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.

Comments closed
    • brute
    • 7 years ago

    sounds like cleverly disguised birth control to me!

    • Sam125
    • 7 years ago

    Pretty good to know that any child — even ones that live in remote African villages can still learn how to use technology quickly and easily. That’s a promising development when it comes to furthering education on the continent.

      • brute
      • 7 years ago

      fo shizzle my nizzle~*~

    • Malphas
    • 7 years ago

    It’s incredible how ignorant some of the posters are with regard to the world outside their doorstep. “Remote African village” doesn’t automatically equate to a bunch of starving, malnourished kids, generally those images are from times during a particular crisis (drought, civil war, etc.) Nor are rural Africans a bunch of backward, neolithic luddites either; they have cellphones, radios, cars, etc., just much less per person on average than in a city or a developed country.

    Also, why the hell are we using the term “Africa” here anyway? Africa is a massive continent that encompasses a whole bunch of different societies, races, cultures, religions, and economic regions.

      • shank15217
      • 7 years ago

      Lets put it another way, if you drop these same tablets in inner city chicago, most will get stolen, resold for drugs and no one will learn shit.

      • Ringofett
      • 7 years ago

      That sounds nice and cultured and politically correct, but then you have Boko Haram and al Qaeda-affiliated people running huge swaths of different countries (Nigeria and Mali, respectively) who actively preach that the Earth is flat. No joke, Google it. Not to mention the spread of sharia law, in Mali and elsewhere.

      Then the continents leading economic power (for now, since it’s on the decline) only recently got rid of its leader, Thabo Mbeki, that refused to buy in to the idea that AIDS was a function of HIV. Yep, replaced him a corrupt polygamist. Six wives, 20 kids.

      As for malnourished kids and starvation, you’re right, its not the norm overall for the continent. But its sadly common. Somalia and Ethiopia routinely had it bad; this past years famine in Somalia was, last I heard, pretty extreme in places where NGO’s couldn’t get (most of the country).

      Don’t forget either that Africa is (almost) the last place on Earth we see so many problems from malaria, a host of parasites, polio, etc.

      So lets not go flinging about bolts of righteous lightening when there’s a depressing amount of truth in the jokes. Sure, inner cities in the US are only marginally better in terms of education some times I think.. but doesn’t stop the above from being true. It’d be more fair to separate out sub-Saharan Africa from Egypt, Libya, Morocco, etc., but still, you’re over reacting I think.

      • brute
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<] Nor are rural Africans a bunch of backward, neolithic luddites either; they have cellphones, radios, cars, etc., just much less per person on average than in a city or a developed country.[/quote<] So you define people by the technology that is dropped onto their doorstep? That's cute. "Africa" is being used here because "Africa" is where the "tablets" were "dropped". Africa is chosen because Africa is widely seen as being a god forsaken hellhole. Do you really think they'd be dropping these tablets off in, say, Beverley Hills? Use your head, moron. The butthurt is strong in this one.

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    I’m guessing they hold the device in the highest regard so they take really good care of it (their parents can’t magic them a new one either). I’m sure they’ll be very well taken care of for the most part.

    • brucethemoose
    • 7 years ago

    No surprise there. Children learn and master unfamiliar UIs shockingly fast.

    • Chrispy_
    • 7 years ago

    Yay!! \o/

    Remote and impoverished Africans villages need tablets with games and celebrity Twitter feeds instead of education and food.

    At least we’ll be empowering a new generation of [i<]'Nigerian 419 scammers'[/i<] once they've finished learning to hack Android 😉

      • cegras
      • 7 years ago

      That’s a stupid sentiment and you know it. Whether or not OLPC drops tablets for children to intellectually grow does not affect distribution of essential resources. Arguably, the tablets are actually powerful education tools.

        • Chrispy_
        • 7 years ago

        It’s a stupid sentiment [i<]in your opinion[/i<] You don't have to be a sociopath to realise that the money spent on tablets could be much better spent on other things. It doesn't mean the tablets aren't helpful or willingly received, but at the same time it's very poor triage if you ananlyse the oftentimes desperate situation and think education is at the top of the list.

          • ludi
          • 7 years ago

          In my opinion, that’s also a stupid sentiment, or at least an ignorant one. Do you have any evidence that the “remote villages in Africa,” and in particular the ones targeted by this experiment, are short on food, as opposed to short on education and technology? Yeah, you can give people food, and what are they going to eat tomorrow? More food that you give them? Give a man a fish, etc.

          Moreover, in the long run, how do YOU propose to jumpstart them towards participation in the modern global economy if they’re living primarily on subsistence agriculture while a quarter of the earth is pre-ordering their next meal or grocery list on a mobile device, ultimately provided by farmers who can support 100,000 mouths using the labor of maybe ten primary workers and a GPS-based statistical logger that automatically allocates fertilizer distribution at fractions of a square meter to optimize the cost-to-yield ratio?

