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OLPC Project Disappoints In Peru 274

Posted by timothy
from the will-the-right-people-get-blamed-though? dept.
00_NOP writes "The One Laptop Per Child project has disappointed in Peru, reports the Economist, apparently because in general teachers did not make creative use of the technology. As in other cases the computers seem to have been regarded as ends in themselves rather than tools to help change the ways kids are taught. Quite disappointing for those of us looking for Linux-Global-Domination but not really much of a surprise given the experience in richer countries either."
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OLPC Project Disappoints In Peru

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  • by sunking2 (521698) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:28AM (#39606073)
    In some circles the project seems to be more about pushing Linux-Global-Domination as opposed to helping educate people.
    • by errandum (2014454)

      I don't know if you're serious or not, but in Portugal that was considered one of the main failures (Linux). Most teachers had no idea on how to use their heavily modified linux distro ( custom flavor of http://www.caixamagica.pt/ [caixamagica.pt] ) so they simply ignored the computers, that in turn became more of a plaything than a teaching tool.

      It's not enough to get Linux to computers, laymen need to be educated or an intuitive shell needs to be developed (like OS X did with unix).

      • Honestly, I don't really think that merely teachers ignoring the computers is going to be much of a problem. A lot of teachers don't care about new teaching methods, and many aren't keen on learning new skills to use new tools.
        But as long as the computers aren't just tossed in the trash and the children receive them, they'll still help. How better to encourage children's curiosity than to give them a computer to play with and no adults telling them how they should or shouldn't use it?

        I still maintain, howev

    • There are good reasons for choosing GPL or BSD licensed software for OLPC, if you take the time to think about the point of the project. The ultimate goal of OLPC is to help developing nations bootstrap their computing infrastructure, so that they will not be dependent on others for their computing needs. It is pretty hard to make a case for proprietary software furthering that goal -- even if we ignore licensing, how are these countries supposed to break away from their dependence on the west if they nev
    • by xzvf (924443) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:01AM (#39606221)
      First, the project couldn't have even been done financially using any other OS/hardware combination. Second, the real reason technology doesn't improve education is we are treating it like magic and not as a productivity enhancement tool. The first computers used by government and business replaced rooms full of people by calculating stuff faster and with fewer errors. Even today, a smart phone replaces the need to have a map, newspaper and phone booth in a strange city when you want to see a movie (recent experience). In education, you don't have the incentive, or the viewpoint, to use technology to make the teacher more efficient at educating, and/or the student better at learning. For example, in the United States, teachers and other workers in education, but not educating, spend a significant amount of time on non-educational activities. Putting effort into automating and reducing the impact of those activities on the learning day, is a good use of technology. A bad use of technology, is replacing an existing working tool with a complex device that does the same thing, but adds overhead and requires more effort.
      • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:12AM (#39606285)
        Part of the problem with the standard approach to computers in education is that they are treated as tools for helping students learn how to use pre-computer techniques for solving problems. There is a tendency to treat computers like a combination flash-card/homework-grading system. We give students prepackaged education "solutions" that are supposed to reinforce traditional book learning, and lock down their computers so that they can only use the software they were given.

        We should instead focus on teaching children how to solve problems by writing programs. We should have a completely different approach to computers in education, because computers are different sorts of tools than what we had previously. Let students hack, and moreover create an environment that is friendly toward programming. We live in a computerized world; programming should be considered a matter of basic literacy at this point.
        • by fferreres (525414)

          It's easier than that. First, you need software that can educate. My kid is learning the names of animals, to do basic math (additions, substractions, etc) with games. There are many different "learn games". He is two years old. The key? Only the best games, which means: 1) has educational value 2) kids find interesting/rewarding. When that happens, they learn a lot and very fast.

          Computers are meaningless. The real challenge are the applications, how to make them educational but awesomely interesting. The p

      • by tftp (111690)

        First, the project couldn't have even been done financially using any other OS/hardware combination.

        What is better, to have five useless computers or one that is useful?

    • Which, given the current unpolished state of linux desktop apps, might just put the kids off computers altogether.

    • by tqk (413719)

      In some circles the project seems to be more about pushing Linux-Global-Domination as opposed to helping educate people.

      "Plus ca change, ..."

      It's a tool. It's not "The Enlightenment" in a box. A screwdriver manipulates screws. It doesn't build buildings. What you choose to do with it says more about you than it does about it. It's just a tool!

      Stupid users do stupid things ("film at 2300h"). If they wanted it done right, they should have asked me how, damnit. When will users learn?

