Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why Computers?

To focus in on one of the many flawed points in Teemu Leinonen's post "Thank you OLPC - Maybe now we may start to talk about education again":

As silly as simply asking every child to have a laptop, so that they can program and play with it as much as they want, would be to ask every student to have a canvas and oil colors so that they could do as many landscape paintings as they would like to. Computers are good in education, but so are many other instruments from clay, paper and pen to hardware tools and musical instrument. They are all needed in schools....
The schools that OLPC seeks to reach generally don't have the resources Teemu recommends, probably with limited supplies of paper and pencils, let alone art supplies and musical instruments. Of course, one can argue that they should have them, but then in practice arguing that it would be more cost effective to distribute a volume of paper, art supplies, musical instruments, blocks, scientific instruments and supplies, books, etc. to schools in the developing world than to give them computers. I don't believe this.

What makes a well designed programmable computer unique among educational resources is that it is one device can fill in all these roles and more, and with free software, add new functions at no marginal cost. The XO is a musical instrument that can mimic almost any other, an infinitely thick drawing pad, a camera, a phone, a book, a typewriter, a calculator, an oscilloscope, etc., etc. It may do each of these things less well than a dedicated device, but schools it is designed for simply cannot afford all those tools and resources.

I find it completely baffling and depressing that this point has to be made to an instructional designer in 2008.

5 comments:

Isä said...

“The schools that OLPC seeks to reach generally don't have the resources Teemu recommends, probably with limited supplies of paper and pencils, let alone art supplies and musical instruments. Of course, one can argue that they should have them, but then in practice arguing that it would be more cost effective to distribute a volume of paper, art supplies, musical instruments, blocks, scientific instruments and supplies, books, etc. to schools in the developing world than to give them computers. I don't believe this.”

Hmm.. I am afraid your picture of the developing world is some kind of myth build by the aid organizations and media – including OLPC. Poor people in the developing world are not living in the middle of nowhere without anything. There are paper and pens (and also other local solutions for writing and drawing), local tools for arts and grafts, local musical instruments, local hardware tools, local building materials etc. My estimation is that with 200 USD you may provide 100 children with all these instruments, plus you will suppports the local economy.

Bill Kerr said...

It's not ecological enough for him, it's too disruptive of the organic, humanistic networks

deep ecological myth: balance of nature

Possibly some anti americanism in there too - how dare an american try to save the world

He made up his mind before doing much homework. His point 2 about the alleged discrepancy b/w Engelbart and Papert is very lazy thinking

A lot of what claims to be progressive is based on this sort of ecological politics. It's rotten to the core but sounds humanistic in its anti capitalist sentiments

(hoping to write a more detailed piece on my blog)

Tom Hoffman said...

isä,

I actually deleted a paragraph addressing your basic point that countries receiving XO's are not destitute, not on the edge of starvation. But here in the US many schools don't have enough paper to get through the whole year, no musical instruments, limited art supplies, etc. So maybe I'm extrapolating a bit too much from that.

But I've got some school survey forms from Mauritania in my filing cabinet here, and they are rather different than what you'd use to describe school facilities here. I don't imagine our paperwork in the US includes a space to indicate whether or not the school has a dirt floor, for example.

A certain amount of the discussion becomes a post-colonial tarpit. I can neither say that kids in the developing world need a computer to make music, nor can I say that they do not deserve to have access to one.

If their local solutions are sufficient, great! There are plenty of other things I can worry about.

Isä said...

I don’t think giving a computer is a right solution to the problem of school lacking paper and pens. My point is that the paper and pens are already everywhere – in the corner shop – go and get them from there.

Bill Kerr said...

I apologised to Teemu, on his blog and mine , for the unsubstantiated criticisms I made earlier in this thread