OLPC’s underlying premise is that the large scale distribution of Information and Communication Technology among the less privileged will tackle problems of accessibility to computers and simultaneously improve IT literacy rates. OLPC thus links access with use and practice, relying on models of self directed learning.
|OLPC love. (Image: CC by laihiu.)|
The project has been welcomed by various NGOs and HE institutions. However, it has also attracted its fair share of controversy. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the OLPC project, takes the principle of self-directed learning to its logical extreme. Much to the consternation of some teachers and educational researchers, he has boldly summed up the association between ICT access and use with the phrase “you can give kids XO laptops and just walk away”.
From Negroponte's point of view, the availability of ML resources alone is enough to encourage the development of valuable learning skills among children. These skills, in turn, will have a positive impact on interrelated socio-economic factors, reducing multiple forms of deprivation such as poverty, social exclusion and illiteracy, not just among the children but also within their broader community.
From the point of view of many teachers and educational researchers, Negroponte's model (which has been dubbed "drive-by learning") is deeply flawed. Efficient learning skills are unlikely to materialize out of thin air just because the right set of tools are placed in front of the student. A laptop is a great tool in the classroom, but a poor substitute for a teacher. Some OLPC insiders have recently joined the sceptics by putting a big question mark over the drive-by approach as a result of a damning assessment of failures in the project's implementation across Peru.
The OLPC project is an inspirational and ambitious attempt to reduce the global digital divide and bring socio-economic advantages to deprived communities. The world needs more projects like OLPC, but we also need to work harder to ensure that their underlying pedagogical principles are right.