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.