Monday, March 17, 2008

OLPC implementation in Australia: some blocking points

I haven't been blogging much about the OLPC lately.

My perception is that the education system in Australia is so conformist that there doesn't appear to be a single school, Principal or Department in the whole country that is prepared to give the OLPC a chance. If I found such a niche I would apply to teach there. Failing that I'm not quite ready to leave my country of birth, (yet).

OLPC ought to be given a chance in remote aboriginal communities. This could work.

Part of the problem here is that plans to fix things are centred around standardised testing, based on the need to measure improvement. See teaching to the test. This is at odds with the constructionist learning theory promoted by the OLPC group.

Another issue working against the OLPC is fear of the internet (porn, pedophiles and online bullying). Sadly, many educators, particularly administrators, do not support the notion of a real personal computer in the hands of children, any children. They see the risks outweighing the benefits. This fear is visceral.

There is also a profound lack of understanding of what could be achieved educationally with personal computers distributed to young children. This parallels the lack of understanding of what can be achieved with a programming language microworld such as logo - and the decline of the use of logo in schools in the past 15 years.

Summing up: standards, fear of a true PC and epistemological miasma. These issues taken together add up currently to a "no go" sign in implementing OLPC based education in certain areas of Australia, such as remote indigenous communities, where it could be invaluable.

4 comments:

mithro said...

You should contact the OLPC Australia group.

squidinkcalligraphy said...

While I'm not in a situation to be trying the OLPC itself (urban school, lack of money, etc), I'm in the process of deploying the sugar environment onto our desktop computers. I've got an OLPC myself, and I think the sharing aspect of most activities is quite amazing and something that hasn't been considered in most software (there's no money in software designed for education, so schools tend to shoe-horn business software to meet educational needs).

But it would be so much better if the students could take the computer home with them after school...

Jeff Waugh said...

Yep, definitely get in touch with us at OLPC Australia. There's quite some interest at very high levels of various Australian Governments. :-)

Mark Miller said...

Here in the U.S. I'm seeing for the most part the sentiment that sending PCs to poor people is a foolish idea. They have more important needs like food and water, so the thinking goes. My guess is this is due to what you talk about: a lack of understanding of how computing itself, and access to a wider net of knowledge can help people gain new perceptive abilities, like you were talking about with math. I think the same cognitive dissonance is happening. There's also an aspect of a "low cost" library to it, via. access to the internet.

I can understand the concerns about students gaining access to objectionable material. I think the concern is real, though what I remember is OLPC was going to help set up internet filters that administrators could use to block it.

I see it as a shot in the dark, but with some evidence that it would be constructive, just based on Negroponte's experience with bringing laptops to children in these areas. It's worth a shot for communities that don't have much to lose anyway. It's worth trying to "teach a man to fish", rather than just, "giving them fish."

My feeling about it is if anyone has a better idea of how to bring these people out of poverty, step up and bring forward a solution. Otherwise let others help.