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More About OLPC on 60 Minutes

The 60 Minutes piece on OLPC last night was actually pretty good although I found one big point of disagreement with Negroponte.

“You’re saying give them a laptop even if they don’t go to school?” Stahl asks.

“Especially if they don’t go to school. If they don’t go to school, this is school in a box.”

The little green machine certainly could provide some powerful communication and learning tools for kids. But the only way this project (or any one-to-one project) is going to reach it’s potential is with adult guidance.

There is no such thing as a box that can teach.

In the segment Wayne Vota of Geek Corps and the site OLPC News asked just the right question about Negroponte’s assertion.

“If you hand a child a violin or a piano they can make noise with it, right? But will they be able to make music?” Vota says. “And if you give a child a computer they’ll be able to operate the computer, but will they really be able to learn without having a teacher, whether it’s formal, informal, to help them along that learning path?”

The transcript is up on the CBS News site and you can watch the segment at Google Video.

olpc, negroponte, 60 minutes


  1. Doug Johnson

    OK, so I know it is science fiction, but Tim, you ought to read Stephenson’s The Diamond Age – his speculation about how digital book might impact a large body of disenfranchised children.

    My experience is that kids are a lot more clever than we give them credit of and many will learn given learning resources. Of course human guidance and care would be preferable.

    Are we scared to find out kids don’t need us as much as we’d like to think they do?

    I’m cheering Negroponte on. Especially after watching last night’s show. (BTW, I appreciate the heads up about it.)

  2. Stephen Downes

    I second the remark about ‘The Diamond Age’.

    More to the point…

    > There is no such thing as a box that can teach.

    Hundreds of millions of kids have no teachers. Is the assertion, then, that ‘the box’ will make no difference in their education? Surely not!

    For a kid who has no teacher, this box is the difference between getting an education and not getting an education.

    Simply saying ‘it cannot teach’ is to gravely misrepresent both the capacities of the box and the situation and the capacities of the students who use it.

  3. Sylvia Martinez

    Here’s something that’s not science fiction:

    ” Several years ago, a computer scientist, Dr. Sugata Mitra, had an idea. What would happen if he could provide poor children with free, has been linkunlimited access to computers and the Internet? Mitra launched what came to be known as the hole in the wall experiment.”


    By the way, according to Christopher Blizzard, Geek Corps is a partner of Intel, the main competition to OLPC. So it’s hardly an unbiased question.

    Christopher Blizzard is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Blizzard

  4. Tim

    Maybe Doug’s right and I’m insecure about the degree to which kids need adults for learning, but I still stand by my original thought that the box by itself, no matter how connected, is not enough to make this project successful. It must be paired with adults who can help students understand how to make the best use of the information they get.

    Stephen, I also stand by the statement that the box cannot teach. That doesn’t, however, mean that students can’t learn much through it without a teacher. I just wonder how much of that learning will actually benefit them in the long run. While we connect teaching and learning, it’s certainly possible to learn without teaching – and vice versa.

    As to “The Diamond Age”, I will have to add that to my reading list. I’ve read other things by Stephenson (Snow Crash) but not that one.

  5. Tim

    Sylvia, thanks for the information about the link between OLPC News and Intel. It’s not enough to prove conspiracy, but certainly adds some caution to reading the posts on the site.

  6. Wayan

    Ah the grand conspiracy theory again. Geekcorps works with _every_ major IT company, its our mission to get them to invest in developing countries and Blizzard’s theory only proves I’m in the blogging big leagues with OLPC News. http://www.bellybuttonwindow.com/2006/america/blogging_big_leagues.html

  7. Tim

    Without conspiracy theories what would the talking heads channels do to fill their time? :-)

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