Thursday, 24 April 2014

The OLPC In Review

I take the time today to return to key interests of mine - technology and education in the developing world. In fact, whilst perhaps I have not mention it here earlier, I was accepted on a PhD programme in the field and due to start at the beginning of this year (having deferred from the year before), but the fees made this non-tenable at the present time and like many things in life, I am thinking about what I do next. 

The subject of this posting however centres around whether one ed tech approach - the OLPC - is still relevant today. Interestingly a couple of years ago, the OLPC featured in a thesis I wrote, at a time when there was considerable debate about whether it was idealistic to expect full saturation of laptops (one per child) in the developing world. Additionally, I have blogged about this on several occasions.

One of the blogs - OLPC News - that I have followed on the subject announced its 'closure' last month and today another blog - Educational Technology Debate (also previously mentioned here) - raised the debate about whether, in the face of the rise of mobile devices and tablets, the OLPC project too had also run its course.

Of course the OLPC is rooted in Nicholas Negroponte's endorsement of a Constructivist ideology - the idea that children can create their own knowledge and educational content with the right tools - in this case - a small open source laptop - that has been designed to be a low power robust machine that can creates its own peer network - ideal for communities that do not have reliable power or internet connections.

Is the OLPC still relevant?

Wayan Vota, writing for the Educational Technology Debate asks the key question, that if we were to replace laptops with today's technologies - mobiles, handhelds and tablets and had full one-to-one saturation (i.e. every child in the developing world had their own device) would this be ideal? Could we instead instead share tools and equipment for the same results? Negroponte would argue that since children have their own pencils, they should have an entitlement to their own laptop. 

The crucial question around meeting the need for enabled and adequately-paid educators is one that continues to remain important, especially in large parts of the developing world. Often low teacher and high student ratios place additional stresses on already burden systems. Negroponte aimed to address the gap through the laptop programme (read that to mean that children can 'educate' themselves).  The Educational Technology Debate article also asks if this is wise or indeed the moral thing to do

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