the UK to some extent) as an answer to a much more fundamental problem.
      If governments have not invested in support for the teachers then what was the point?

  2. Some of the OLPC software folks believe in the “Constructivist” program of education. I do too when I’m being idealistic.

    That school brought us Logo, for example. That mostly failed in the 1980s. I haven’t seen a clear and convincing explanation. My guess is that it requires too much of the teachers and maybe even too much of the students.

    Having admitted that the Logo program failed, I don’t think that it was due to lack of merit. It was a great success in my childrens’ school in the form of Lego Logo. Perhaps only because my wife spent many hours volunteering with the interested kids.

    Seymor Papert, one of the instigators of Logo, a student of Piaget’s, author of Mindstorms, etc. was part of the OLPC project. The standard OLPC software load includes Logo, if I remember correctly; if not, several things inspired by it.

    This stuff dovetails well with Raspberry PI goals. And the “Sugar” face of Fedora Linux (OLPC software) could probably run on it. Fedora 14 has been released for Raspberry PI.

    So the computer science side of computing is well supported by the OLPC software. Exactly what you were asking for. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the target audience actually use it.

    As I understand it, the OLPC was meant to be a platform for all kinds of curriculum. That cannot all come from the mothership. Nor should it. I know that the OLPC folks were clear about this.

    In any case, do try playing with OLPC software. I think you will find it supports the kind of computer subjects you were asking for. It is easy to try: install Fedora and ask for Sugar to be installed or download Sugar-on-a-stick (to build a bootable USB stick with Sugar). Of course you miss some of the little hardware gadgets of the OLPC XO, but you get a better keyboard!

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