The key to learning, Negroponte’s fellow panelists agreed, is to engage children rather than simply talk at them.
Smart phones, tablets and video game systems are often seen as distractions to school children in developed countries, which tend to adhere to a strict teacher-student educational model. At Technology Review‘s Emerging Technologies (EmTech) conference here on October 25, a panel of technologists and educators posited that it’s time to embrace students’ use of such technologies and rethink learning in both developed and developing countries.
“The issue isn’t education or schools—it’s learning,” panelist Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman emeritus of M.I.T.’s Media Lab and the chairman of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation, said. “The fork in the road is the difference between knowing and understanding. We test people on what they know, but they might not understand a thing.”
Not a new argument, but Negroponte’s approach to resolving it has been novel. Although OLPC’s efforts to put low-cost computers in the hands of underprivileged students has met with varying degrees of success, his latest focus is on what he says are the 100 million children worldwide without access to any formal education. While it’s impractical for a single organization to try to build schools for all of these children living in remote areas across the globe, an alternative might be giving these children tools and technology they can use to teach themselves, one another and their parents.
To test this, OLPC in April delivered boxes containing more than a dozen tablet computers loaded with books, games and other apps—in English—to an isolated village in the Ethiopian highlands. No instructions were given to the village children regarding what was in the boxes or what to do with them. The villagers have no reading or writing skills, nor have many of them ever seen so much as a written word, not even on a sign or bottle, Negroponte said. “I thought they’d [just] play with the boxes,” he added.
Instead, within four minutes the village children had opened the boxes and learned how to turn on the tablets, he said. Within a few months they had learned the A, B, Cs and were singing the alphabet song in English.
The question now is whether those Ethiopian children learn to read and write in English, and how quickly they might do it, Negroponte said. This is critical because “if you can learn to read, you can read to learn. If they can do that it [could] not only impact the 100 million kids who can’t go to school but might also help us understand how to help the educational system here,” he added.
The key to learning, Negroponte’s fellow panelists agreed, is to engage children rather than simply talk at them. And one of the most effective ways of doing this is through play.
via Scientific American – Larry Greenemeier
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