Tablets Improving Literacy in Children.
They are targeting areas and villages where the literacy rate is zero. You may think this is an odd thing to do, but that is the main purpose of the project. The tablets were loaded with a software package called Nell. It was designed to guide a child in self learning by telling them engaging stories that include teachable moments.
Full details of Nell can be found here.
Through the alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs on the Motorola Xoom tablets it appears that the initiative is having very positive results. Some of the children have even hacked the tablets.
Early observations are encouraging, said Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC’s founder, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week.
Ethiopian technicians had taught adults in the village to use. Once a week, a technician visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.
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.”
The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.
Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”
Here is an example of how it has been working.
Miles from the nearest school, a young Ethiopian girl named Rahel turns on her new tablet computer. The solar powered machine speaks to her: “Hello! Would you like to hear a story?”
She nods and listens to a story about a princess. Later, when the girl has learned a little more, she will tell the machine that the princess is named “Rahel” like she is and that she likes to wear blue–but for now the green book draws pictures of the unnamed Princess for her and asks her to trace shapes on the screen. “R is for Run. Can you trace the R?” As she traces the R, it comes to life and gallops across the screen. “Run starts with R. Roger the R runs across the Red Rug. Roger has a dog named Rover.” Rover barks: “Ruﬀ! Ruﬀ!” The Princess asks, “Can you ﬁnd something Red?” and Rahel uses the camera to photograph a berry on a nearby bush. “Good work! I see a little red here. Can you ﬁnd something big and red?”
As Rahel grows, the book asks her to trace not just letters, but whole words. The book’s responses are written on the screen as it speaks them, and eventually she doesn’t need to leave the sound on all the time. Soon Rahel can write complete sentences in her special book, and sometimes the Princess will respond to them. New stories teach her about music (she unlocks a dungeon door by playing certain tunes) and programming with blocks (Princess Rahel helps a not very-bright turtle to draw diﬀerent shapes).
Rahel writes her own stories about the Princess, which she shares with her friends. The book tells her that she is very good at music, and her lessons begin to encourage her to invent silly songs about what she’s learning. An older Rahel learns that the block language she used to talk with the turtle is also used to write all the software running inside her special book. Rahel uses the blocks to write a new sort of rhythm game. Her younger brother has just received his own green book, and Rahel writes him a story which uses her rhythm game to help him learn to count.