      It's not magic! Stop thinking it is. You don't expect a car to drive itself, or a plane to fly itself. Why do you expect a computer to dr

  • OVdGGPC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paleo2002 (1079697) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:34AM (#39606097)
    One Van de Graaff Generator per Child

    What if we made sure that every classroom in the world was supplied with a solar-powered, fully recyclable, free-trade produced Van De Graaff generator? We've seen how such devices can spark the interest of physics students in western classrooms over the years. Surely it will have the same effect in classrooms throughout the world! Just present one to the teacher and . . . science!
  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:40AM (#39606121)
    We always find out how to do the lower layers properly first, with the higher layers lagging behind, the higher the layer the worse its state. We have marvelous manufacturing technologies, slightly less but still sufficiently marvelous CPU architectures, fairly good graphics libraries and toolkits, fairly screwed applications and overall totally incompetent users and processes based on these applications. We can only hope that the situation will improve. Unfortunately, there is human factor involved and that's a spell of doom almost for certain.
  • Independent learning (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nithron (661003) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:43AM (#39606139) Journal
    This kid [youtube.com] seems to have gotten the right idea. Maybe even if the teachers aren't using them properly, giving naturally curious kids access to a whole world of information will help them out anyway.

    Or maybe that guy was just a unique case, I don't know. That video made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside however.

    (If you can't be bothered to watch the video, shame on you! But also, it's about a child in Peru who works cleaning people's shoes on the streets. He has an OLPC laptop, though, and he uses it to educate himself with wikipedia.)
    • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:00AM (#39606213)

      I feel this is really the type of thing OLPC is aiming for.

      Probably more importantly though, I suspect OLPC was always going to disappoint - after all, it's goal wasn't an integrated software and hardware package that would do everything right (although they have put a decent amount of thought into the software) - the goal was to get the price of the laptops to a point where we could conceivably offer them to every child on the planet.

      It's things like the Kahn Academy which are ultimately going to drive the very important software aspect of this - and in that respect OLPC is good since it will be able to define the minimum hardware standard we should aim for.

  • by coffeechica (948145) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:48AM (#39606161)
    The concept of needing laptops at all for good education is questionable, I think. I'm a teacher in a business college for 15-19-year-olds (Austrian education system has these sorts of schools), and we run some student groups with laptops, while others only use computers for IT classes.

    There is a difference in how you need to teach the students, depending on their equipment. But there's no absolute need for laptops, or technology beyond a calculator. For business concepts or for accounting, it's actually better to run things via pen and paper because the students are less tempted to copy and paste, and because it slows down the pace so they have time to think about what they're doing. There is a time and place for internet research, use of spreadsheets for complex accounting or finance calculations, and for plenty of other areas. Get them computer literate, definitely, because a lot of our students end up working in offices and they need the knowledge to use the tools available. But there's no need to get them addicted/dependent on technology to a point where they can't perform simple calculations without Excel anymore, or use their brains without prompting from Google.

    The OLPC project is worthy, that's for sure. But I can't say that the results surprise me, they mirror the experiences we're making in a completely different environment. You can run lessons without laptops, and depending on the subject, it's often the more effective way of teaching.
    • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:05AM (#39606245)

      That's all well and good, but the OLPC project was always aimed at trying to short-circuit the endemic problems of many poorer nations. The point has never been "technology enables learning" the point has always been along the lines of "what would happen if we could make sure everyone had access to wikipedia?"

      You're dealing with environments where it may not even be possible to maintain a regular structured classroom environment for all sorts of reasons. But if you can get the price of the technology to the right level, then we can in fact begin to think about good software-based solutions for things - remembering that in many cases the goal is less "gets a business masters" and more "can read and write proficiently".

      • by coffeechica (948145) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:17AM (#39606315)
        Giving them access to wikipedia won't solve anything, though. They need to know how to use the information they find, and for that they need to know basic technologies, models and methods to apply this. It's something we struggle with in our laptop-equipped classes - they're amazing at first glance, but once you actually look for comprehension, you discover that they copy-paste and don't question or even understand what they've found.

        It all needs balance. Show them that the information is out there, and give them the means to get to that info. But right now, there are a lot of areas where you simply can't use laptops consistently because it takes more time to get things running than to sit students down and simply run them through the matter the old-fashioned way.

