Monday, January 01, 2007

seymour papert interview on OLPC

OLPC = one laptop per child aka the one hundred dollar laptop

Can kid power + OLPC defeat corrupt third world governments? Whenever there is a hard questions Seymour says, kid power will fix it

Where I agree:
  • one computer per child, which they take home, is qualitatively different to computers chained up in a lab, with limited access
  • seymour's answer: "Our principle is being open, open, open. Children should be able to download anything and everything."
The lack of these two things in developed countries are two very good reasons why the computer revolution has not really started yet. Can we build a campaign around this in the west. Isn't it time that we had one computer per child in developed countries if it going to soon happen in some environments which are much poorer???????????

Where I question and / or need to know more:
  • political change (the corrupt third world governments) is put into the too hard basket
  • there does need to be some strategic adult direction of use of the computers, moderation on the ground for best results, does need to be more than teacher as co-learner (in response to this answer by seymour: "our children will take charge of knowledge. ... The role of the teacher is to become a co-learner. Eventually, teachers, that is to say, adults with experience of learning will join with children in learning new materials that neither of them has known in the past")
  • seymour overstates the case for natural learning. I doubt that it will work just by putting the computers into the hands on children and then leaving it mainly up to them. (also see, alan kay's list of non universals)

Bureau of International Information Programs
USINFO Webchat Transcript
(the version here has been edited, follow link above for full version)
Digital Development: How the $100 Laptop Could Change Education
Guest: Seymour Papert
Date: November 14, 2006

Q [Martha]: This is a fantastic idea, but what about tech support? surely the computers--hardware or software--might go haywire at some point.
A: I believe in "Kid Power." Our education systems underestimate kids. It INFANTALIZES them by assuming they are incompetent. An eight-year old is capable of doing 90% of tech support and a 12 year old 100%. And this is not exploiting the children: it is giving them a powerful learning experience.

Q [Daniel Iglesias]: Which are the OLPC Project's plans about the educational use of the $100 Laptop? Will the $100 Laptop include educational software?
A: Of course this is a university, a universal computer connected to this Internet. So every sort of software that is considered to be educational will be available. But a deeper answer to the question is that the software that is really educational is not software made especially for children.

Web browser is an educational software because it let's people of any age get to information. Being able to computer the program, a simple programming language like LOGO or squeak, is educational software because it enables people of any age, including children, to get the experience of mastering the computer.

So my answer is that, yes, they will be the educational software that the real educational software is not what is made for schools, but is made for everybody.

Q [Kuba]: I see that you mentioned that for now, only governments can buy them. Please forgive my pessimism but many of the governments in the countries most in need of a tech boost are corrupt and can not be trusted. What is to prevent these computers from reappearing in local markets or being misused by governments and corrupt officials? Are there safeguards?
A: We are doing our best to make computers available to all the children of the world. It's not in our power to control which governments are corrupt. There are safeguards. The machines are safeguarded in many ways against being stolen, but in the end, if the governments of the country don't protect them, there nothing we can do. One protection against theft is that these computers will not look like any other computer. And because they are only sold to governments, if anybody has a stolen computer, it will be obvious to everybody watching.

Q [davehat]: How closely does the OLPC concept mesh with your ideas about how children learn? Moreover, given the focus on child-centered learning, or "doing" - what is the role of the classroom and the teacher in an OLPC nation?
A: The OLPC concept measures with the idea that children can take charge of their own learning.

Making videos, communicating, creating their own programs, our children will take charge of knowledge. I believe that having the individual computers--each child owns a computer and has it all the time--is the only way we can empower really learner-centered learning.

The role of the teacher is to become a co-learner. Eventually, teachers, that is to say, adults with experience of learning will join with children in learning new materials that neither of them has known in the past.

And this is the best way to learn, to learn with somebody else who is already experienced.

Q [Kuba]: This program looks to be another example of the "leap frog" effect of technology going beyond the conditions on the ground. With this in mind, does your project maintain contact with the international development community and NGOs so that time and resources are used most effectively? It would be a waste to have NGOs promoting "black board" distribution when they could jump many years ahead and help to spread these computers.

