Thursday, February 28, 2008

OLPC India

Tuesday the friendly folk at Reliance took a small group of us out to Khairat to visit the OLPC pilot school in India. The school has one room, one teacher and the kids are in 1st - 4th grades.

When we first arrived the teacher was giving a lecture on something in Marathi at the black board. Several laptops were in a corner being charged, most were lying on the floor with the kids, a couple were open.

Amit one of the Reliance people clearly knew the teacher and the children well, so when he entered the kids all opened their laptops and started eagerly showing all of us the different things they could do with their computers.

The laptops were passed out in early October of last year. By now everyone was very comphortable with them. They could navigate menus, understood how to click on icons, could click and drag objects across the screen, etc.

At least in the eagerness surrounding showing off their knowledge to the friendly outsiders who came in, their principal purpose in pushing buttons, clicking and dragging seemed to be to make the device do something ie. make noise or do some animation. Towards this end the kids could explore the menu system to great depth, but without any english comprehension of the meaning of the text I don't think they 'understood' the conceptual layout of the system very deeply.

They did understand the top level of icons and which ones would bring up interesting applications.

The laptops were in remarkably good condition. I saw that one key 'i' had ripped off one of the laptops, but that was the only problem I saw, and you could still get the 'i' to type by touching your finger to the contact points.

I don't know what the problem was, but the school server was not operational.

The couple hours there were wonderful. The kids are super enthusiastic and there is a feeling that 'something special' is happening. The teacher was also very nice and encouraging.

While everyone is very excited, its not immediately obvious how to use the laptops to better teach the curriculum educators are accustomed to. I see a need for someone technical to spend time working with the children and the laptops to pioneer ways of actively using them to facilitate learning beyond the conventional methods.

Maybe me :)

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