When we set out to donate Android Tablets to a remote village school in Nepal it was never intended to be a SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environment) setup, in part, because the School that we are supporting was setup in a traditional manner with teachers, classrooms etc.
That said, even with teachers present, the power of child-driven learning was clearly evident within just minutes of us passing out the tablets. My son had dutifully prepared a little step-by-step instruction assuming (correctly) that none of these Nepalese children in a remote village up in the mountains had ever seen such a tablet before and would therefore have difficulty using them. Many of the students don’t have electricity at home, let alone own any kind of digital device.
What actually happened was that instead of being a “child lecturer” educating novices on the use of a technologically sophisticated device, my son ended up being more of an agile facilitator, a sort of sysadmin, stepping in when something appeared broken. This arrangement worked beautifully. In under 5 minutes an entire classroom of children, whose command of English was very poor (and my son speaks no Nepalese), were exploring their Android tablet, in some cases opening up new pre-installed educational apps, in other cases racking up high scores and 3 stars in Alphabet Car. It looked like the students could continue playing, engaging and learning from the tablets without adult supervision as competently as children in the developed world who are accustomed to regular tablet use.
What was also fascinating was that small groups formed around those who picked up the devices before others; these “early adopters” began educating those around them on the use of the devices and teaching them how to do so, in their native tongue. While it wasn’t quite like Dr. Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall the effect was startlingly similar in that children began teaching and discovering all by themselves.
I plan to write more about this later but here are just a few thoughts:
1. Giving children a tablet is the way to go, especially in underdeveloped areas. I’m not sure there is a need for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) to cover that role given the excellent and affordable alternatives out there; it just seems productive to skip the laptop and go straight for the tablet instead. A tablet is also very portable and can be used anywhere and in an environment were a steady and reliable flow of electricity is a challenge; light and portable battery operated devices are ideal.
2. I believe the devices ought to be “open” (i.e. programmable/hackable/tinkerable) and that good quality color screens are important. As such I think Android is a great OS for this purpose, with many affordable options in its stable.
3. As a classroom model, consider giving tablets to share rather than one to each child; this could more opportunities for collaboration and teaching via peers rather than a figure of authority (i.e., teacher). Unlike a desktop PC, a tablet is ideal because they are multi-touch and naturally collaborative – and there are plenty of free apps that take advantage of that.
The tablets we donated were Android PIPO U1 models, which, for the geeks out there is a Dual-Core 1.6Ghz running Android 4.1 on a 7” IPS 1280×800 screen, Wifi, Bluetooth and 16GB of onboard RAM with micro-SD Card expansion slot.
More details of the Tablet donations available over at the Outblaze blog.