One Laptop Per Child?

I am reading more and more about that OLPC thingy. I’m asking myself, who needs this? Who has thought out this crap? In my opinion and experience as father, the last thing that a child needs is a laptop (with my definition of a child beeing <= 10 years old).Sorry folks, I don't get this. Here's my opinion on what our children really need:

  • Parents. This does not mean that they have to be the physical parents. ‘Nuff said.
  • Time to learn. Nowadays many parents seem to assume that children must learn early and everything. What is really happening is that they project the pressure that _they_ experience in life (and most likely don’t feel capable to deal with) on their children and think they do something good when the child learns to deal with it early. Sorry, there’s no good here. Overloading children only has the effect that it makes them passive. The first thing you must keep in mind is that children actually _want_ to learn. Let me give an example. I was told many times by my own parents that my son must learn walking (back when he was <1 year old) so I should teach it to him. I said, no, he first must learn how to crawl (is that the right english word?). And he learns walking himself. So, instead of taking him by the hand and pulling him (despite that he simply could not stand for himself) I let him do what he actually can do and learn own his own. And yes, he learned walking completely on his own. No need to push him. After all, this enabled him to experience himself how complicated it is to stand on two legs and to put one foot after the other. And you should have seen him how proud he was: 'Look! I am standing here. And now I am making one step after the other' Wow! What a great experience. Don't take this experience of learning themselves own away from your children!
  • Childhood. No kidding. AFAICS, god (yeah yeah) made the children so that they play. Now what good is it to hammer all kinds of knowledge and abilities into them for what they were not made? Sure, later in life they need alot of this. But you must understand that playing is how children learn living. Their play is very much like our work. In fact, it is real work for them to play. Let the children play and don’t push them in the adult world too early.

On the contrary, I think that children don’t need:

  • Floods of information and media. Personally I have banned TV and radio from our household. The only music that plays is some good records or (better yet) self-made music. We all like to sing. My son is enjoying to play his drumkit (and he’s good at that! wow) as well as singing (loudly. too loudly sometimes 😉 ) and all kinds of music. There’s no asking for TV or radio at all. I can’t stand people who say that children need TV. That’s pure bullshit. My tip if you have hyperactive kids: Throw out the TV and radio. Do it! There’s only shit coming out of it anyway, and you don’t want to load stockpiles of shit on your children, right?
  • Plastic toys. What sensual experience is plastic? None at all. It’s clean, its flat, its boring. The best thing is some real wooden sticks or some earth and water. Nothing expensive. Really. Ok, this means you have to clean the clothes a little more often. In the summer I try to let my son play naked to avoid this problem. I guess he’s coming into an age where that is not an option anymore. That’s life.
  • And certainly, kids don’t need a computer. What good is that? What should they do with that? Learn how to play with an automat? Or, learn calculating or writing with it? Sorry, the computer is by far the worst teacher or playmate that I could think of. There’s really no use for computers for children under 11 years or so. Don’t get me wrong. I DO think that our kids need to learn how to deal with computers. But they need to learn this when it’s time to learn this. When they are adolescent for example.

I can’t hear all that crap that is coming out of the ministries of education, that children have to go to school early (<=5 years) or that children need computers early (<= 5 years). It makes me sad that I get into a situation where I have to go through real efforts because I don't agree with the general opinion. I want to decide how my child grows up and I don't want some minister to decide what's good. I don't want to grow up zombie kids.

Man, I am really upset.


About Roman Kennke
JVM Hacker, Principal Software Engineer at Red Hat's OpenJDK team, Shenandoah GC project lead, Java Champion

11 Responses to One Laptop Per Child?

  1. Thomas Zander says:

    AFAIK the OLPC project is mostly meant for countries where there is no school and there is no access to studying materials.
    So instead of sending (expensive) teachers to the villages, with (also expensive) books its cheaper to give a laptop that has either the educational software installed, or has connectability to get that.
    As you said yourself; children should learn at their own pace. This hardware is just an enabler to do exactly that.

    In your ‘Dont need’ section you make it look like a computer is nothing but an OS that has a webbrowser and games. If the OLPC project was that, I’d fully agree. Useless.
    I think if you read up on the software people create for these things (including, but certainly not limited to edubuntu) you’d agree that there is a lot of learning possible using a always patient buddy.

    Of interrest; please refer to “The diamond age” which is a novel that has a great example of how technology can help a little girl in a world where her parents can’t provide the love and care you obviously have for your children.

  2. I tend to see the olpc project as providing children with essential learning tools. It is just a glorified book (or actually lots of books), plus an environment to experiment with things that the book/laptop tells you about. It gives children a new and exciting way to learn stuff, especially those that don’t have access to all the knowledge we are so accustomed to and that we would like to see shared by children in developing parts of the world. And it is a communication device, so children can more easily play with each other over larger distances. Maybe it isn’t an ideal tool for your children who have easy access to knowledge, books, schools, parents with lots of time, the choice of entertaining toys to play with when they want and easy ways to communicate with anybody everywhere when they need a friend to share ideas with. But do you really think it is crap for children in developing nations who might not have easy access to all of that yet?

