Today I received three more XOs and had a great opportunity to meet more OLPC/Sugar-minded folks. Nine of us came to the OLPC office to hear Beth Santos speak about her OLPC deployment in Africa. Long story short, last summer 31 teams of students from all over the world participated in the OLPCorps initiative. Each team of students was given 100 XO laptops and $10,000 to start their deployments in Africa.
One team from the University of Illinois went to São Tomé, a island just off the cost of Gabon, and brought their 100 XOs to the middle school of São João. You can learn more about their experience from Mike Stern’s blog at http://xomike.blogspot.com/
They installed the server and trained the teachers at the school how to use XOs. After they left in the beginning of August 2009, all learning activities with XOs were put on hold and computers were locked up. But with help of Step Up, a non profit organization http://www.stepup.st/, Beth showed up as a volunteer in São Tomé in October 2009. She started Saturday classes to teach kids Sugar activities on XOs. More about her work is on http://bethstepsup.blogspot.com/
It was interesting to learn about challenges of that deployment and about general perception of education in São Tomé. Thanks to Adam for taking great meeting notes: http://meeting.olpcorps.net/olpc-meeting/olpc-meeting.log.20091230_1828.html
Full presentation in pdf is here http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Image:Olpc-in-sao-joao–sao-tome.pdf
The questions are: If children do not go to college after school and there are no technology related jobs in the country, what is the educational goal for children? And what is XO/Sugar role in particular? Is it to help children read and access great digital books? Or to develop special skills to help them become writers, musicians, painters, etc? Could those skills be used in business - arts and crafts, local newspaper, photostudio? Is the goal to connect children with the outside world? Or just help kids discover the world of games, and simply make their childhood happier? Is it a temporary tool for self improvement and development or is it long lasting?
What if those kids only have access to the computers for one year, but they will never see/use computers ever again in their lives? How will that experience of owning a computer for one year will impact their life for better?
From Beth’s presentation I learned for sure that kids love their XOs! And they are eager to learn.
I visited my neighbor’s cat Bam Bam today. Everytime he sees me he keeps meowing, as if trying to say: “Where have you been? I need more affection and your presence!” And after I play with him, pat him, hold him in my hands, he still wants more. And I wonder if there is a limit to his desire to receive affection. I doubt there is a point at which he doesn’t need it anymore.
Perhaps, it is the same with people’s desire to learn and discover new things, to receive knowledge. In São Tomé XOs brightened children’s world, put smiles on their faces and made them proud as every new piece of knowledge is a personal achievement, growth and progress.
There is no limit to curiousity and desire to learn. And how children are going to use that knowledge in life is up to them.