What’s better for a poor kid than a teacher and a tablet computer? A tablet without the teacher.

What do you do about 100 million would-be first-graders world-wide with no access to schools? Give ’em a tablet computer and let them learn on their own:

With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages – simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens.

The goal: to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.

Early observations are encouraging, said Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC’s founder, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.


After several months, the kids in both villages were still heavily engaged in using and recharging the machines, and had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”


Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”


Giving computers directly to poor kids without any instruction is even more ambitious than OLPC’s earlier pushes. “What can we do for these 100 million kids around the world who don’t go to school?” McNierney said. “Can we give them tools to read and learn — without having to provide schools and teachers and textbooks and all that?”

The human mind is a thing of wonder, a race-horse weighed down the world over by in-born ignorance and carefully-indoctrinated stupidity. Children don’t need teachers and schools, they just need a way to explore a world larger than the one they see around them every day. Simple tools like Wikipedia and the Khan Academy will cultivate a billion new geniuses in the next two decades.

(Hat tip: Kurzweil.)

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  • My sister and I learned to read early, by being exposed to books, literature and adult conversation. That was the late 1940’s and early 50s. “School” was a distraction and I most heartily wish we could have stayed at home…

    My sons learned the same way 20 years later. The eldest would sit with the National Geographic magazine from about age three and demand someone read the descriptions of the pictures. It wasn’t very long before he was able to do so for himself.

    Doesn’t require laptops, though I’m sure that’s very nice. Just requires freedom…