A: I think this project is different from all the other large scale projects on bringing technology to the developing world. The reason is that the technology will be in the hands of children--in the hands of people who want to learn to use it for their own benefit. And I think that the cliché that big developmental projects don't work because people go beyond the conditions on the ground, does not apply here because children are the conditions on the ground. They want to learn, and they are the best learners who ever existed.

Q [Talas Ordosu]: Will there be any moderators or any control because some children are weird and can turn education into entertainment (not learning but playing a game or watching porno)?
A: We envision 100 million laptops being in the hands of children in a few years' time. It is impossible for us to even think about moderating what all these children are doing. No doubt in each country and each community, some local action will be taken and that's the proper way for it to be done. I would like to make a correction to what I just said. The proper kind of moderator is the children themselves. The children themselves should be the control over the best use of the computers, and preventing what you call weirdness.

Q [wunschmm]: How will teachers and students be trained on using the laptop?

A: In the end, they will teach themselves. They'll teach one another. There are many millions, tens of millions of people in the world who bought computers and learned how to use them without anybody teaching them. I have confidence in kids' ability to learn.

Q [Charbax]: Can kids automatically download and install firmware and software upgrades?

A: Our principle is being open, open, open. Children should be able to download anything and everything.

Q [davehat]: What do you think of the call today by the National Council of Teachers of Mathmatic's for schools to change their focus away from creative thinking and back to teaching basic skills.
A: NCTM has not yet understood the role of computers. NCTM still belongs to maybe the 20th century, if not long before. I think they call it totally wrong. I think that the reason why there is a conflict between creative thinking, and basic mathematics is that they try to do it with pencil and paper.

In a pencil and paper environment, it is very hard to be creative with mathematics. The great contribution of computers is that, it is now possible to use mathematical ideas to make things that kids care about. Making their own game. Making artwork. Turning mathematics through these activities into a useful tool for something that kids really care about.

This is the secret to mathematics education. NCTM is just blind because it assumes that mathematic will always be done pencil and paper. It does not understand that computers change the ballpark.

Q [davehat]: to your mind, does learning to use a computer share much of the same process as a child uses in learning to learn?
A: I believe that school is an unnatural way for learning. I believe that natural learning is what happens before school and after school. But there are many things that can't be learned in the environment of the home. School became necessary because some things are not embedded in the culture of our daily lives so children cannot learn them.

The computer greatly expands what is in the culture of the child's life. What the computer does is to make it possible for natural learning, which really means learning without teaching, without being taught, to be extended [exposed] to a much greater range of knowledge. I think we see when kids learn by themselves, to use the computer and to play very complex games, and overcome technical problems, we see them exercising the same natural learning abilities that enable them to learn to speak, learn to get around their parents, find the way around the house and find the way around the parents et cetera, all the stuff they learn outside of school. That's the natural learning.

I agree completely with Davehat's suggestion when they learn the computer, they are able to exercise that natural learning skill. But the conditions of school forces them to use more artificial ways of learning. So the big impact of putting out more computers under the control of children is to promote learning, learning. We will promote the learning of being a better learner, and that's the most important skill in a rapidly-changing world.

Once upon a time, schools could hope that children would go into the world, knowing how to do what they were taught. In a rapidly-changing world, they have to go out, knowing how to do what they were not taught that is to say, that to go out was the skill of learning to do work and deal with situations that have never existed before.

"Learning, learning" is the ultimate slogan for education of the future.


Durff said...

From your blog I quote:
I believe that school is an unnatural way for learning. I believe that natural learning is what happens before school and after school. But there are many things that can't be learned in the environment of the home. School became necessary because some things are not embedded in the culture of our daily lives so children cannot learn them.
Then I would concur! We teachers, if we are really doing our jobs, are teaching ourselves out of work. We are merely facilitators, not deliverers of content. We are not industrial producers at all, as we have all been taught to be. Education Schools are still turning out industrial producers when we need desperately to be informational facilitators!

