One Tablet Per Child

There has been some media coverage along the lines of “Tablets replace teachers in Ethiopia” or MSN’s low key  “Ethiopian kids turn out to be computer geniuses in tablet trial”  Even the BBC got in on the act Today when they interviewed Peter Keller the VP of Global Advocacy at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organisation who are running the project.

From our internet travels, we have gathered the following:

  • This literacy project was set up earlier this year and has probably a 2 year duration
  • It is being driven by the OLPC in collaboration with the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, and the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University
  • Its goal is to bring literacy to communities that would otherwise never learn to read.
  • The tablets being used are ruggedised Motorola Zoom’s  “with mainly off-the-shelf Android literacy apps, with a few custom apps and tweaks by OLPC” together “with some e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.” We loved the leather covers!
  • About 40 tablets have been provided to Grade 1 children (that’s aged about 6) in two villages in Ethiopia, about 50 miles (or 250 kilometres!)  from Addis Ababa, Wonchi (or variously Winchi or Wenchi) and Wolencheti (or Woloncheti).
  • A solar powered recharging facility has been set up in each village
  • No training or trainers has been provided to the kids
  • The tablets are monitored remotely by swapping SIM cards weekly (through a process affectionately known as sneakernet)

The reason for the current publicity, in addition we assume to them looking to raise additional support, was a talk given by the OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte (brother of the career diplomat from the last Bush administration John Negroponte) at the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.

In his preview of the talk “Another way to think about learning” he says  “Within minutes of arrival, the tablets were unboxed and turned on by the kids themselves. After the first week, on average, 47 apps were used per day. After week two, the kids were playing games to race each other in saying the ABCs.

Will this lead to deep reading? The votes are still out. But if a child can learn to read, he or she can read to learn. If these kids are reading at, say, a third-grade level in 18 months, that would be transformational.

Whether this can happen has yet to be proved. But not only will the results tell us how to reach the rest of the 100 million kids much faster than we can by building schools and training teachers, they should also tell us a great deal about learning in the developed world. If kids in Ethiopia learn to read without school, what does that say about kids in New York City who do not learn even with school?

The message will be very simple: children can learn a great deal by themselves. More than we give them credit for. Curiosity is natural, and all kids have it unless it is whipped out of them, often by school. Making things, discovering things, and sharing things are keys. Having massive libraries of explicative material like modern-day encyclopedias or textbooks is fine. But such access may be much less significant than building a world in which ideas are shaped, discovered, and reinvented in the name of learning by doing and discovery.”

We certainly feel there is an enormous educational contribution to be made by tablets and this is, hopefully, an area which, following further detailed and controlled research, can be built on. The possibilities are endless.

At an anecdotal level via their blog we found an account by Evan Szablowski of a chance visit to one of the villages.

There’s also a brief video from The Reporter Ethiopia.

No doubt this is causing, all in all, quite a stir in the two villages.


“One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit association that I founded, launched the so-called XO Laptop in 2005 with built-in programming languages. There are 2.5 million XOs in the hand of kids today in 40 countries, with 25 languages in use. In Uruguay, where all 400,000 kids have an XO laptop, knowing how to program is required in schools. The same is now true in Estonia. In Ethiopia, 5,000 kids are writing computer programs in the language Squeak.” Nicholas Negroponte

Partially sourced from: One Laptop Per Child, MIT Technology Review, Mashable,  BBC, ITProPortal, Evan Szablowski

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