  3. Mario says:

    I agree totally with you.

    The OLPC initiative has lots of interesting uses, but should be given to children when they are actually “ready” to use computers: not to soon, not to late.

    I tend to consider the OLPC more as a good way to help developing countries to get affordable and usable computers, that can be used as learning tools in schools (which was the original goal, targeting children around 11/13 or so). It is clear that this is not a solution, but an additional tool. The problem that the OLPC does not solve and need to be addressed by governments is how to “normalize” the situation so that children can have what I agree they deserve: point 1, 2 and 3 of you post.

    I wrote few articles about the OLPC, though I’m not following this subject anymore. My guess is that it is sligly misunderstood, most probably because tha same leaders of the project do not have a clear ieda of what this toy really is. And I suspect that it tries to solve things in the american way (no offence here, really), without thinking that countries that will use this tools have a completely different culture.

    When I wrote about the OLPC I was critical about the fact that the money needed to buy the laptop could be used in other projects, like water, like restoring deserted areas, or just in schools.

    But it is not as easy as it sounds… or well, maybe Groucho Marx is right: solving these problems is really so easy that a child could find the solution… We just have to find this child…

  4. Uzytkownik says:

    If I know OLPC target are countries and I don’t think our experience exactly fit their conditions. Anyway I agree that’s not probably their greatest need. I haven’t seen UI (flash is closed and gnash only sometimes works) but I heard it’s very far from most desktops – if it’s true they will have to learn a bit before work and what is the point?

  5. roman says:

    I agree that I shouldn’t compare our situation with the situation in the 3rd world. I still think that there are much more useful ways to help than dumping loads of laptops on the children.

    Maybe all this is a non issue anyway. I have no real clue about what they mean with child. For me, a child is younger than ten (approx) and I don’t believe that children at that age can properly deal with computers at all, or learn from it anything really useful. For older children, sure we can _help_ them with laptops. But that doesn’t cover what I mean with learning. Learning is not sucking in all kinds of information (what is what a computer can provide). Learning is much more. Learning is a kind of experience, something which a computer cannot provide. That said I don’t think it makes much sense to focus only on OLPC. This should only be a small part of a larger plan. Maybe it is, I have no idea. When it is, then my ranting has no point.

  6. DDD says:

    I too am mildly disappointed with what I saw with OLPC. The idea of teaching *proper* computer skills would be such a great idea (sysadmin, running web-sites, investigating and writing Open Source software).

    Then I looked at the UI they were designing; “Sugar” What a bizarre concept! It looks like a glorified PS2 console game. Is it really gong to be any use in learning how to use a real computer? Wouldn’t the kids be better off using Gnome (heck, even Windows)?

    What children need is a real computer with a full command line and compiler. This would teach computing. Playing around with substandard MS Paint clones and Instant Messaging with flashing emoticons isn’t really doing anything useful.


  7. Lillian says:

    I think I agree or disagree with you. I grew up with a computer since I was 3, and maybe thats the reason I am where I am today. But then again, 2 decades ago there was no internet (i.e. instant messaging), so my experience on the computer entailed playing with DOS; WordPerfect, Leisure Suit Larry and Frogger. I have to say growing up with a computer helped me excel in different areas, but its a different story for a child that grows up with instant messenger and all the other corrupted areas of the internet.

    OLPC is definitely a good cause. As mentioned in several other comments. Of course it would be good if these children had loving parents and access to libraries, stereos and hockey arenas… but unfortunately not the case for third world countries. OLPC gives these children the ability to connect with the rest of the world, and develop their minds without the help of money, parents and teachers that may be non-existant.

    Definitely liked reading your opinion on this situation.

  8. macewan says:

    I’ve enjoyed watching the larger tech. companies falling over themselves to ‘get involved’ with this area. The Microsoft me2 factor is rather funny.

  9. Bill Kerr says:

    The notion that young, poor children even when unsupervised can’t get good value from a computer is challenged by the Indian hole in the wall experiment

    “An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens…”

    “What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him”

    The sugarUI is not an inferior UI but a well thought out design by alan kay , the man who invented the GUI and Smalltalk programming language

    I teach students from Africa (eg. Sudanese) who have survived massacres of their families, walked out to Kenya, spent years in refugee camps and now live in Australia. Guess what? They are disadvantaged by their poor computing skills. I’m annoyed at the people here who want to keep it that way

  10. Pingback: This note’s for you » One Laptop Per Child revisited

  11. Bill Kerr says:

    “That means reasonable and sustainable pedagogic concepts that are tailored to these children in these countries. If there’s documents about this please point me to them, I am really interested”

    well known educational theorists seymour papert and alan kay are both heavily involved with OLPC and have both given talks and interviews about their educational ideas in this connection

    seymour papert interview

    alan kay

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