Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The $100 laptop

(Also posted on

"It's an education project, not a laptop project" is how Nicholas Negroponte describes the landmark One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project that leverages affordable technology for education.

Last July, India rejected the OLPC idea as "pedagogically suspect" and not "mature enough to be taken seriously at this stage". The announcement must have come as a blow to the project given the size of the Indian market for the product. One cannot argue with India's reasoning - "We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools."

The project has progressed since, and the first shipment to the pilot countries (Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Thailand & Uruguay) is happening around now. The OLPC wiki has a wealth of information on the vision, the current state of the project, the timeline, the pedagogy, and tons of other stuff for developers, and anyone else who wants to be engaged in this project in some way. (They are looking for translators to develop content and translate the websites into local languages).

A comment on the pedagogy (the one the Indian government called "suspect") - this project is basically an extension/realization of the beliefs of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab; the constructivist pedagogy that Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick have championed for over 2 decades now. There are links to some good articles from the wiki on these ideas of constructivism. While I agree with the "need for classrooms and teachers in India" rationale, I would personally not call the pedagogy "suspect", and I should add that the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 that came out of our NCERT talks about a "inquiry-based" pedagogy that is akin to constructivism (even if they have not used that particular term). I think the ideas of what education could and should look like, that have emerged from the Media Lab, are sound - they just have not been tried out on such a mass scale, and with tools such as the $100 laptop.

As with all tools for education - technology-based or otherwise - the teacher+tool combination will be key i.e. how well teachers understand them and use them with their students.

Will these delicious-looking machines just be "fancy tools" with no lasting impact on the education landscape of developing countries or will they change the face of education in our lifetime? Is it just another "cutesy" idea to emerge from a developed nation to be tested on poor, developing countries? Only time will tell...until then - India's strategy to wait and watch may not be a bad one. What do you think?

1 comment:

wayan said...

I think there is more to the India story than shows at first glance, a rejection backstory not being mentioned.

But as to the pedagogy, I agree, there needs to be a strong teacher connection. Too bad Negroponte dismisses teachers and curriculum.