Providing Lesotho's Children with Keys to the World

This is the story of our efforts to end the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, inadequate education, and early death
in a remote rural community in Lesotho, Africa, by providing quality education and life skills
to the young children there. Join us on our journey ...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Discussion of Ethiopian OLPC Study - "Write" is Favorite Activity

In a previous post, I mentioned a study done  by the University of Groningen of a small Ethiopian OLPC project, published in 2009, called  Does Technology Drive Social Change? 

One finding the study reported was that the children's favorite activity, by far, was Write. Other favorite activities that scored much lower (3-13%) were Record, Paint, Game, Calculate, Chat, and Memory. The study's authors concluded that, because writing was the most favored activity, the laptops are "a learning device!"  (exclamation point theirs).

The usefulness of this data is limited because the study only reports "favorite activity," not the amount of time each activity was actually used. It is hard to tease meaningful information out of this.

Keeping in mind the limited information we have, I draw a different conclusion.  To me, their finding says that the laptops are being used as glorified pencil and paper

Granted, writing is a great educational activity, but laptops aren't necessary for children to write.  There are much less expensive, even free, options available for that.  In Lesotho, writing is a skill that students master in the traditional classroom without computers.

What I want to see in the results from studies like this is a much higher percentage of other XO laptop activities being used, activities that aren't otherwise available and which develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

I'd especially like to see children say their favorite activity is something otherwise not available to them, like:
  • Browse - which means the children are searching out information,
  • eToys, Turtle Art, and Scratch - which develop advanced thought processes,
  • Write used in conjunction with other activities like Paint and Record - which means the children are performing more complex tasks,
  • Tam Tam - which stimulates creativity and abstract thinking,
  • TuxMath - because math is a skill not adequately acquired in the standard classroom (in Lesotho anyway), and
  • even games like Maze and Implode - which require conceptualization and planning.
One of L2L's primary objectives is to teach children advanced cognitive skills.  That is the key advantage we see in using the XO laptops. 

I can hardly wait to see what we find out about our project after we conduct our own evaluation.  Early on, I'm guessing we will see results very similar to the Ethiopian study, except maybe with Record getting a higher percentage.  Hopefully though, as time goes by and we continue to work with teachers and students, we will see more complex activities like Scratch (my favorite) score the highest.  When that happens, I'll know we have succeeded.

-- Janissa



  1. I can only guess what happened. But if the kids did not get enough instruction to know what the other activities were for (teacher training or event a video about it), I dont know how they could open calculator or record and 'just figure out' how this can be used or what cognative skills it would help. If the teachers didn't get any training apart from how to open the laptop, that is the result I'd expect. I dont know what plans the pilot had, if they had any resources for training, what the teachers were taught or a million other things.

    1. Well from our experience in the field we know that kids actually can open and learn how to use an Activity on their own. What they cannot naturally learn is how to apply such tool into their daily lives making the learning process visible. Cognitive skills like autonomous learning and creativity can be driven by such dynamics but given that it's not a formal environment the results are informal too.
      We have found too that teachers need a substantial training in order to run adequately the program and be able to provide sustainability through local capacity. I'm sure L2L is aware and will implement such strategies

  2. It would be good to know the answers to that.

    The One Laptop Per Child philosophy is that children will teach themselves how to use the computer and will learn all on their own without instruction or teachers. Digital Doorways have shown this to work well.

    From my experience, I would say children in Lesotho may learn to use a few things on the computer, but they will not use the more advanced programs or learn higher cognitive skills. We don't have internet access, so maybe given internet, they would learn more on their own.

    L2L puts a lot of time and energy into recurring training for teachers and children to learn to use the computers to their full potential. It would be very interesting to compare one of the smaller OLPC projects with ours.

    - Janissa


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