        Also, I'll commit murder if I ever meet the designers of some of the educational software platforms out there. The software aspect is absolutely lacking at the moment when it comes to educational stuff. If the software doesn't exist, then good luck at getting it down to a reasonable price. I'm still stunned that Moodle currently gets promoted as the best solution.
        • Ha, moodle. I don't remember exactly what functions I had to use it for, but I remember it replaced something simpler and I hated it with a passion.
        • Also, I'll commit murder if I ever meet the designers of some of the educational software platforms out there. The software aspect is absolutely lacking at the moment when it comes to educational stuff. If the software doesn't exist, then good luck at getting it down to a reasonable price. I'm still stunned that Moodle currently gets promoted as the best solution.

          ++Agree.

          I've been teaching English as a foreign language, and I kept looking for technology to build useful exercises for my classes. The facilities in Moodle etc are abysmal. Rather than freeing the teacher, they box us in to a small selection of very limited exercise types. As a trade-off, you'd want some sort of flexibility, some sort of adaptability... but it's not there, or if it is, it's well hidden. Even the simple stuff is hard to put together, so you end up writing pretty uninspired exercises t

      • by tomhath (637240) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:28AM (#39606367)

        The point has never been "technology enables learning" the point has always been along the lines of "what would happen if we could make sure everyone had access to wikipedia?"

        What you say is true; someone assumed that giving each child their own computer would enable them to do something. But the assumption that the "something" would be educational doesn't appear to be correct. I saw it in the computer lab at my own kids' school; most of the effort by the students was listening to music or trying to find a way around the Net Nanny so they could view porn. They didn't know how to use it as an educational tool, and the teachers had no clue what to do with it.

        The big problem now is that every child learns differently, has different interests, and (what many don't want to acknowledge) many students are just plain dumb. A good teacher can adjust to each student in real time, but how do you write software that will help all of them learn?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by axlr8or (889713)
      You've kind of missed the bigger picture here. And that is, the intention is FREEDOM. The guy that started this wanted to get an infrastructure out into the world that provided an avenue for truth in information. Before you SHOULD educate you need the truth. This would allow kids and adults alike in these countries access to a form of media not directly manipulated by their government. It was going to be done on the back of Linux not because of price but because no one wants a world addicted to one pro
      • If you want laptops to be used in school, they need to be useful in the lessons. OLPC fails in that regard. It's something that is highly frustrating for teachers - they're expected/forced to use tools which aren't ideal for the job, and then get beaten up when the results aren't the optimum. If you want OLPC to promote freedom of information, then you can't push it into schools without also providing the educational tools to actually use them in class. Teachers need to meet their educational goals first, a
      • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:56AM (#39606523) Homepage

        And right there, is why this project is failing. The kids of the world need education, and you (like the project's leaders) are more interested in subjecting them to political indoctrination.

    • Followed by a CSB (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Crash Culligan (227354) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:28AM (#39606371) Journal

      coffeechica: The concept of needing laptops at all for good education is questionable, I think.

      The concept of needing anything/em> for a good education is questionable. The computer is a tool which is capable of good (through assisting the teaching of subjects), evil (distracting the students or supplanting the teacher), or pointlessness.

      First, the tool has to be assessed, to see if it's suitable to assist in the teaching of a subject. The computer can be mighty flexible, and beside running Excel to actually do the accounting, it can present information, quiz students on topics being learned, and even make corrections based on incorrect answers. (And yes, I include properly done Powerpoint under the heading "present information." LibreOffice's Presentation tool qualifies too.)

      Second, the tool may need to be tweaked to work for a specific purpose. The last two, quizzing and correcting, ride on the assumption that somewhere behind the scenes, someone in the school's employ is using a relatively simple scripting tool (LiveCode comes to mind) to create the lessons, and to further present on correct techniques when wrong answers are given.

      Third, the tool has to be accepted and understood by the teacher. A tool unused is meaningless, but a tool misapplied can do more harm than good.

      And fourth, the tool has to be accepted and used correctly by the students. Same principle as above: if they don't know how to get the information out of it, they won't larn nuffin'. A sweet UI and finely honed educational software stand no chance against a blithering idiot.

      My mother taught learning disabled preschoolers. I watched with some horror as she sent one student after another back for "computer time" unattended, and they kind of puttered around with it. The worst was what I dub a "click-monster"—he might as well have been blindfolded and firing a machine-gun the way he was clicking. It was like recess, but nothing was being exercised except index finger and wrist.

      With a little time, expense, and staff education, the computer can be a fantastic tool for teaching and learning. I can appreciate that without that time and expense, the tool isn't nearly as useful.

      • With a little time, expense, and staff education, the computer can be a fantastic tool for teaching and learning. I can appreciate that without that time and expense, the tool isn't nearly as useful.