Bill Kerr said...

"We teachers, if we are really doing our jobs, are teaching ourselves out of work"

That thought may provide an important background psychological pressure to not embrace innovation, indicating, as Papert has said, that everything has to change

Durff said...

But we must embrace that change! We must teach ourselves out of our narrowly defined jobs and evolve!

Anonymous said...

I think Seymour's "kid power" vision is certainly overwhelming to the normal teacher-led learning we've all become accustomed to. But consider this -- he might be right, and if he is, the benefit is so much more than the benefit of us trying to keep control of the process.

And since the risk of failure is guaranteed if we continue to do nothing, it's a bet we should make.

If any of these OLPC implementations happen, SOMETHING is going to happen, and in fact, lots of things we can't imagine will happen. Some will be good, some bad, and most somewhere in between.

But the sheer numbers of machines in the hands of new users is a complete unknown factor. It's sort of like trying to imagine what swimming in the ocean is like when all you've ever seen is a bathtub.

Bill Kerr said...

Sylvia: "(seymour)...might be right"

He might be. This hole in the wall experiment is fascinating and is evidence that seymour might be right about kid power. I agree with Sylvia, that the something that will happen will be far better than nothing.

"An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens..."

"What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him."

Bill Kerr said...

Someone thinks that the OLPC is "crap", that kids need parents, time to learn and childhood. I left a comment there, #9.

I found the above post through Stephen Downes, who has a great reply to the issues raised. Extract:
"It should be abundantly and blatantly obvious that aid to impoverished children should consist NOT ONLY of the basics of survival. At some point, aid needs to focus on how they will grow so they need no further aid. 'Teach a man to fish...' and all that."

Bill Kerr said...

from a 2004 interview with papert

Geraldine Doogue: It’s just that you have, to really round it off, you have promoted, for instance, a lap-top for every child in a primary school. I wonder why you think that is an important device?

Seymour Papert: It’s only an important device because it’s disruptive. You put a lap-top, give people this…the bad things about school is that it’s a paper based system in a digital society. You put in the alternative medium and it’s still the same system. However, you’ve knocked away the underpinning that makes it get its character. So given time, with these computers everywhere, new ways of thinking and learning will inevitably be developed. The computer itself is, yeah it’s good everything’s a bit better if you’ve got the laptop …..

The OLPC is disruptive to the third world and may come around like a boomerang and end up being disruptive to the developed world as well. If the third world can have OLPC then why can't we? It is clear from the writings of seymour papert and alan kay that their idea is to present a different, better way to do all of education

Anonymous said...

I've not been following OLPC too closely, but with a little interest. I think it will be fascinating to see what happens when it is finally out there, somewhere.
It's perhaps a bit like foreign aid - some aid programs just seem to lead to increased dependance on aid, while programs should really be about facilitating local solutions to local problems.
But I do wonder if OLPC can really work as well at solving universal problems as Papert wants it to...

Anonymous said...

As a follow up... I recently attended a local talk on a project that has been supplying IT and support (training the trainers, for self-sufficiency) to Malawi - one of Africa's poorest nations.
Towards the end, the speaker was asked about OLPC. He said (paraphrasing) "It's a great idea, but at $100 per laptop its too expensive for Malawi - they need a $10 laptop."

Bill Kerr said...

hi daniel,

With regard to Malawi needing a $10 laptop, Seymour made this point in his interview:

"Q [Talas Ordosu]: I am not clear, are children getting laptops for free or you consider that $100 dollars is not a lot of money and everyone can afford it?

A: The governments who have been discussing this with OMPC have discussed it as part of a plan to give the computers free to children. The way I think about the cost of the computer is that, if a $100 computer can last for five years, that's $20 a year.

In a few years' time, we'll make a $50 computer that will last for 10 years and then $5 per year, and every country can afford to give that free to its children. Whether they do or not is outside of our control"