The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative is a good one, but it definitely raises some red flags for me. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but the idea of a child’s primary education coming from a computer bugs me. But, it’s not even as if these computer skills gained will be transferrable to other Windows, Mac, etc. computers. The XO’s linux based operating system is one that only trains one how to use an XO. On top of that, the XO is tethered in a way that would allow for the complete shutdown of the laptop from a remote location. The criminally deterrent ramifications of this are an obvious plus, however, that comes with a downside as well. Any information, books or otherwise, that a student may have saved on that device could be easily destroyed. I don’t know about you, but the idea of my favorite, thoroughly highlighted and annotated book potentially bursting into flames one day is unsettling. The situation with stored data on the XO is much the same.
The main problem with this idea is that it presents a “cyberized” education as a child’s first education. I make this distinction, because I think the utilization of technology in learning is a very good idea. A shining example of this is Sal Kahn’s online academy. He posts video mini-lectures on many educational disciplines and posts them online for all to see. His idea overcomes barriers of distance and communication that would otherwise be insurmountable without technology. However, the key thing that makes his method ok is the fact that the people utilizing it already have at least some form of education. Their entire conception of learning isn’t going to be shaped and centered around his online videos. The XO, however, gives first time learners a basis for understanding material that will be all but useless when applied to most real-world environment. The benefits of using an XO immediately disappear when you try the laptop’s methods with a book or even another laptop with a more mainstream OS.
Overall, I applaud the effort, but the OLPC idea is simply too much too soon. If the method is tried once the children have an educational foundation rooted in something useful outside the XO community, then I will support it. Until then, I say that we stick to the good old bound paperback.