        Unfortunately, a lot of educational managers/rule makers don't understand that point. Every few months or so, we get a missive to use computers more in class, and to try out this and that wonderful toy.Usually those toys turn out to be incredibly buggy and don't do much beyond frustrate students because they
    • by Twinbee (767046)

      For business concepts or for accounting, it's actually better to run things via pen and paper

      See that instinctively sounds wrong. We shouldn't have to write down something if it's just copying too.

      Perhaps they can rephrase so the teacher can check they really understand it, or maybe read over very slowly to imitate the typical 'writing' speed. But not just a copy pasta that involves using a few more wrist muscles.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:51AM (#39606167) Homepage

    Almost ALL teachers from the richest of schools to the poorest of schools have a horrible education level in computer technology operation and use. I have met multiple PHD holding professors that cant operate a projector to save their life. Even ones that have been dumbed down with a control system that have an ON and OFF button that will do everything. IF the ON button did not work they freak out and never use it again.

    WE need to start with all education degrees being REQUIRED to have several computer operation classes. Something a lot more than "how to type letters in word 101" and "internet for idiots 102" They whould be requlred to go through a couple of more advanced classes like "education systems troubleshooting and use 204"

    Once you get the teachers comfortable with the technology, they will start using it. Did the OLPC people give the devices to the teachers a YEAR before the kids? Because the teachers should have been given them AND classes on their use in the classroom.

    I will bet you the OLPC people simply dropped a shipment in the schools and said "we givith! use this wisely" and walked away.

    • Amen on the comfort level of teachers with technology. But you also need to get them to a point where they know when to use computers and when to stay away from them, or you'll raise students who're incapable of solving problems without internet access.
      • A lot of people say this, and I'm extremely skeptical of the sentiment, since it very much mirrors "you can't give students calculators!" and has many of the same fallacies, since anyone who has done basic algebra or calculus knows a calculator won't help you at all - and neither will me getting stuck on a sample problem for 16 hours, until I can ask for help from a teacher...who may not be interested or available or even particularly knowledgeable on how to solve it.

        • by coffeechica (948145) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:24AM (#39606345)
          You need the balance, just like with calculators. Give them calculators. But also make sure they're able to estimate whether the result of their calculation/research/query is correct. If you train them solely by using a specific sort of tool, they become dependent on that. Show them a few alternatives to get to a result, then let them choose.

          It may depend on student age, but the amount of times I run into teenage students who blindly trust their calculators and don't pause to think whether 4% of 200 really can be 500 is startling. I'm not a fan of deprieving them of the technology, but they need to realise that they'd better do a rough mental double-check as well.
    • I don't know if giving them to the teachers a year in advance would help anything. With no impetus to use it, and no students who have it, they could just as easily ignore it completely. I'd wager more that we're dealing with the very serious issue of how you write good educational software - which has been at a horrific standstill for a very long time.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:21AM (#39606327) Homepage

      WE need to start with all education degrees being REQUIRED to have several computer operation classes. Something a lot more than "how to type letters in word 101" and "internet for idiots 102" They whould be requlred to go through a couple of more advanced classes like "education systems troubleshooting and use 204"

      Well, if this is what you're trying to accomplish, just print out this handy graphic [xkcd.com] and you're done.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      WE need to start with all education degrees being REQUIRED to have several computer operation classes. Something a lot more than "how to type letters in word 101" and "internet for idiots 102" They whould be requlred to go through a couple of more advanced classes like "education systems troubleshooting and use 204"

      I think that part of getting a degree in instruction ought to involve an A+ cert class and maybe a N+ too, and certainly some type of programming class but it can be a really conceptual kind of thing, psuedocode for all I care. Computing and networking are fundamental building blocks of learning in the same way that mathematics or history are. Having a computer and not being a programmer is like having a swiss army knife and only knowing how to use the corkscrew. I did have some pretty pedestrian programmin

    • I've seen this from both sides. One of the schools I work at used to have an older chemistry professor that basically refused to use modern computers. The department had to hire a part-time student worker to do email and submit attendance and grades for the guy. He wasn't a technophobe - he used an old Pentium PC to run research software - he just stopped keeping up with computer progress.

      On the other hand, I can see why teachers might avoid technology in the classroom. In my experience, schools seem to
  • by quixote9 (999874) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:51AM (#39606171) Homepage
    I own one of the first OLPCs. The problem isn't Linux. (I hate to think of Win XP running in 256MB system, 1GB storage.) The problem is the whole philosophy of "it's not a computer, it's an education tool." (Or however they put it.)