            • Ringofett
            • 7 years ago

            Thankfully, we don’t have to play guessing games on what the most important single thing is that helps bring such places in to the modern economy. Common wisdom for a long time was clean water as a precursor to all else, but the World Bank’s has research establishing for years now that the answer is reliable electricity.

            Electricity enables *everything*. Inefficient businesses that charge locals for charging the cell phone and lights go away. Cell phone use takes off. Information flows more freely. Basic industry is possible, throwing open the flood gates to investment. People can read and work after dusk. And, going back to water, now pumps and sanitation systems can provide clean, cheap water, and is available to start building out the start of modern sewer systems. No need for fancy NGO-designed wind-turbine powered over-engineered water filters that provide a trickle of clean water; give a village mains electricity and they can go straight to the real thing.

            Not that this is useless… The very first thing these places run in to tends to be skills shortages, but electricity and then other basic infrastructure is VASTLY more critical to achieving some sort of economic take-off then tablets or even, yes, in the very short term, education. East Asia’s shown the path; agriculture -> cheap labor-based basic industry -> ??? -> profit.

            ??? being more advanced manufacturing, or sophisticated service industries (IT, law, health), or whatever the country finds it has an edge in. China’s worked on moving up the value chain in manufacturing, India focuses on services and health tourism, Philippines services, South Korea advanced manufacturing, etc.

            • Chrispy_
            • 7 years ago

            Well, having worked out there with a charity called Dramatic Need, on community buildings in Viljoenskroon, south of Johannesburg – I can actually say, first hand, that [i<]they don't NEED tablets[/i<]. Given the cost of tablets, I would say that the same effort spent on other things would go much, much much (like, two or three orders of magnitude) further. If anything, what they really need is a non-corrupt government and proper sex-education. Viljoenskroon isn't even close to the desperate end of the spectrum but it's enough to clearly highlight the real issues to anyone who's been there first hand. I propose to jumpstart them towards participation in the modern global economy by arguing on the internet. Honestly, short of changing the political regime, anything else is little more than short-term aid that will be forgotten in a few years.

          • cegras
          • 7 years ago

          I’m sure the villages chosen for tablet drops were not the ones in which the iconic picture of a vulture next to a nearly dead child was taken.

          There are problems at every social class in life and it’s perfectly valid to worry about any of them. You aren’t a monster because you prioritize dropout rates in your local highschool over starving children.

    • Kurotetsu
    • 7 years ago

    [quote=”The Tech Report”<]" The OLPC folks dropped boxes filled with tablets into two remote African villages. "[/quote<] Who then promptly sold them for something useful, like food, clean water and clothing.

    • sschaem
    • 7 years ago

    “within five months, they had hacked Android” ,
    within 6 month they rooted the device, within 7 month installed a custom linux build,
    and less then 12 month later they where able to shut down cooling stations in nuclear power plant all over France.

    What have we done!!!

    edit: joke aside… This is a great concept.

    • anotherengineer
    • 7 years ago

    ” The OLPC folks dropped boxes filled with tablets into two remote African villages. ”

    And 1/2 hr. later that remote village was invaded by guerrilla’s with AK’s which promptly removed said tablets for themselves.

    • BaronMatrix
    • 7 years ago

    They’re telling Intel screw them… Take a Classmate and shove it…

    • albundy
    • 7 years ago

    where are they getting power to charge the units? last time i checked, electricity costs money.

      • cegras
      • 7 years ago

      Derp:

      [quote<]but no instructions were provided apart from guidance on how to use the included solar charging station.[/quote<]

        • willmore
        • 7 years ago

        Maybe they should have given albundy one.

    • dmjifn
    • 7 years ago

    “Hacked Android”, huh? They need some good PR that bad? Or has the mainstreaming of this just gone that far? Next thing you know, Grandma’s gonna be a 1337 h4x0r for floating text around an image in MS Word.

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    I see Negroponte likes to talk about himself a lot.. see where he says “Some idiot in our organization”?
    Always the self-promoter that one.

      • TheMonkeyKing
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]Elaborating later on Negroponte’s hacking comment, Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, said that the kids had gotten around OLPC’s effort to freeze desktop settings. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” McNierney said. “And 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.”[/quote<] Lemme guess...they all put up wallpapers of [strikethrough]sexy models[/strikethrough] [u<]food[/u<].

        • fredsnotdead
        • 7 years ago

        They then organized an online campaign to send aid to the poor, starving, half-naked models…

          • ludi
          • 7 years ago

          Now THAT is funny.

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    I think the Hurricane corrupted the headline a bit:

    [quote<][b<]Death Toll Rises after[/b<] OLPC project drops tablets [s<]i[/s<][b<][u<]o[/u<][/b<]nto remote village[b<][u<]r[/u<][/b<]s[/quote<]

    • Damage
    • 7 years ago

    Sturdy OLPC tablet employed as plow blade; villager says “much better than sharp rock, especially with strong donkey.”

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