Teemu Leinonen posted on Monday at FLOSSE Posse both an acknowledgment and a critique to the One Laptop per Child project: Thank you OLPC – Maybe now we may start to talk about education again.
While I’m no unconditional defender of the OLPC initiative — i.e. there are things I like, things I don’t, so I still don’t have a strong position for or against — I believe there are some statements Leinonen makes in his post that, IMHO, are not absolutely fair with the project.
I share most of his arguments but I don’t agree with some of them:
On one hand, I don’t think the project pretends that children “own” (in the sense of exclusive ownership he talks about) a computer. I honestly think is a matter of identifying the main user. Actually, the reason — I guess — behind giving the child a laptop and not giving it to the school is so he can take it home. By doing this, it is the whole family that receives the computer, and not only the child, so there is — at least potentially — a multiplier effect. Considering that the project is intended to serve mainly rural, isolated areas, providing a household with such a tool makes sense to me. I personally find the point that
in general children do not own things quite excessive.
A second derivative (critique) of assigning not an institution but an individual — the child — the computer is that it goes against all values that foster sharing, community building and so. I would fully agree with such a critique if the XO computer had not a strong bet on mesh networking. I absolutely believe this does make a difference. By mesh networking sharing is boosted to the maximum — at least potentially, of course — and what could be seen as an individual tool becomes a networking node with many implications, including educational implications in both the field of knowledge and values.
Thus, the knowledge exchange that can take place in such an open and collaborative network is only enhanced by the huge amount of content embedded in the computer by default. Besides the fact that, as the software, this content can be localized — and this is a (soft) countercritique to the project’s (supposed lack of) sensibility towards different cultures and traditions — by bringing such content home, at least two things happen: the first one, as stated before, the whole family benefits from having that laptop home and not at the school; the second one is that that content stays with the student. If this student lives away from the school and spends there little time — specially compared to developed countries — it is not trivial that the more time he has access to content, the better. And just a remainder: if he is connected with other students wirelessly, the sense of “classroom” still exists, even if virtual.
There’s a last statement on Leinonen’s article that caught me by surprise and might be due to my ignorance on the project:
the OLPC seems to believe that learning programming is the key to all other learning. I must confess it’s the first time I read this argument. If it were true, I’d be sharing most of the criticism around it. Nevertheless, I’d rather add some clarifications about this issue. Regardless if coding is a key issue in one’s education, digital literacy absolutely is. And besides my own thoughts on how literacy will evolve in the future closely tied to digital literacy until they both become “just” literacy, evidence shows that skilled individuals — and this includes by large digital literacy — will have it much better to work and socialize in a Network Society. Just in economic terms, employability and productivity will rely very much in digital skills in a world where ICT-based services will be the locomotive of development, above all in emerging economies.
I want to insist that I share and find most of Leinonen’s critiques really relevant, but I also believe that most of the buzz around the One Laptop per Child project has taken place in geek environments, thus shifting the debate towards technological aspects, and hence infringing a technological bias to the project that, in its origin — and this is my own, personal opinion — the project had not.
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2008) “Thank you OLPC, indeed — a comment to Teemu Leinonen” In ICTlogy,
#52, January 2008. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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