    No. A computer is whatever the user wants it to be. If you try to make that difficult, it'll fail sooner or later. The less money behind it, the sooner.

    The educational philosophy they were pushing works for some subjects, some of the time. But they should have made it easy to use the OLPCs any way people wanted much earlier. It was only some time last year that a simple desktop switcher (sugar - gnome) was included with the basic OS. For me, at least, not having an ordinary filesystem available was a showstopper. I'd been dualbooting debian since the beginning, but all the trial and error to accomplish that isn't something a lot of teachers would do. But initially, for the first four years!, there was a lot of resistance to just giving people a familiar interface.

    Then there were the hardware limitations. Even for Linux, at least the Fedora they're using, 256MB is barely enough to breathe. The keyboard takes a lot of getting used to. I'm not sure they ever got the expanded touchpad working.

    So, like I said, nice idea, but they should have put more effort into improving hardware, providing the software people want, better distribution so they had a larger community of enthusiasts to write code for the project and help on (better organized!) forums, and kept their goofy educational philosophy for the people who wanted it.
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:50AM (#39606483) Homepage

      I own one of the first OLPCs. The problem isn't Linux. (I hate to think of Win XP running in 256MB system, 1GB storage.) The problem is the whole philosophy of "it's not a computer, it's an education tool." (Or however they put it.)

      That's the surface layer - but the real problem lies deeper. The real problem is that it was designed to be a [computer|education tool|portal to information|flavor of the week] (I.E. somewhat confused goals) that adhered to the (idiosyncratic) design theories of people with little to no actual experience in developing such tools*, and to support the political agenda and social theories of Nicolas Negroponte. And it's last item that's the real killer, because everything else was subordinated to that agenda and those theories.
       
      Not helping much was the decision to set the price to a politically attractive level long before they had sufficient experience with the software and hardware to know whether or not that price was a reasonable goal for their laundry list of features. When it turned out not to be, they slashed performance to target those political goals.
       
      And that's not even touching on the myriad of other things they fouled up on...
       
      * to be fair, nobody really has such experience - everything in the developed world to date has been somewhat ad hoc.

    • by swillden (191260)

      For me, at least, not having an ordinary filesystem available was a showstopper.

      But one of the core ideas behind OLPC is incompatible with having an ordinary file system available -- and not an idea meant to limit the utility to education, but one intended to hugely improve the ease and safety with which random code could be exchanged between machines. The Bitfrost security model is really interesting and has huge possibilities for making "promiscuous computing" safe, but it requires making the whole user-visible system run within the model. One of the key components is that all code

      • by quixote9 (999874)
        Interesting. I'm a biologist, and had no idea that the filesystem thingy was down to Bitfrost. I'm very impressed with the kinds of things Bitfrost let people do. Just for starters, preventing every early OLPC from winding up on the black market. It would have been nice if they could have wrapped that around a familiar-looking filesystem that was more than a jumble of recently accessed stuff.
  • by fantomas (94850) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @09:52AM (#39606175)

    If your project is led by somebody who believes that the way forward is to drop OLPC laptops out of helicopters into villages [olpcnews.com] and completely bypass locally respected educators, because of the belief that outsiders giving people technology will educate them, what hope have you got?

    If the project doesn't seem to respect local teachers, then claims that the reason the project has failed is because of the teachers, well I am suspicious of the findings, or maybe at least suspect a bias.

    Is the project too technology led rather than built on sound pedagogical frameworks to support children's education?

    Providing teacher training to enable teachers to better employ the technology in their teaching practice (what The Economist article suggests) before dropping all the laptops into classrooms would have been less media friendly but perhaps a more successful strategy.

    It does feel like the old story of rusting high tech white elephants in developing countries: well meaning, lots of money spent, not much time understanding local grassroots needs, working with the local educators on the ground. Stuff just gets dropped in with no support and surprise surprise doesn't get used well or technically maintained.

    The technology is the easy bit. Engaging with local communities to understand their needs is time consuming and more difficult.

  • "The One Laptop Per Child project has disappointed in Peru" I don't know why but that just sounds weird to me. Maybe "The One Laptop Per Child project has been a disappointment in Peru" or something, I don't know, but the way it's written just makes me want to cringe.
  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:01AM (#39606225)

    Before educating the students, they should have taught the teachers how to use the tehnology.

