I had not expected to start a series, but the news today about the education initiative One Laptop per Child complements my previous post too well. The computer will initially be sold to developing countries for $150 per unit with the price expected to decline as scales of economy are reached in the next two years. It will come with no hard drive, the ability to connect wirelessly to the internet using existing national infrastructures and with other computers within 1/3 of a mile, has alternate sources of energy when electricity is unavailable, and acts as a repeater to potentially expand access to the internet to ever more remote locations. Not a bad way to start - and a child can maintain and repair it!
The philosophy behind OLPC is:
1. Learning and high-quality education for all is essential to provide a fair, equitable, economically and socially viable society;
2. Access to mobile laptops on a sufficient scale provide real benefits for learning and dramatic improvement of education on a national scale;
3. So long as computers remain unnecessarily expensive such potential gains remain a privilege for a select few.
Now I look at this as a great idea and wonder how quickly the lessons learned in mLearning and other movements fueled by mobile phones will migrate to this technology platform. But all is not well in River City:
The detractors include two computer industry giants, Intel and Microsoft, pushing alternative approaches. Intel has developed a $400 laptop aimed at schools as well as an education program that focuses on teachers instead of students. And Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and a leading philanthropist for the third world, has questioned whether the concept is “just taking what we do in the rich world” and assuming that that is something good for the developing world, too.
I have to ask whether the fact that the laptops use the Linux operating system and AMD processors aren't part of the problem here? That there are more than 2.5 billion cell phones in the world and this doesn't fit with some people's construction of reality? That teachers are a major (THE major) stakeholder in any education change process and require their own marketing mix?
Then there are the 'community critics.' Larry Cuban, from Stanford University: ...if part of their rationale is that it will revolutionize education in various countries, I don’t think it will happen, and they are naïve and innocent about the reality of formal schooling.
Time to trot out one of my favorite quotes Larry:
It's important to be busy, but if you don't find the time to change the world, then you're busy keeping it the way it is. [Lives of Moral Leadership]
From the admittedly limited perspective of what I see and read about education systems and outcomes, I look forward to the OLPC initiative blowing the doors off the skeptics. And hopefully they will find some social marketing inspiration and expertise to get these laptops into more kids hands sooner and used better. In the meanwhile, will the project design and carry-out some studies to document the feasibility and effectiveness of the approach (maybe with the Gates Foundation as a funder?) and give the project a firm research base from which to expand and sustain itself?
And as a final irony, there would be no one in the US to go to to get these computers into our country's school systems. They would have to do it one state, or possibly even school district, at a time.
Source: NY Times (free registration required)