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InsiderOnline Blog: November 2012

Cutting Out the Education Middle Man

Teachers are no more immune from technologically induced disintermediation than car salesman, or so it seems, judging from the experience of the children in two remote Ethiopian villages. The children, who have no regular teachers, were given tablet computers preloaded with learning programs by the group One Laptop Per Child. The group’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, told MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week that the early observations show the effort has great potential.

After several months, the kids in both villages were still heavily engaged in using and recharging the machines, and had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”

The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.

Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.” [Mashable, October 29]

Teachers unions, take note.

Posted on 11/01/12 06:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

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