Monday, August 04, 2008

Laptop for school kids

A recent post in ThinkChange India made me squander much of my work time into this post. But what the hell!

When the news comes out, it sure does come out in bulk! :) This is not the only laptop for education story I came across within the last week. Here is Classmate from Intel and ICT's research initiative on a computer for Rs. 400. This sure seems to be another emerging trend that will change the future forever. But is it for good or for the worse? Here is my take.

1. The three laptop initiatives put together, laptop should reach the bottom of the pyramid faster. I have my doubts about XO and classmate, but if ICT's initiative is a success, Rs.400 laptop should be affordable to anyone who is rich enough to afford school books.

2. "meant for education", probably means that it allows parents worried about the darker side of the internet such as adult content to breathe easy.

3. About "expensive laptops vs. reading, writing", I think reading and writing wouldn't suffer a loss that can't be compensated by improved creativity, skill and understanding that current book-oriented education suffers from.

The idea of bringing technology right into classroom sounds amazing, but I wonder if this initiative is taken because of a clearly identified necessity in the academia that such laptops can address (looking at it from the govt's perspective rather than OLPC or ADAG). It is one thing to use a laptop for an academic purpose and it is another to modify the academia for using a laptop! Currently, I don't see any resource that talks about this. So, while I don't see this as a definite negative, I doubt if the state cares enough to architect an educational model that includes the laptop to serve its purpose rather than model itself for using the laptop.

Another concern is, cheaper laptops is likely to translate into more laptops, quicker obsolescence and more wastes...and that with already bad waste management system and a proven slow and reactive (as against proactive) government, the future of waste management doesn't look too good. But, this may be the catalyst that pushes the govt. to do something about wastes.

On the whole, I find that the negatives such a improving the curriculum, waste management are a few things that have to be done regardless of the"laptop for education", but a computer with the purpose of making education entertaining, creative and productive would be a big leap forward at best and a small leap forward at its worst. So, Go laptop!


Goli said...

I am really not sure if you need laptop for children. To me laptop makes studies virtual, and I think till primary education, most things should be practical and done physically preferably using playgrounds and gardens. I fail to see how laptops can make education more simpler. Quality of teachers is most important.

Goli said...

Secondly I was just going through the press release and I really doubt if IISc and IITM can produce laptop for $10. I am not being pessimistic, but from prior experience of simputer, which I guess is long dead.

Badhri said...

While I don't disagree with your points on practical learning, there is still a good use for computers even for middle and high school level. There are quite a few things that may not be learnt in a practical manner. For example, how do you understand formation of clouds or photosynthesis in a practical manner? Its not hard to imagine that computers help here.

I think the right way to see it is to computerise classroom learning, rather than replacing outdoor learning by computers.

On Rs. 400 laptop, who knows? there may be valuable lessons learnt from Simputer that will help here. I am glad that the research continues

Pulkit said...

I think laptops are a waste of resources for school children of std 10 and below. Badri's point is well taken that there do exist scenarios where a multimedia presentation can comfortably outperform the conventional teaching methods. But even for that, a projector in a school suffices. My bigger argument is with where our priorities should lie. Before focusing on how best to teach advanced topics, we ought to ensure that the basics reach out to all and sundry. Else, it will be again "excellence for some", but not "justice for all".

Besides, how many of these advanced topics can be claimed to be "essential"? If one is able to show that some form of computer animations makes math easy for primary kids hailing from economically-and-educationally backward communities, it may be worth a try. But, I wouldn't vote for the use of these rather expensive techniques for stuff like cloud formation which is important but not enough.

Raj Melville said...

Teachers lack adequate training to support the existing curriculum. Adding a layer of technology – especially one that is most likely not readily found at home or at the nearest Internet cafĂ© – will only make it harder to train them. In addition, the project needs to avoid falling in to the trap where hundreds of laptops wind up as a status symbol in the hands of more affluent students in urban schools.

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