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:05AM (#39606247)

    Somehow we have developed this absurd idea that you simply have to place a computer in front of a child and ~POOF~ they are magically educated, with no thought or work required by a teacher or anyone else. As a result, many billions of dollars have been spent putting computers in every classroom, and it has been a gigantic waste of money, because computers are completely unneccesary in education. Maybe in the last couple of years of highschool it makes sense, but in the early years, a computer serves no useful purpose in school and actually hinders important learning.

    Computers are fantastic, powerful and useful tools. but so is a bulldozer, and we don't insist that young children must learn to operate a bulldozer or else they will not get a proper education.

    • I do like that your argument centers on how computers can't magically help children learn, but then you invoke the same fallacy to declare that they'll definitely hinder children from learning.

      It's got nothing to do with computers, and almost everything to do with software and discipline (to some degree). Being the black box that they are, computers are simply a big source of students goofing off in the common experience (usually because we the students are way more knowledgeable and effective in the first

    • In the more afflulent countries, I see many schools making the same mistake with the iPad. Not even just tablets in general - they all go straight for the iPad without even considering other options. A lot of the time administrators or teachers see a cool toy first, and then try to figure out how they could use it.

      That's how the school at which I work ended up with a piece of crap called a Spykee. Little more than a toy ROV, but someone thought having a cool-looking robot would help stimulate student inter
    • Man, I would have just loved a bulldozer in high school.

    • Maybe in the last couple of years of highschool it makes sense, but in the early years, a computer serves no useful purpose in school and actually hinders important learning.

      It is not the computer that matters, it is the software. The problem with computers in school is the software that we use -- software that is designed to be impossible to hack and which encourages students to pull out pencils and paper to solve their problems. Students are given computers with more restrictions than China's firewall, and if they dare to defeat those restrictions they are punished more severely than students who start fistfights.

      Is it any surprise that the computers are not helping?

      • by swillden (191260)

        It is not the computer that matters, it is the software. The problem with computers in school is the software that we use -- software that is designed to be impossible to hack and which encourages students to pull out pencils and paper to solve their problems.

        If that's the only problem, then the OLPC should have been a huge success, since it was designed from the ground up to be a hackable, tweakable system, with a "Show Source" button on the keyboard that allowed you to display and modify the source of whatever you were using and a Python interpreter as one of the main "activities".

        I'll admit that I thought the hackability of the OLPC would make it successful, at least at educating kids on computing. It appears I was wrong.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This idea is nothing new. In the sixties it was typewriter skills which led to a lot of schools using IBM selectrics for typing class. In the seventies, it was ten key calculators which led to 6 to 8 week courses in using a calculator to add and subtract. In the late seventies, it was programming on cards in a high school lab and then led into Apple IIs in a dedicated computer lab. In all of these cases, the idea was that the technology was so earthshaking, that you just drop these machines in front of

      • by bws111 (1216812)

        I disagree that the idea of teaching typing and calculator use was because the technology was earthshaking. They were taught (usually as part of a 'business' curriculum) because with those skills you could actually get a useful job (typist or bookkeeper) right out of high school. Same with keypunching. The Apples are where the wheels started falling off. Using an Apple II was not a useful skill, no business was using them. That was the point where an attempt was made to use the computer as an educati

  • by datorum (1280144) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:07AM (#39606261)
    ... this doesn't come as a surprise to me. Teaching in Ecuador is mostly "frontal assault", the kids are told all the time what to do. Copy that, etc. One student told me - after I quit - I was a go teacher and he liked me, because I didn't tell them all the time "copy that fast"... Basically my impression was that the schools condition the students to be "recipients of orders" ("Befehlsempfänger").Now on the one hand there is quite an authoritarian rule and on the other they just don't care too much mixed up with some totally unnecessary bureaucracy, e.g. every teacher had to sign that he arrived on that day in school and that he left, also entering the time - makes sense. But you would sign twice at once, also if I was late, it wouldn't matter I should write the time I should have been there... furthermore a teacher was running around and taking these signatures, usually interrupting the lessons by doing it...

    Also I worked a bit in an Internet cafe, what you consider a power (or even normal user) in Western Europe would be an admin there...

    Ecuador and Perú are quite similar. I was in the jungle region, which is probably the least "developed" one.
  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:11AM (#39606281)

    I mean, of course most adults, anywhere, won't know how to take advantage of a computing engine or how it can help their child (even if they had explicit instructions). I kind of thought half the idea was to open a path for some of the children to find something special after tinkering with that little box.

    The idea that you can automate something isn't something that just occurs to everyone. The young are most able to see something repetitive or annoying, and decide to figure out how to use a tool in a new way to make their lives less lame.

