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OLPC XO Last in Comparative Survey at Rhodes University

This may be of moderate interest to some. Constance Sibanda, a honours student at Rhodes University's Computer Science Department published a comparative study on three netbooks.

The OLPC performed the worst of all of them. The author says because it was tested with older children. In the conclusion she makes the following comments:
"Participants found the OLPC XO the least intuitive for secondary school educational purposes. They felt that this netbook is better suited for small children. None of the participants were interested in buying this netbook and the teachers did not recommend the learners buy it. Arguably, this recommendation would extend to the South African Department of Education with regards to secondary school learners. Some difficulties expressed by users were that the cursor got “stuck” and participants found it difficult to familiarise themselves with the operating system interface. The first impression of the participants when they saw the OLPC was that it was a children’s toy and they were reluctant to use it."
Exactly this final comment is what allows the Kliptown Youth Project to send children home in the dangerous township of Kliptown / Soweto with their XOs every day. Children are not molested, because no one realizes the value of the tool they are carrying.

A further criticism not enunciated quite as clearly by the Ms Sibanda is that teachers in the schools generally endorse and prefer Windows on their hardware. They feel that this is the best option. Especially power users, the ones who might help with first level support at a school, are sceptical of Linux. Furher, many teachers have completed courses, which predominantly teach on Windows and MS Office basis. Teachers do not in general want to be challenged in the ICT space. They feel their productivity is assisted by staying on their known course. Viruses, costs and alternative methods do not seem to factor into their consciousness.

Anyone who knows the sugar interface, knows that it is revolutionary. As a Mac user, I am used to different ways of thinking and new productivity tools. The sugar interface is however a real challenge, and as such it often does not meet with the approval of the school directors. This observation, which is founded in my experience with about a dozen schools serving disadvantaged populations, is linked to the idea that many modern methodologies (like OBE -- Outcomes Based Education) can only thrive if there is a critical mass of knowledge already present in the population using the method. Otherwise they fail. Going into any situation, you have to play to the strengths of the group you are dealing with, before you challenge them. This is something that is difficult to do using boilerplate (i.e. templates, or prefabricated, mass production methods).

Can the promise of modern education, based on innovative insight, logical reasoning and freedom of thought, be realised in Africa?

(Read the entire thesis: http://www.cs.ru.ac.za/research/g09s2432/)

Posted: March 3rd 2010 07:52
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