Posted: March 11th, 2012 by Michele Borba
Did you know that over one billion children in the world never will receive an education—walk in a classroom door—learn their ABC’s or even basic counting and math skills–unless something drastic is done to improve their lives?
We know that the best hope for improving children’s futures is education, but building classrooms, hiring teachers, or providing school supplies is unrealistic when basic human needs like clean water, nutrition, health care, and clothing are missing. But there is an answer to ending the poverty cycle and improving children’s lives: it’s the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.
The OLPC XO laptop is quite special. It’s made from durable plastic so it can withstand tough weather conditions (think Africa or the Sahara Desert), is childproof, even looks like a toy and has instant connectivity. It comes fully equipped with curriculum in a child’s native language (29 languages and counting now).
The XO retails for $185, is designed by some of the world’s most brilliant minds at MIT Media Lab and developed based on sound theory that supports how kids learn best. And I recently had the thrill of witnessing hundreds of Nicaraguan children’s lives be transformed as they were each handed their own XO laptop.
OLPC in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is one of the largest countries in Latin America and one of the most impoverished in the western hemisphere. One in three Nicaraguan children are chronically malnourished. Parents
struggle to feed their children, provide for their families and simply survive. But thanks to a private alliance done by the Zamora-Teran Foundation (created by an extraordinary husband and wife, Roberto Zamora and MaryJo Teran) many Nicaraguan kids’ lives are now brighter.
Last week the foundation delivered 5000 XO laptops to children on the remote Nicaraguan island of Ometepe.
The group and I traveled via plane, bus and ferry to witness the occasion
which looked like a mini-United Nations representing Germany, Argentina, Italy, Colombia, Denmark, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Bosnia, South Korea, Belgium, India and the U.S. We were teachers, bankers, doctors, writers, embassy representatives, lawyers, and businessmen, but we all shared a commonality knowing that something immensely significant was about to happen on that Island, and could feel it the moment we walked onto a huge field.
Hundreds of school children-impeccably dressed in their navy and white uniforms-sat in the middle of the field with their teachers. Dignitaries and special guests sat on a stage. Then the Nicaraguan national anthem was played, a blessing followed and then the moment: each child on that field was presented with an XO laptop and the crowd went wild with cheers and tears. Every student in primary education who was once completely isolated from the world now had permanent access to the Internet, and we knew five thousand more kids would receive an education and the potential for a better life.
The Zamora-Teran Foundation’s goal is fundraise to reach 400,000 XOs, which would mean full saturation for all primary school Nicaraguan children. Just imagine!
The Impact of XO Laptops on Children
The first delivery of XO laptops to Nicaragua was in 2009, and the impact is already evident. Statistics show a 40% reduction in drop-outs, a decrease in retention and in violence. Best yet, parents are starting to come to the schools to be involved in their children’s learning, and the teachers recognize those laptops are affecting their teaching!
The following day I visited a small rural primary school (San Francisco de Asís) outside of Managua using XO laptops since November 2010. There is now full OLPC school saturation. Positive changes are clearly apparent: the parents are more involved in their children’s education; there has been a high increase in school registration; and student learning is increasing, and here’s why.
The teachers were all trained by OLPC and continue with monthly staff development training.
Each computer is equipped with grade-level texts including natural science, geography, geometry, Nicaraguan history and culture, a dictionary, and Wikipedia, books (“Mine has Harry Potter!” one boy exclaimed), as well as programs that encourage children’s creativity, music and art. Teachers report that students are now far more engaged in learning. Parents say their kids are using the computers to continue learning at home.
Over the next hours I observed various teaching lessons using the XOs. Sixth graders working in base teams to learn how to mind-map different types of calendars (Mayan, Greco, Julian). Third graders paired with partners to identify bird species. First graders were learning how to use the XO drawing program and discovering beginning programming skills. Fourth graders were mentoring younger students who needed “catching up” on computer skills. Students were engaged and excited about their learning.
What the Children and Teachers Say About OLPC
I also spent time interviewing students and teachers throughout the day and learned much from them.
Nidia Raquel Morales Alvarez, a long name for a precocious ten-year old, told me that her computer has “greatly advanced my learning.” When I probed for details she explained: “Yesterday I learned about industrial agriculture. Tomorrow I’ll be giving a presentation in my classroom about farming techniques.” She added that her favorite laptop activity at home is doing research on Wikipedia. Her goal, she said, is to become an engineer. I have no doubt that she will.
Seven-year old Lidia, told me that her XO is helping her learn as well as her family. Her mother and father now know how to use the computer, because Lidia is teaching them. “All kids should have a computer like me, so they can learn,” she said adamantly.
But what was especially evident was that great commodity known as “teacher pride.” Teachers were aware that something wonderful was happening in their classrooms that was affecting their teaching. But they also saw a change in their students: the kids were excited about learning.
Gloria, a sixth grade teacher, was exuberant about the OLPC project. “I’ve taught for twenty years,” she said, “but I’ve never seen anything that has helped my students or my own teaching better than the laptops. In just one week, the children learned not only how to use them, but how to teach themselves. They’re now teaching me!”
The veteran teacher also described how she incorporated the laptops into a recycling project. “Across the street is a huge garbage disposal – trash is everywhere,” Gloria explained. “I had my students use their computers to research the dangers environmental pollution, and how to recycle. Students brought in plastic bottles from the garbage bin and made art projects from them,” she explained. Gloria proudly showed me the students’ recycle art efforts. The child who won “first prize” created an entire outfit using plastic bottles from that garbage bin. “You can’t believe how these laptops have changed my teaching!” she added.
But I didn’t need persuading. Watching the children and teachers had convinced me that the XO laptops were having a profound educational as well as personal impact.
For Many Kids “Hope” Comes in a Laptop
As I left the school I passed one last classroom—all precious three and four year olds who were standing by a gated door–to ensure their safety-waiting to say goodbye. As I knelt to give them hugs, the teacher explained that all those little sweet ones were abandoned–given up by their parents who could not support them. Community members and teachers were helping to raise them by bringing them food and clothes. I stood in disbelief with my heart in my throat trying to compose myself.
The teacher saw my pain, and put her arm around me. And then she leaned in and whispered: “I know, I know. But don’t worry, she said. “Next year each one of them will get their own laptop, and they’ll have hope for a better life, too.”
Oh, how right she was. The One Laptop Per Child project really is hope for kids.
©2012 Provided by http://www.micheleborba