Despite a lack of schooling or any formal instruction, illiterate children from two remote villages in Ethiopia are quickly learning their ABC’s and 123’s.
In an effort to educate the world’s children using today’s technology, the One Laptop Per Child(OLPC) organization has embarked on a bold experiment in two Ethiopian villages. The non-profit group simply dropped off some Motorola Xoom tablet computers with the children and left them to their own, well, devices.
The goal was to see if the children, most of whom had no previous exposure whatsoever to the written word, could teach themselves how to read only by playing around with the tablet and its preloaded educational apps and games.
The results of the non-profit’s experiment were more than encouraging, OLPC’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte told audience members at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.
“I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch…powered it up,” he said. “Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android.”
The kids had even customized their tablet desktops so that each one’s looked different, actively working around OLPC software set up to prevent them from doing so.
“The fact they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning,” Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer said.
While the group considers their early results promising, Negroponte says they’ll need more time and further experiments to know whether or not children can actually learn this way.