OLPC’s & NSW Netbooks

The BBC posted a video clip from one of their roving technology reports. The reporter Rory Cellan-Jones is visiting a school in Kigali, Rwanda.  The school has 3000 pupils and the students all have OLPC’s .

The clip shows the students engaged in various actvities using their OLPC’s as the report wanders around. Its great to see and it raises a number of questions/statements for me.

  1. Why are we not seeing more of this? I would love to see more examples of OLPC’s being integrated into schools. The OLPC site has a link to countries with the programme embedded – its a google map. If you look at the list of countries utilising this its not that extensive. They include: Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, haiti Rwanda, Afganistan, Nepal & ethiopia and some others – there are (excluding the USA) 27 countries.
  2. While many third world countries are unable to provide such facilities and rely on charity, why are we not seeing more 1st world nations embedding portable technology programs?
  3. Some people are adopting these programs and on a wide scale – New South Wales announced its Netbook program.  200,000 units to every year 9 student in the state. WOW! This is a great start, but I started to read some of the fine print on this and I did have concerns with the hardware spec and the software pack. A Netbook with 1Gb Ram Running MS Office and The Adobe CS4 suite. These are serious software packages. This raises the questions for me about suitability. With my students I teach them to design products that are
  • suitable for the audience
  • suitable for the purpose

Is the hardware they have selected suitable for the software they have choosen? Don’t get me wrong on this. I am very pleased that NSW has taken this step!. Each product is a winner in its own right, but I wonder if its abit like giving the kids a single lane mountainbike track (a netbook) and providing them with a high performance road racing bike (The software). The two seem mismatched.

4. Another NSW Question.  What were the educational goals and objectives defined for this program and how did the Netbook  with this software load match these drivers? I would hate to see a paradigm breaking program like this damaged by technical barriers.

The two strands of this post are tied together really with this question of suitability for audience and purpose. In both the OLPC and NSW Netbooks there is a need that is being met or attempting to be met. Each component is in its own right educationally powerful, enabling, transformative and useful. But I do wonder about the selections being made. With the OLPC the software is selected and deployed with a focus on cost and functionality. With the NSW netbook, the software selected is not, I believe well matched to the hardware platform. I would hate to try Photoshoping an image on a netbook with only 1Gb of ram or working with multiple documents and embedded images and media. or…

Using this software, students will be able to create videos, edit photos and make presentations for class assignments and projects,” Rees said. “Students and teachers will also be able to set up video conferencing and collaborate on assignments using the built in Web cameras and software within the department’s secure network.”  Source: http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/297696/nsw_education_drops_150m_267_000_school_notebooks

I have to say OLPC gets a tick the netbook with Office and CS4 gets a X. Each in their own right is good but together…well….