One Laptop Per Child: An experiment with library connections, by Anne Hicks

One Laptop Per Child is a non-profit organization whose stated goal is to “empower the world’s poorest children through education.” They provide children with durable and low cost laptops in the hopes that they will be engaged in their own education and will benefit from self-promoted learning.

OLPC is currently in the midst of a two year experiment in which they have given 40 tablets to the children of two remote Ethiopian villages. The research experiment, titled the Reading Project, looks to see how the children will learn solely through the use of the tablets. With no access to qualified teachers, the hope is that these illiterate children (all of whom have had no exposure to the written word) will gain literacy skills through self-directed exploration of the tablets.

Each device is preloaded with literacy themed apps, eBooks, and educational games. The adults in the village were taught how to recharge the tablets using a solar powered charging system. Once a week technicians return to the village to exchange memory cards that allow the researchers to track how the devices have been used.

At MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Conference held in October of 2012, OLPC’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte provided some early results:

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.”

Let me remind you that these children had never even seen print before. Ever. Now they are spelling!

The study is ongoing and Negroponte himself says it’s too early to tell if the children will actually be able to teach themselves how to read. It is promising that in a part of the world where children do not have access to schooling, they are able to gain valuable literacy skills.

How does this relate to what we do as Children’s Librarians? Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we recommend parents and caregivers just hand a child an iPad and expect it to instill a love of reading. I believe that the OLPC experiment demonstrates that tablets can be powerful tools for promoting literacy. Imagine how much more powerful they would be with a librarian recommending high quality apps and eBooks and demonstrating how best to use these devices with children. We should feel inspired by these new possibilities, not scared of them.

Curious to see some video of the children using their devices?

To read more about the Reading Project, visit MIT Technology Review and the OLPC blog.

For some ideas on how to incorporate apps into your storytimes, visit my blog Anne’s Library Life.

Anne Hicks
Children’s Librarian
Henrietta Public Library
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About Amy Koester

I'm a youth services librarian with a penchant for exciting ideas and engaging programs. It's a sure bet that if you talk to me about STEAM, whimsy, and trying new things, we'll be best friends forever.

Posted on July 1, 2013, in Literacy, Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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