One Ecosystem Per Child: Walter Bender and OLPC Reunite to Enhance Learning and Grow Economies in Developing Nations
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thing OLPC believes it can offer that most computer makers cannot—or do not—is a more systemic approach to computers and education. Beyond just getting laptops into the hands of kids, OLPC is really about using the machines for learning, and helping to create a software development community around the machines that will help sustain and grow local, regional, and even national economies.
This is the original vision of OLPC, and one of Bender’s biggest criticisms of the organization when he split with it two and a half years ago was that it had wandered away from its disruptive roots. When Bender spoke with Wade at the time, he cited a statement made by Negroponte that OLPC was going to stop acting like a terrorist group and start emulating Microsoft. “If you read between the lines, the idea is to stop trying to be disruptive and to start trying to make things comfortable for decision-makers,” Bender said then.
Bender said he planned to continue development of Sugar and grow it to other platforms beyond the XO—something he did a few weeks later by setting up Sugar Labs. In the case of OLPC, he said his own goal had two parts. One part was centered on continuing the momentum around the project. “But there’s a second piece to it, and that is, how do you actually support this in the field,” he told Wade. “That’s fundamentally a social problem, and how you solve it is an enormous challenge and one that I’m really interested in. So there is a technical piece and a social-cultural piece and both of them are passions of mine.”
So when Kane reached out and assured Bender that the commitment to the social side and support in the field was still there, his friend was eager to get more involved again.
“Building a learning environment is hard work,” Bender explains. “It’s a lot of fun, but to take root, it’s got to be a prolonged community effort. If you simply present it as, ‘We’re going to give computers to kids,’ the story is not adequate. The key to success is to really take a holistic approach to the servers, the infrastructure, the logistics, the software, the preparation and training, the pedagogy, and the community that is using all this stuff.”
“When OLPC goes somewhere, part of the team that comes in is drawn from the Sugar community,” says Bender. “It means that when OLPC comes into a place, the local community is not only learning, ‘Here’s how you unpack the laptops and distribute them to the schools.’ They are also learning how you use the laptops for learning, and how you can establish in your community a development team that can be part of this process.” This can involve training software engineers to develop for the open source community, as well as working with teachers and local support teams on how to use Sugar in the classroom, he says.
Once again, Uruguay seems to be leading the way in this. The country has … Next Page »
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