    Those young people grow up, and start to see how they can do that to a lot more around them. They start to use resources in ways that would be seen as completely impractical just to automate more things... and change the country completely.

    Yeah - the teachers and other adults aren't going to be 'creatively' using these things for much - because they're busy providing minimal resources however they can. Creativity takes time, something they almost never have anymore.

    The adults teach the children by showing them the wrong ways to do things.

    Ryan Fenton

    • by Locutus (9039)
      and I know current US teachers who recently graduated from college and they are next to clueless about how to use the computer for anything but "The Word" and "The Excel". Even then they are taught, these are adults mind you, they are taught what to click on more than anything. I'm pretty sure there have already been examples in the US of how little giving kids laptops really helps them when there is no skill at the teacher level or specific curriculum defined and based around the laptops.

      The XO and the Sug
  • by retroworks (652802) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:28AM (#39606365) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, I just returned six days ago from a week in Lima, where I visited partners who buy used computers (for repair, refurbishing, recycling business). At one of the shops (which had 22 repair employees) they showed me one of the One Laptop Per Child laptops they'd gotten their hands on. They were absolutely ridiculing it compared to the price of used Pentium III laptops they buy in bulk from off-lease. I just wrote about the trip a few days ago. http://preview.tinyurl.com/peruewaste [tinyurl.com]

    The refurbishing business itself is falling off in Lima, however. (No joke, I saw used CHINESE CRT televisions - the Chinese cities are upgrading and selling their own used goods to South America and Africa). But the cheap white box models from China show the most growth in the market.

    In short it's a mature market and the whole charity command-and-control, of "e-waste" and white box laptop sales, is rife with at best piss poor market research, and at worst just making things up out of thin air. Read Harvard Business Review Article, http://tinyurl.com/chinagoodnuff [tinyurl.com] The Battle for China's Good Enough Market (2007, written by Bain & Co consultants), to see how the changing consumer demand is being mis-marketed to. Lima had 9M residents, I had no problem finding wifi, and the geeks of color in the used electronics markets all had smartphones.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I remember getting an F in "computer class" (elementary school in the early 90s) because when we were supposed to be learning to use a drawing program, I instead wrote a BASIC script to draw the image we were supposed to draw. It didn't matter in the slightest to the teacher that I was able to attain the result in a far more efficient way or that I was able to actually write my own program, nope, I didn't do it exactly the way she said to (and thus exactly as the book said).

    This always annoyed me in school

  • by plopez (54068) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:46AM (#39606453) Journal

    And in other news, the sky is blue, water is wet, and gravity sucks.

    Seriously, let's stop looking for magic cures and start focusing on fundamentals, such as better teacher recruitment, selection, training, and retention. The add a layer of technology and facilities on top of that. Not sexy and a lot of hard work, but this approach will probably get the best results.

  • by ivoras (455934) <ivoras&fer,hr> on Saturday April 07, 2012 @10:47AM (#39606455) Homepage

    The OLPC project was always one step near the infamous "Bibles for Haiti" project [imgur.com] - a condescending view that an "easy answer", one which is easily mass-manufactured will miraculously solve a hard social problem. That the OLPC-ers are technocratic instead of theocratic makes little difference with regards to the efficiency of the approach. What *should* have been sent are *teachers*, but it's much, much harder to send teachers into the wilderness when they are already so lowly regarded in the western world.

  • by SilverJets (131916) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @11:10AM (#39606615) Homepage

    Kids that young do not need computers to learn. They need to be taught the same 3 simple basics that have been taught in every primary school for decades: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. You do not need computers to learn or teach any of those. Introduce them to music and art to round out their education. Then in high school start introducing them to computers. And no, contrary to what some people like to think, these students will not fall behind the other kids that had access to computers. Using a computer is a skill. A very easily obtained skill. And high school is early enough to start teaching kids this skill.

    • by robbo (4388)

      Wholeheartedly agree. There is zero educational value in teaching a kid how to format a doc or use a spreadsheet. They can learn that much later. On the other hand, there is some value putting laptops in the hands of educators, where they can be used to make their lessons more efficient.

  • by tsotha (720379) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @11:17AM (#39606649)
    Cliff Stoll is probably unsurprised [amazon.com]. As am I. A computer is a tool to accomplish a task, and giving computers to kids who don't have any use for them is likely to be less productive than giving them all math textbooks.
  • Just throwing money and/or technology at a problem doesn't automagically fix it. The greatest tool we have is our brain, but we need to use it's full potential in making the most of our external manmade tools to get ahead.
  • To provide online and written help targeted specifically at teachers. Everyone seems so busy selling product, whether it be computers, testing, software, etc. they tend to forget that there are humans, who must actually use this stuff to make it work.

