One Laptop per Child made its public debut on Capitol Hill today with its “Fighting Insurgencies with Laptops” event.
Attendees and speakers, including the ambassadors from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S., painted a picture of an eclectic mix of people from starkly different backgrounds and professions who came together to talk about One Laptop per Child as something that could be a clear manifestation of U.S.Read the rest of this entry
I travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan last week with two purposes: To assess prospective partners on the ground, including the Ministry of Education (MOE), in order to get a sense of both intent and capacity; and to meet with potential supporters for OLPC in Afghanistan, and craft a strategy for the coming year.
Afghanistan is a hugely complicated part of the world. Regional politics are impacted by the politics of India, Iran and Pakistan, and the geopolitical wrangling of America, Russia and China add an entirely different element into the mix. Combine this with decades of virtually uninterrupted war, limited natural resources, and low rural literacy, and you have a country that needs dramatic change in education.
Although relatively rapid progress has been made recently in the education sector, just over half (52%) of primary school aged children are enrolled in school. Furthermore, due to a shortage of schools and teachers, schools are forced to operate in “shifts”, the average being three “shifts” per day, meaning that each child generally receives only 2.5 hrs (5 x 30min periods) of school each day. The time constraints imposed by the shift system, combined with the fact that teacher-student ratios are often as high as 1:50-75, result in Afghan children receiving only about half the OECD recommended average time in school. In addition, many teachers in Afghanistan have an education level only a few years greater than the students they are teaching. The result is a cycle of rote education, with limited opportunities for innovation.
The conventional remedy of building more schools, training more teachers and providing more materials would require a six fold increase to the education budget (over a billion USD per year), would take 10-15 years to yield measurable results, and would be prey to some of these same problems.
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Julia has posted a half-dozen recent updates to her excellent Rwanda blog, about her work, thoughts on access to knowledge, and efforts with the Kigali Institute of Education. She includes some interesting photos of students showing off their Etoys storybooks and drawings.
She also reminded me of the CMU student group that visited Nonko School last month to run classroom workshops - an interesting model of community service.
By Antonio M. Battro, OLPC's Chief Education Officer
As stated by the Millennium Goals of the United Nations, it is our duty and responsibility to provide a good education for all children. The purpose is to provide at least elementary schooling to every child in the world by the year 2015.
Education is essentially about universal values of truth, beauty and good. These values are embodied in historical times. We must recognize that today a new artificial environment interacts with our planet: the digital environment. The sad fact is that while many of us live in the digital era, many more are excluded. The digital divide is one of the greatest obstacles to overcome in contemporary education, especially in poor communities.
An isolated school without computers and connectivity to the Internet is incompatible current educational requirements. But of course, technology is not sufficient. Technology may have an impact on education only if constructive dialogue is occurring among teachers, students and their families. Moreover, digital technology should be in the hands of children at an early age for them to learn the new digital language as a second language. And it must be mobile (laptops or netbooks, instead of PCs) because children learn in many kinds of settings, not only in the classroom.
Some economists have tried to measure the educational impact of digital technologies, but they have reported conflicting results (cf. Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality, by Randall Stross, New York Times, July 9, 2010). For instance, children using computers at school and at home have attained good computer skills while their grades in mathematics and language declined. The more so if they live in low income households. These results need clarification.
First, it is important to understand that time is needed to produce a cognitive transformation in a student. It is possible that some of the reported failures are biased because academic performance was evaluated too soon. Any evaluation must factor in the time span of an entire cohort, which is the basic unit in education. The time cannot be abridged; it requires the entire development of the young mind, from childhood to adolescence, some 10 years since the child enters first grade when most of the connections of the developing brain are made. Many cognitive capacities may be latent for years before they are expressed. Currently, tests are frequently done in static and conventional cross sections during the school year instead of in longitudinal studies of individual cognitive dynamics.
Second, in the digital era we can use digital tools for assessment (e.g., online monitoring of the student activities) but we still need new methodologies to obtain robust results. In particular, traditional statistical comparisons between experimental and control groups (as reported in the quoted studies) are not possible when the digital divide disappears and the entire population of students and teachers of a region or country has full access to the digital environment at school and at home. In that case, the control groups disappear and all students have been “vaccinated.” We must invent new methods of evaluation for the digital era.
Third, scale creates phenomenon. We need to change from microscopes to telescopes in order to encompass the wide spectrum of natural phenomena at different scales. The same is true in education...
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