One of the main reasons for the February East Timor trip was to assist the Seaton OLPC group investigate a possible OLPC pilot later this year. Here are some thoughts based on my experiences with the OLPC in East Timor:
- Everyone we met who saw and played the XO’s (teachers, students of all ages) “got it” – they worked out how to drive the laptops quickly and could see great benefit to Timor. Their eyes lit up with the possibilities!
- Education is generally of a poor standard, is non-compulsory and it not widely encouraged by parents. If students don’t want to go, they don’t go and no one really cares. However education would greatly benefit Timor and help resolve some of the nasty social and violence problems lurking under the surface (75% unemployment, afternoon drunkenness of teenagers, teenage pregnancy and resulting high birth rate).
- School is boring in Timor. It is taught in Portuguese (to students whose native language is Tetun) with inadequate books (not enough and poor quality) via rote learning. XOs would make it fun.
- I have no doubt teachers and students alike would quickly come up to speed with XOs. Where we need to work is on integrating the XO into teaching – for example lesson plans for the next 6 months that can be agreed upon with the teachers.
- Cultural: There is a family pecking order in society of Father-Mother-then children in descending age order. For example Dad eats first and young children get whats left over. This means if an XO is taken home, a child’s bigger brother will be within his rights to grab it for himself. This may be a good thing (spreading laptop usage around the family) as long as it makes it back to school. Will the XO be valued and cared for in the home? Possibly – it may be viewed as a status symbol like satellite TV or a mobile phone. Status is big there – a person with no income will have a mobile phone. They will sleep on a dirt floor, have no proper kitchen or toilet but have satellite TV – a big dish standing next to a Gilligan’s Island type hut made of palm leaves.
- I have no doubt that introducing these laptops to classrooms will be very beneficial to students and teachers alike. The XO will literally change the course of the lives it touches. We should work together to make a pilot deployment happen ASAP.