Plinius

Monday, December 7, 2009

PL 69/09: Appropriate learning and teaching

Filed under: education — plinius @ 12:10 am

By 2012, the Rwandan government wants every child between 9 and 13 to have a portable computer.

Each machine should have “an internet or intranet connection to download free educational software and electronic books“, explains the latest issue of The Economist (Upgrading the children, Dec. 5-11, p. 42). The program would cover 1.3 million kids – and the aim is to include the six-to-eight year olds by 2015.

They will start with one hundred thousand laptops bought from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) – the charity headed by Nicholas Negroponte. Older digerati – a nicer word for nerd – remember him as author of Being Digital and head of the MIT Media Lab.

– By 2012 the Rwandans want to be supplied with more advanced laptops that OLPC is developing. These will be made from a single piece of plastic.

  • They will be waterproof, harder to break, have colour screens, yet could cost as little as £75 each. …
  • Schoolbooks, textbooks and applications would be stored in them, with screens designed to be readable in bright sunshine and to use minimal power in huts without electricity at night. …
  • Software will eventually have to be written to link computers to omnipresent mobile phoenes.

I am writing this on a small and cheap ASUS – the best current price is about $250 – ten kilometers above Northern Germany – with the free word processing system offered by Google Docs.

I’m on my way to a meeting at IFLA, to plan a training program for libraries worldwide, with a dozen experts from the sector. The group includes librarians from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin and North America.

I use Google Gears, which means that all my text documents are stored on the computer and on the web at the same time. The nest time I access the web, at hotel IBIS in the Hague, Google Gears will synchronize my local documents with my documents stored on the web. I can share the web documents with specific people – identified by their e-mail addresses – and also define different levels of access: reading rights only or shared editing – or publish it for the whole wide world.

International education goes back to the Middle Ages, when Bologna, Montpellier and Paris were European centers og legal, medical and philosophical studies, respectively.  In the past I have had the good opportunity to teach in a variety of settings: a university in Mexico City, a professional college next to Kilimanjaro, a  Buddhist temple near Bangkok.

But the IFLA meeting – and the news from Rwanda – are signals that something fundamental is happening in global education. Cheap computers, free software, integrated on- and off-line acces: this is appropriate educational technology for the early 21st century. The next step is to explore appropriate ways of teaching, learning and educational design with the new technology.

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