OLPC project drops tablets into remote villages

There has been much debate about whether tablets belong in classrooms. Based on the results of an experiment by the One Laptop Per Child organization, perhaps the debate will shift to whether traditional classrooms belong. The OLPC folks dropped boxes filled with tablets into two remote African villages. The tablets were loaded with books, movies, and educational software, but no instructions were provided apart from guidance on how to use the included solar charging station. Technology Review has the goods on what happened next, straight from OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte:

“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. 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,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

Apparently, the children in these villages had never seen printed materials before. The fact that they were able to use the tablets—and learn from them without the aid of teachers—is certainly encouraging. Negroponte cautions against drawing too many conclusions from the early results, though. He's looking to continue funding the program for a couple more years.

The tablets in question were Motorola Xoom models, and I'm surprised they survived five months in the hands of children. The OLPC group has its own tablet in the works, and production was supposed to begin this year. Marvell is contributing to the device, which is expected to cost less than $100.

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