  • by gmuslera (3436) * on Saturday April 07, 2012 @01:16PM (#39607323) Homepage Journal
    And if well teachers were a problem too (both for the ones that didnt worked with computers, as for the ones did, as the interface is not the usual desktop) that , would not put the experience as something dissapointing, heck, in a good amount of cases were the children that showed their teachers how to use it. At least here Is evaluated as something very possitive, not just for the children, but also for their families. Is not perfect, but is making possitive changes that probably will be more visible in 5-10 years.
  • by Russianspi (1129469) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @02:18PM (#39607741)
    I live in a tribal village in Peru, and the kids here have OLPC laptops. The trouble is bigger than teachers who have not been educated to make good use of the laptops (although that is an issue too). There isn't electricity here, much less internet (except my personal VSAT). While a computer loaded with educational resources is useful without an internet connection, it is a nice shiny green and white brick without power. For all of the hoopla about hand-crank or foot pedal chargers, I haven't seen one. When my solar panels are pulling in enough power, I'll charge one up for a kid or even let them on the internet, but my resources are limited in these areas too. So...it will be hard to REALLY evaluate the effectiveness of a machine like the OLPC until we have solved these basic infrastructure issues.
    • by Locutus (9039)
      I'd seen where some village used an old car alternator connected to a ox driven turnstile or something like that to charge a dozen XO's. And small 12V battery would be needed too just to power up the alternator once it got going. And old treadmill motor might work too but would probably need a regulator and might only do a few XO's. And old bicycle might be used to turn these too.

      There are many ways to build a little 12V generator and probably dozens here on /. who could help with instructions. Let us know
  • The Real Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vga_init (589198) on Saturday April 07, 2012 @03:40PM (#39608253) Journal

    I was born in 1986, and at that time personal computers were on the rise. Yes, personal computers existed long before that, but back then many people still did not have them. At the time computers were more expensive and not as interesting to intellectually challenged people. It wasn't for several years that every member of society absolutely had to have a computer and an e-mail address. I know people who held out for a decade after it became ubiquitous.

    Ever since I was in kindergarten, the prevailing [ignorant] viewpoint in society was that computers just magically made people smarter and improved your child's education a billion percent. Every school that I attended had to have computers, and they always bragged about how many computers they had. Idiots in the administration talked about how technology was revolutionizing education and how the students were being prepared for the future by being taught computer skills. By the time I was in high school, they made sure that every single classroom had at least one computer in them, sometimes two or three or five. Nothing relevant about computers was actually taught.

    Ultimately, it was pointless. We didn't use the computers in effective or creative ways; both teachers and students ignored the computers and studied our textbooks. All we used the computers for was to browse the web in our free time and play Counterstrike. Some kids utilized the school's network infrastructure to upload porn and warez. I went to college with a bunch of computer illiterate people who grew up with computers, and now I work with a bunch of computer illiterate people. My mom went adult education classes to become "computer literate," and they taught her that computer expertise meant knowing how to use Google search and Microsoft Office.

    As someone who is very into computer technology and software, it has been a hobby that I pursued since a young age, and it ended up becoming my trade. I think I'm qualified to speak a little bit about computing technology, and I've said this many times in the past: computers don't improve education. They just don't. The money that schools waste on computer equipment could be put to use in so many much better ways. Throwing computers at education is just a mutated form of our cultural tendency to throw money at problems--it's stupid and doesn't work.

    Can computers be used in education? Sure, they can, but if and only if it makes sense. Right now in my studies I have to use a computer constantly to look up reference material--it's a huge time saver and makes my field of study dramatically easier than it once was. The reason why computing helps is because the computer is a tool that provides a function necessary for the completion of my work. It's not because I learn better with computers than without them, or that computers solve all of my problems in school; rather, sometimes you have a particular need for them, and in many cases you don't.

    I support OLPC because it connects people to the Internet who weren't connected before, which basically gives them access to limitless reading material should they choose to utilize it. 99% of people do not take advantage of the knowledge that can be read on the Internet. That's fine. If even a small group of intelligent children can find a way to benefit from having access to a computer, then those people might learn something that they can use to improve their own lives and the lives of people around them.

I find you lack of faith in the forth dithturbing. - Darse ("Darth") Vader

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