[Olpc-open] Olpc-open Digest, Vol 17, Issue 13

M. Edward (Ed) Borasky znmeb at cesmail.net
Sun Dec 2 01:17:59 EST 2007

tall897 wrote:
> You make a good point (please keep us posted about your experience with 
> the OLPC laptop) but, as a clinical/child psychologist (Ph.D.), I've 
> still baffled as to why the assumption has gained traction, despite any 
> objective proof, that providing children with computer access will in 
> any way quicken their education.

Well ... I'm not a clinical or any kind of psychologist, but I'm of two 
minds on issues like this:

1. The whole OLPC concept, at least my view of it, is more than 
"computer access". It is in fact electronic wireless collaborative 
learning. I don't have an actual hardware unit yet, and I've only spent 
a few days exploring the software via VMware emulation, but what I've 
seen so far looks to me like it will have the right mix of fun and 

As I noted in a previous post, my interest in the project and technology 
is primarily in hearing the kinds of music the children will make with 
these systems when they are deployed in, for want of a better term, 
"villages." For example, I can imagine a village in Indonesia, and the 
creative tension between the gamelan, a collection of children recording 
gamelan music, the capability of sound editing and mixing, and the music 
that will evolve from that conjunction. If one Bartok, Kodaly, or Vaughn 
Williams comes out of Indonesia or Africa as a result, the world will be 
a richer place in my humble opinion.

2. My other mind, however, is concerned that this will turn out to be 
about "teaching kids to program, so they can grow up to work in IT." I 
remember the "New Math", Logo, the TI 99/4 and other "educational 
revolutions" that somehow failed to make things any better. Thankfully 
they didn't make things any worse, either.

 > Far better that parents should read to
> their children beginning when they are two years old and, later, that 
> they do real research from books (which can be e-books) rather than 
> learn how to produce power point abominations.

I think that's a cheap shot. Only some of these children are going to 
become scientists, only some of them are going to become musicians, only 
some of them are going to become poets, painters, bricklayers, doctors, 
clinical psychologists, journalists, software engineers, athletes, etc. 
Remember, the intended audience for these machines is elementary school 
-- middle school ages.

> Jean Piaget, whose basic 
> concept, that children think differently than adults, was described by 
> Albert Einstein as being "so simple that only a genius could have 
> thought of it," once wrote that whenever you describe to an American the 
> natural development of the mind their instinctive question is, "How can 
> we speed up the process?" 

Again, I think that's a cheap shot. Children develop at different rates 
-- I was reading at a third grade level when I was five and by the time 
I was 19, I had an AB in mathematics and was earning a living 
programming computers. I don't think anybody did anything to "speed up 
the process". In fact, there are many times when I wish it had been slower.

> Which is not to say that the OLPC laptop may 
> not be valuable in providing books as an e-reader. But apart from this 
> it will, I fear, have no greater impact on improving education than did 
> the providing of slide projectors to American teachers in the 1950s, 
> this being that era's wonder gadget. Though the OLPC is an impressive 
> gadget which I may buy in its likely soon-to-come second edition.

Well ... I did take a long look at the specifications before I decided 
to give and get one. 256 MB of RAM and 1 GB of flash disk are quite 
constraining, especially since they are soldered onto the motherboard -- 
it does not look like you can upgrade them. But the XO is a *client* -- 
the "system" includes a server component.

In summary, I don't think we can predict how this is going to affect the 
learning processes of the children who get them. But it's certainly 
captured my attention and imagination, and I'm finding it very difficult 
to be cynical about OLPC and even more difficult to understand the 
cynicism of others.

So ... back to VMware emulations until mid-January. :)

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